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Last Updated: Tuesday, 11 January, 2005, 16:50 GMT
Serbs rally to 'turbo-folk' music
By Matt Prodger
BBC News, Belgrade

The Serbian phenomenon of "turbo-folk" - a controversial form of music identified with the Milosevic era - still manages to enchant and disgust people in equal measure in Belgrade.

Ceca - star of turbo-folk - with Arkan
Ceca's marriage to Arkan was a tabloid sensation in Yugoslavia
Serbia during the 1990s was a country famously defined by bellicose nationalism, Slobodan Milosevic and a powerful mafia culture.

Today Milosevic is gone, the war is over, but turbo-folk is more popular than ever.

In 1990s Serbia, there were two things on the radio: one of them was war and the other was turbo-folk.

The term stood for a high-energy mix of Serbian traditional music, electronic pop and scantily-clad women.

Ardent fans

Today, turbo-folk is huge. Its concerts fill football stadiums; the CDs and videos outsell any other.

And yet other people here hate it with a passion, because of the role it played in the Serbia of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

"Turbo-folk is one of the most interesting cultural phenomena that ever happened in Serbia. And this is why people basically have this problem with it," says cultural analyst Branislav Dmitrijevic at Belgrade's Museum of Contemporary Art.

Ceca's 2002 concert in Belgrade
Ceca's 2002 concert in Belgrade drew a colossal audience
"Turbo-folk has been usually associated with Serbian nationalism - and not even nationalism, but war-mongering ideology. You have war in Bosnia, you have economic sanctions, and then you have turbo-folk, with these nice girls, with these big cars and with this kind of glamorisation of reality that never existed, in a sense.

"But the thing is that this iconography, in a very vulnerable society, really is very dangerous for this society."

The undisputed queen of turbo-folk is Ceca, a woman synonymous with diamonds, fur and guns.

On the streets of Belgrade, they are still selling videos of her 1995 wedding to Arkan, Serbia's most notorious paramilitary.

He was wanted for war crimes when he was shot dead in a gangland killing four years ago.

Love songs

Ceca herself was arrested by police during a clampdown on organised crime following the assassination of Serbia's Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic, in 2003. But she told me that now she is selling more records than ever before.

"Greeks listen to Greek music. Italians listen to Italian music. And Serbs listen to me. It's to do with national identity. Britney Spears and Madonna could never be a success here like I am."

She dismisses critics who say turbo-folk was the sound of the Milosevic era, the sound of nationalism.

"I don't know what they're talking about. I don't sing songs about nationalism. I only sing about love. And besides, Milosevic has been gone for four years, and I'm still here."

In 2005, Ceca is planning a tour of Europe. So Serbia's much-maligned turbo-folk may be about to wow a new audience.

Listen to clip of turbo-folk


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