What kind of music do you play?
Well, just electro-swing.
You’re doing mostly electro-swing these days?
Well, yeah, kind of, yeah.
I’m interested to find out what your take is on tallava? Maybe you can tell me something about what exactly tallava is.
Well, you know, it’s kind of electronized Arabian music, I guess. Just like one step forward to a modern electronic view to this old-school Arabic shit.
But where does it come from?
I don’t know – the East? I’m not sure where exactly. Let’s say Egypt. Or Iran. Or Syria. They all have this.
How did it come to Serbia?
Through Gypsies. Because there are no Serbians that are listening to tallava. Gypsies do that on their weddings. And that’s like the only place where you can hear tallava in Serbia.
But if you listen to turbo-folk, and before that novokomponovana narodna muzika, there is also this keyboard playing, which is also sort of Oriental.
Yeah, it’s Oriental, but it’s not tallava. Tallava has this kind of trancy Eastern style. It’s not really like common folk. It’s more something like for special occasions, like weddings or circumcisions. It’s not really like a club music or a concert music. For me it has this sound of music for special events.
But if you listen to that narodna keyboard playing, where does that come from? Does it come from Gypsy music? You know, sometimes it’s a little bit Arabic, a little Oriental. Maybe it comes from the Gypsies as well, eh?
The Gypsies are just – it doesn’t come from them. They are just taking it from somewhere else and doing something different with it. I don’t think that they made anything. They are just, like, copying what they see and just using that.
And have you seen this stuff performed live?
Yeah, a few times, yeah.
Was it at a wedding?
Not actually. I was invited to a few Gypsy weddings, but I couldn’t make it. So I heard it in some Gypsy places, like Bata Laki, where you were with me, once. And then we were at another time in a similar place. And, yeah, that’s it.
What is Bata Laki?
It’s like a splav. A Gypsy splav, where mostly Gypsies come, but there are some white people also. Pretty trashy, but there is good music. This kind of tallava style.
This tallava, is it something that young people in Belgrade listen to? Is it a kind of subculture thing?
No, it doesn’t really exist, in Serbian culture it doesn’t exist. Nobody actually knows what it is. If you would ask a Serbian what is tallava, he wouldn’t know. So it’s strictly Gypsy stuff.
So how did you get interested in it?
Through Gypsies. Because I worked with them a lot. We’ve been doing a lot of workshops, music workshops with them, with Gypsy kids. In this GRUB project. And also I recorded a lot of brass bands and Gypsy musicians, for Shazalakazoo mosty. And yeah, so I know a lot of them. Been working with them. So, I got into the music.
If you look at Balkan acts from the West, or DJs, they have used a lot of brass, but they haven’t really used tallava so much.
Maybe Shazalakazoo is one of the only acts that sort of makes use of this tallava.
Yeah, really one of the few.
Why is that?
I don’t know. Firstly, this whole Balkan scene is just some kind of copy of Bregović and Kusterica shit, which is definitely not that Eastern. And some seventies Gypsy style. With a bit of Western European romanticized Gypsies. But tallava is completely like Arabic.
Do you think that tallava is more real?
Yeah, tallava is actually the music that Gypsies listen to.
So what’s the response? When Shazalakazoo places the tallava stuff in clubs how does the audience react?
Mostly, like they start dancing in this Oriental style. Whirling around, you know. All the time somebody starts doing this shit. So it’s definitely exotic. But if you play it too much then it’s definitely too much for the western audience.
Do Gypsies come to your concerts as well?
Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes there’s a few guys around they are always, flip – looking at us strangely, like what the fuck? Why are you white people playing this? My friends also, Gypsies – like I am the only white guy that is listening to tallava and actually knows this singers and musicians who do tallava music.
Can you tell me a little bit about who these people are? Are there any stars out there?
In tallava music? Oh, yeah, sure. You know Cita and Amza?
Tell me about Cita and Amza. Do you know anything about these guys?
Not really. I know that they are famous. Actually, were much more famous before – around ten years ago, or something like that. You know, they played weddings all the time. They were really hot at the time, making a lot of money. And there was also Sevcet with them. They were a trio in the beginning.
Cita and Amza come from Macedonia?
Yeah, they come from Macedonia. I think Sutka, this small place in Macedonia. But I think they all live in Germany now. I’m not sure, but I would say so. At least they have really a lot of gigs in Germany. So, I am sure that the are mostly in Germany.
And then who else is there? There’s Sevcet.
Yeah, Sevcet was also with them in the beginning.
And he’s from Kosovo, yeah?
I think so. I’m not sure.
What’s he doing these days?
These days, I don’t know. All three are not really active these days. But he had, like – after playing with them, he had some solo projects, like tallava hip-hop style and R & B with tallava, rapping, hip-hop. But, actually, really good production music-wise, which is really rare for this kind of music. It’s usually trashy and just recorded live from a wedding, or something like that. But this guy actually made a couple of really serious songs, in a real studio, I would imagine, somewhere in Germany, with, you know, a really big sound.
And you mentioned a guy called Klinton.
