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Post-Yugoslav sounds steal the night at Beiteddine Festival.

Byline: Jim Quilty

Summary: Four of the men stand abreast one another, fiddle-player, guitarist, sax-player, and vocalist running on the spot as they emit sounds. Unencumbered by anAa instrument, and already dripping from the evening's exertions, the vocalist is most energetic of the band. The sax-player, perhaps because.


BEITEDDINE: Four of the men stand abreast one another, fiddle-player, guitarist, sax-player, and vocalist running on the spot as they emit sounds. Unencumbered by anAa instrument, and already dripping from the evening's exertions, the vocalist is most energetic of the band. The sax-player, perhaps because he doesn't want the thongs to fly off his feet u is the most cautious.

Apropos of nothing in particular, the sweaty vocalist overlaps his hands at the wrist and raises them, "flapping," over his head. The hundreds-strong mosh of younger folk gathered in front of the stage emulate his gesture energetically.

Somewhere in the world, surely, some social psychologist has bent their mind to the savage appeal of post-Yugoslav music among the agnostic generation that emerges after a civil war. Anyway, the oeuvre's lingering power was witnessed Saturday evening, as the No Smoking Orchestra briefly took possession of the main stage at the Beiteddine Festival. The original Yugoslav band has had a history as tortured as the country that birthed it, but since the middle 1990s it has reformed under the renowned Serbian filmmaker with a Bosniac name, Emir Kusturica.

The band takes the darkened (appropriately smoky) stage to the recorded strains of the Soviet national anthem, as belted out by some Cold War-era all-men's choir. When the lights come up, it's not unlike being a voyeur at a thrift-store dress-up party.

In Panama hat, fatigue trousers and CCCP tee shirt, Kusturica is the most nondescript figure on stage. His fiddle-player reveals himself to be wearing military epilates. The guitarist is decked out in a magician's cape and a top hat, secured around his throat by a ribbon. The saxophonist sports an array of ethnic kitsch u caftan, headgear and vest. Most resplendent, however, is the frenetic vocalist Nenad Jankovi? (AJA Dr. Nele Karajli?, dressed in a formfitting lycra body suit equipped with hip-to-wrist bat wings.

During its break-neck 90-minute-long performance, The No Smoking Orchestra ran a gamut of well-known tunes, many of them familiar to Kusturica fans from his films u "Unsa Unsa," "Fuck You MTV," "Romeo and Julieta," "The Devil in Business Class," dedicated to the "world leaders of the G-8," and so forth.

Between numbers, when the vocalist was addressing the audience in English, band members were fond of lapsing into Henry Mancini's theme from "The Pink Panther" films. On other occasions, No Smoking Orchestra tunes were prefaced by guitar-heroic references to numbers by the colour-coded bands Pink Floyd and Deep Purple.

Given The No Smoking Orchestra's affiliation to Kusturica, it should be no surprise that their concert is a theatrical affair. How could it be otherwise with so many musicians milling about the stage at the same time u accordion, tuba, bass guitar and drum kit supplement the work of fiddle-player, guitarist, sax-player, and vocalist, with Kusturica himself strolling back and forth from guitar to percussion, sometimes pausing to gesture directions to the camera operator filming the proceedings.

The band's theatricality doesn't restrict itself to dress-up games. From time to time, its roiling musical turmoil is supplemented by some eager young audience members, most of them photogenic young women, whom band members cherry pick from the mosh pit.

Sometimes they're simply encouraged to dance for the camera u and those audience members who were pulled reluctantly from the mosh should be congratulated for shaking off what was a no doubt characteristic reserve and selflessly pretending to be extroverts, just for the audience's benefit.

Other times, they were called upon to perform manual labour u as when two girls held a gigantic bow above their heads, against which the fiddle player Dejan Sparavalo energetically rubbed the strings of his instrument. A leering Kusturica then did the same with those of his own instrument.

"Post-Yugoslav" is a term improvised to snare musical styles as different as the temperaments of the two men most responsible for bringing Southern Slav music to the world. Following The No Smoking Orchestra's lead, the Beiteddine catalogue suggests "New Primitivism" is the preferred term for this music. In the minds of many of its acolytes, it's Kusturica's music, underlined by the role of his films in promoting it and fact that The No Smoking Orchestra is his musical delivery system.

Rooted in Balkan Gypsy music u strings and accordion supplemented by world-weary brass instruments, re-working a repertoire Ottoman-era military march music u you might trace the globalisation of this sound to Kusturica's 1988 feature "Time of the Gypsies," whose affecting soundtrack was devised by Sarajevo-born composer and bandleader Goran Bregovic.

Certainly by the time Kusturica's epic "Underground" emerged on the international circuit in 1995, dance bars all over the world were hosting sweaty 20-somethings with an eastern-Mediterranean habit of mind, jumping up and down to Bregovic's carefully recalibrated version of the Gypsy's musical patrimony. These percussion-reinforced rhythms are as irresistible as the lyrics are incomprehensible.

"Underground" was Kusturica and Bregovic's last collaboration, so when the filmmaker made his next Gypsy-flavoured Balkan film, "Black Cat, White Cat," he turned to the retooled No Smoking Orchestra to shoulder the soundtrack duties.

The resulting sound does bear traces of Bregovic's reworked folk music, but it's got more of rock and roll's irreverent messiness about it. Bregovic can sound a tad maudlin in his quieter musical moments u though his concerts tend to become sweaty, brass-band mosh fests, they often begin as gorgeously choreographed concerts as comfortable in a classical music hall as anything else. The No Smoking Orchestra prefers to avoid quiet musical moments altogether, preferring unremittingly energetic, improvised-looking, often clownish, vaudeville.

As usual, the audience response to the performance is virtually as entertaining as the show itself. While the 20-somethings with an eastern-Mediterranean habit of mind immediately leapt to their feet, encouraged to charge to the front of the stage, others were more tentative.

The No Smoking Orchestra returned to the stage for an encore, a sweaty reiteration of "Fuck You MTV," and the exhausted performers disappeared into the smoke.

Copyright 2009, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Article Type:Concert review
Date:Jul 20, 2009
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