I recently managed to do something that I’ve been trying to do for quite a considerable amount of time. Years ago I stumbled across a band here in Bosnia and Herzegovina called the Dubioza Kolektiv, basically a bunch of guys back then from the towns of Zenica and Mostar and the city of Sarajevo, producing really great music, some radical lyrics describing the country and the area that they came from, and the problems that everyday people suffer.
I’ve seen them in concert and they are electrifying.
This year the Dubioza played at the annual Demofest and I managed to catch up with their Bass Player, Vedran Mugajić, to find out as much as I possibly could.
David: I think it’s 40 degrees in Banja Luka at the moment. It’s the warmest summer I’ve ever had in the 16 years that I’ve been in the Balkans. It’s Demofest. It’s the 10th anniversary. I’ve only been going to them for the last, I don’t know, six years.
About three years ago, tell me if I’m right or I’m wrong in a moment, but about three or four years ago, I bumped into a band that was playing called the Dubioza Kolektiv. People had told me about the Dubioza for some time, and so I got this idea of, “Well, who are they? What do they do? Why do people here in Bosnia Herzegovina think that they’re so special?”
I did. Recently I saw a film. Actually it was all about drinking [inaudible 00:02:50] as far as I could make out to start with. Today here in Banja Luka outside the hotel Bosna, I’m joined by a guy that on the film starts milking cows and ends up playing the bass guitar.
Vedran, thanks very much indeed for giving us your time today. First thing, because my audience isn’t an audience primarily from Bosnia and Herzegovina, what is the Dubioza Kolektiv?
Vedran: It’s easy. It’s a bunch of guys who formed a band 13 years ago, and here we are seven albums later and several hundred concerts later.
David: Where did you get the name from, the Dubioza? As soon as you hear it, it just makes you want to find out more.
Vedran: It’s just word game. You have obvious meaning. In English language it’s the same, dubious collective, a bunch of suspicious characters.
Then in Bosnia you have this slang which is quite hard to translate, but you can say if you’re in Dubioza, then you’re in deep financial, emotional or any other trouble that you can’t get away from. It’s that kind of word play as well.
David: Talking about word plays, the music that you play have got lots of plays on words, the way that you use your language from the Balkans to describe the environment that you live in.
Was it a positive thought that you were going to write lyrics, that you were going to write songs to in a way protest about the situation and the lifestyle that is present since the conflicts of the 1990s.
Vedran: It was also our way to cope with the situation, to try to process everything. Also whoever is doing this kind of engaged music and socially engaged lyrics is doing it because of themselves, because it is a way to put things in their place in your own head, and to try to tell this to your audience, whoever is listening to you. Because you’re living here for a long time, so you know how hard is to make out what’s really going on and what the real problem is and what the solutions are.
We are trying to put things in perspective from our own point of view and to do it in a way that is not too preachy. We’re trying to just put some subjects that we find important on the table and to discuss with people. I think it’s working because people react well to this ironic Monty Python-esque kind of humour.
If you make a serious song about serious issue, they have that on evening news. They have it in newspaper. They don’t want it. They want something else. It still is a dialogue about important issue, but just on a different perspective.
David: I saw a video on YouTube where I think you and Brano were being interviewed, or you were giving your perspective on things. It was about the international community’s view of how wonderful Bosnia is progressing. He said, “This is total fiction.
The reality and what the international community think are two separate things.” On the last video that you’ve released, the Hymn of the Generation, even I as a foreigner couldn’t help but fall off my chair when it says Total Razprodaja at the end. Do you really think there’s a de-link between the reality and what the rest of the world thinks?
Vedran: This PR that everybody’s trying to sell, that we are in a good way, that we are progressing, that the GDP is rising, blah blah blah, maybe statistics are there but real life is something else. Salaries and how people live, it doesn’t matter how nice statistics are. You cannot change the reality. It’s all about that.
It’s talking about real problems and real issues of real people, not some fantasies of politicians that are trying to sell their own work to some other politician in Brussels to make it look good, to get some money in return. Everybody’s trying to look good for their own sake. The reality is not that good.
David: Well, you look good. I mean, you guys have adopted, how do you say, the uniform, the colours of Borussia Dortmund, isn’t it? It’s the yellow and black. Why did you decide on that?