Is he from Sutka?
Yeah, I think so. I’m not sure, but in this one – a few songs, where he says hello to guys in Macedonia, from Sutka. So, I guess, yeah, that’s his place.
So how did you find out about Klinton?
Well, Youtube. We were just looking – checking out Cita and Amza crew and Klinton popped up. We just heard it like that.
Do you know anything about him?
Not really. There was a friend, who did a whole album of remixes from Cita, and he wanted to release that, but that was like ten years ago, or something like that. So, somehow he got his phone, and he called him and explained what he wanna do. And Cita was like, yeah, my friend, no problem. Just do what you want. He just didn’t care. For royalties, or that kind of – they earn too much money at weddings. They just don’t give a fuck if you’re going to do a remix, or whatever.
How much do these guys make on weddings?
I guess it depends, but it’s mostly like thousands of euros.
And mostly in Germany? Or Serbia? Where do they play?
Well, everywhere. But a lot of times in Germany. And also Europe, like Belgium, or France, or Scandinavia. When you look at the clips on Youtube you can see – it always says, wedding here and there, organized by this guy, or whatever. Or circumcisions.
But you’ve never been to a wedding?
To a Gypsy wedding, no. I was invited two times, but I couldn’t make it; I had some gigs. Never made it, actually.
If you want to talk to these guys, do these speak English? What do they speak?
I don’t think English is the best language. I guess, German because a lot of them either live in Germany or used to live in Germany, or maybe some of them speak French, if they are from there….
Do you think that this music is – you know, in the past people spoke about subcultures. Punk, or whatever. That was a kind of subcultural music. And today, what belonged to subcultures in the past has become mainstream. And techno and house, that’s all mainstream. Do you think that the real underground is these guys playing tallava and stuff?
Hmmm. No. No. I wouldn’t say. Because, you know, this subculture that you are talking about – punk and rock and roll, or whatever – that was like white guys subculture. And these are – you know, Gypsies are a really hermetic society. They are, like, on their own, and with the Gypies it’s actually mainstream. It’s not underground.
But are there white guys out there who are digging this music?
Are you in touch with these people? Are they from Serbia? Are they from Germany? These fans of this Gypsy music. Like, white guys.
As I told you, really few. I know one guy from Sweden. Actually, there’s a whole band of these – “Gadjos”. You didn’t see them?
I’ll send you a link. Actually, they play really good for white guys. Actually, for Swedish guys. They really got into it.
They play tallava?
Can you send me the link?
Have you ever heard of a band called the Antwerp Gypsy Ska Orkestra?
Yeah, yeah, we met them in Antwerp. We played there a couple of times.
They are kind of interesting. They have a guy who plays tallava, from Kosovo. And he really gives the band an authentic flavor. A really nice sound, actually.
Yeah. But I didn’t hear. We met like four years ago, or something like that.
Most of the people you talk to – if you talk to people from Asphalt Tango or Eastblok or Piranha, or if you talk to people who know something about world music, who like Gypsy music, they talk about this keyboard as the destruction of real Gypsy music in the Balkans. Do you guys see it a little bit differently? Do you see it as being something creative?
Well, I think these guys that you are talking about – this is a shitty story. It’s a Western European view of what Gypsy music is. And it actually isn’t. Their point of view is that it’s a destruction of this traditional so-called Gypsy music, which actually doesn’t exist, you know. Gypsies doesn’t have any real tradition. They just pick up what’s on the way and incorporate that and just play it. But I see tallava as an electronic version of old traditional Eastern music. It’s just like a normal movement – liker everyone involved in music mostly do something nowadays with electronics. So the Gypsies also.
Don’t you think it’s a little bit cold and unemotional. Now you have some guy just standing there at the keyboard, whereas in the past it was much more emotional, individual and expressive. You don’t think it’s like that?
Not really. I mean, can be. But also, you have a lot of Gypsy bands that play tallava, drums and everything – everything’s electronics, I mean they have electronic drum sets, they have two or three keyboards and electric guitars. Okay, they have some wind instruments like sax or clarinet, also with electronic effects on it. But they play tallava. It’s a whole band. It’s just an electronic sound. Uh, I wouldn’t say it’s less emotional. It can be if there’s only one guy with a keyboard. Then it can be a bit more plastic.
You showed me a Youtube some time back of some crazy Gypsy playing the keyboard from under the table, on his head, with his nose –
Cortan? The fat Gypsy guy.
Who is he?
Cortan is – he’s actually from Serbia. And, yeah, he also plays some tallava. But he mostly plays this, like, two beats. You know, what’s “dvojka”. Dvojka means like “two” in Serbian. So it’s like this two beat: tum-ta, tum-ta, tum-ta, tum-ta. Or fast. It’s bit different from tallava. It doesn’t have this Arabic rhythmic pattern. It’s a different rhythm definitely. And different harmonies, a bit. Actually, I think that evolved from polka and from this Western European shit.
Do you think that the roots of this tallava were accordion playing?
No. With tallava no. with tallava it was definitely zurna and violin. Because always when they play solos they always try to mimic this sound. The zurna sound or the violin sound.
Is zurna an instrument that it played in Serbia?
No. Maybe in Bosnia. Macedonia. Maybe on the really south of Serbia. Actually Kosovo, yeah.
What about the critical reception to Shazalakazoo? Have there been people who have written about you guys? Are there people out there giving you a critical reception?
Not really. I didn’t read that many texts about Shazalakazoo. No, not really.
I’m the only one, I guess.
One of the few.
I was talking to Armin Siebert, and he said as far as Eastblok downloads go, you are pretty up there. And they sell your tracks to compilations more than any other. But Armin said you don’t sell your CDs at gigs, and that’s a big problem.
Well this what you told me right now, doesn’t really – when he sent me the invoice for the selling it doesn’t sound like that. So I’m pretty surprised that we are , like, the most selling thing on his –
No, not the most selling thing. Just in terms of downloads.
Well, yeah, that’s mostly what you sell now is downloads. But yeah, we don’t want to sell CDs, because nowadays no one wants a CD, because no one listens to CDs anymore. Mostly people are downloading and listening online, you know. That’s how it goes now. And about Armin, he wanted to sell us our own CDs so that we could sell them. So, that’s his point of view. He’s very sorry not to be able to sell us like 200 CDs. Get some money back from the print. But I’m sorry, we really don’t need CDs. Actually, we told him, when we wanted to do an album, we don’t fucking need CDs. You just don’t do it. And they said, yeah, we gonna do it, we gonna sell it. And they didn’t.
But just to go back to what we were talking about. I’m still interested in this narodna muzika and turbo-folk. Do you think there is a Gypsy connection to this music?
Nah, not that much. Gypsies are really like a culture of their own. They don’t mix much with Serbians. Or with anyone else where they are. They are really just for themselves. So they don’t have any influence, I would say. They appear on some songs, play solo for one song, or something like that. I wouldn’t say they had an influence on that. Mostly it was a Muslim influence. Culture comes with religion. Unfortunately.
When Serbs hear this Oriental, “Muslim” music do they sometimes get aggressive, or do they like the music? What’s the reception like?
That’s really strange in Serbia. Because sometimes it’s just like mainstream. They like it. And sometimes they really hate it in terms of, like, this is some Muslim shit. We’re Orthodox Christians. But sometimes they really like it. These same guys. So it’s really kind of schizophrenic. I really couldn’t understand that. Never.
Because if you listen to this turbo-folk there is this Oriental strain to it. At the same time you have a lot of Serbs who describe Serbia as the bulwark against the Muslim East. So it’s a bit of a paradox.
Yeah, it’s really a paradox. I don’t know. It was always strange to me.
In Romania there is a move to suppress manele because of its perceived oriental-ness and being not in keeping with a western striving nation. Do you also get this in Serbia?
No, not really. There’s a lot of mainstream in Serbia that’s really Oriental. So, I don’t think that’s happening here. But this is a fucking crazy country. Anything goes.
Is there anything that I’m missing?
I see you are asking a lot of questions – did Gypsies come out with this? Did they influence this or that? I really don’t think so. You know, in all of the East you have the same thing as tallava. Maybe they don’t call it like that. But, you know, it’s the same music. And it’s not Gypsies. It’s Arabs.
If you listen to Omar Souleyman, it sounds like tallava. It’s strange. That’s coming from a different part of the world.
Well, you know, it’s the same religion, same – it’s Eastern. It’s, yeah, it’s the same thing. And I think there is also a big connection with India. Because India has this trancy, looping, long tracks, this kind of expression in music. That’s also a big influence.
….Klinton has a lot of tallava. And he also has a lot of Turkish influence. And the Turks are making a lot of this, uh, kind of turbo-folk. It’s Turkish folk, but in pop sound. Sometimes even jazzy. Which can be a bit cheesy, but I kind of like it. Can be a bit cheesy. Sometimes it’s too much if they are trying too much to be West European. When I was in Berlin I saw some Turkish show on the TV and it was a guy – a famous Turkish singer – he sat at the piano and started singing. I was like, whaaat the fuck is this? Classical whitewashed for grannies kind of music. Not really Turkish stuff.
I was at a wedding two nights ago. It was pretty cool. Do you know who Alevis are? They’re not exactly Muslim –
Oh, the connection is losing.
It was an interesting wedding. There was a lot of halay and some traditional music. It was a blast. I really love these Turksih weddings. They’re great. I’ve never seen so many beautiful girls in one place.
Nice. They can make cool parties.
That’s another story. When I get finished with this tallava story, I want to do something about Turkish wedding music. Focusing on Berlin. I’m interviewing people here.
I guess it’s kind of similar.
Yeah it is. The Turkish weddings are kind of similar to the Gypsy weddings. Do they also have the guy on zurna and davul in Gypsy weddings?
Uhuh. Yeah sometimes. It depends. Sometimes they have the whole band with percussions and the synths. And zurnas. But sometimes it’s just synths. It depends. I’ll send you – I also have some interesting videos from Gypsy weddings.