Vedran: I see a lot of football clubs. The choice was less about football and more about being visible on stage. Most of the stage setups are black. You have black backdrops and black amplifiers and black stage. When a bunch of guys in black go out to play black instruments, you don’t see anything.
We decided to just make a joke on our own sake and wear the colour that nobody else is wearing, except football players of course, to wear yellow. It works, because people recognise us. They can see us from 100 metres on a festival.
David: When you’re on stage, you have the most dynamic stage show. It’s like doing an Olympic athletic event. For example, you’re playing a bass and you’re running and you’re doing all sorts of things. How the heck? Mario plays, the saxophonist is playing the saxophone and he’s jumping around.
Now, are you already dreading the physical effects that’s going to happen at 3:00 tomorrow morning when you’ve finished your session?
Vedran: I think we’ve done this too many times. You don’t ask a football player if he’s tired from this game, and he’s having a game tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. You get used to this level of physical activity.
This is a third show in a row. We had one in Norway, one in France and today is Banja Luka, just Thursday, Friday, Saturday. We are worn out but you will not see it on stage. We’ll just give all we can, so it will be good, I think.
David: The last time I saw you here in Banja Luka, I don’t think the bubble had burst for you in so far as all this massive touring. I just sat back and I was absolutely shocked because you seem to have been for the last 36 months constantly on the go. As you just said, you’ve been to Norway.
You’ve been to France, and now to Banja Luka. You’ll be going somewhere else.
How has this burst of Dubioza-ism been accepted around the world? You’ve been to North America. You’ve been playing in a hotel room with an Indian singer. How has that impacted on the group and on how people view you here, back home in Bosnia-Herzegovina?
Vedran: This didn’t happen overnight because it was a process, a decade of constantly growing and expanding and going to other countries and discovering new and newer audience every time.
For us it was always interesting and part of the appeal of what this looks so good to us and why we are doing this. It’s hard to say, because zillions of bands and zillions of people are making music and playing live shows. You cannot talk about expansion but obviously more you play around, more people know about you and they can relate to what you are talking about.
That’s what it’s all about. If we go to India or Australia, it’s just about trying to make communication work both ways.
David: Are you ambassadors for Bosnia-Herzegovina when you go to countries such as India, who I spoke to an Indian four days ago and he said, “Bosnia? Where is that?” I went, “What?
You surely don’t understand your geography.” When you go to places like that, you must be the best ambassadors for the country that there is.
Vedran: We don’t like this flag waving, “We are representatives of this or that country.” Now in band we have people from four countries, so we would need to wave a lot of flags. In the end it is a good thing because you’re bringing some positive image of, let’s say, entire region to some place that doesn’t know much about Balkans.
It’s okay. It’s fun for us. We don’t think that’s primarily why we are doing this but it’s a nice side effect probably.
David: I know you want to go and have some meal and rest because of this massive physical activity that we’re going to see you do later on. Finally, two things finally. First, what’s in the immediate future for the Dubioza?
People that are interested in you, what can they expect in the not too distant future?
Vedran: Immediate future is a very busy summer. We’re going to do 30 more shows around Europe mainly. Then we’re going to lock in the studio for a while to record the rest of the album that Himna Generacije was the first single from.
After that, it’s probably a few more music videos, album release, some concerts in bigger cities in the region. That’s what’s going to happen until the end of this year.
David: Okay. This is the final one. Putting you on the spot now, if there was one thing in the world, one dream or one thing that you could have happen personally, what would it be?
Vedran: It’s a million dollar question.
David: It is, it is, but I want to try and get an answer out of you.
Vedran: This is the sort of question that you ask this beauty pageant Miss of the World, the candidate, “How you would make the world a better place?”
David: Not about making it … What, for you personally, if somebody could go like that now, what would that one dream, if you were only allowed one dream, what would it be?
Vedran: Apart from personal wealth and health, it would be good to see the world in which people are more sympathetic to their fellow human being, and to understand more the situation where everybody shares the same place and same resources of this planet.
It would be much easier to communicate some positive changes in that environment, rather than this quite selfish and self-centered society.
I’d like to say thank you very much to the Dubioza Kolektiv, to their management for allowing me the time to take Vedran away from the sound checks and getting ready for this year’s performance in the castle in Banja Luka. I’d also like to say thank you so very very much to the organisers of Demofest and in particular Brankica Raković for allowing me to have that press pass, to look around, nose around, ask people questions and take video as well.