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Edited by Annie J. Randall Music, Power, and Politics


The Power of Recently Revitalized Serbian Rural Folk Music in Urban Settings

Jelena Jovanovic

Chapter Excerpt

This chapter surveys the revitalization of rural folk music in Serbian towns during the 1990s and links its development to post–World War II historical and social conditions in the former Yugoslavia. After discussing the rural songs’ key musical features, I examine the music’s psychological and physiological effects on performers and listeners in late-twentieth-century Serbia.  

To grasp the impact of folk music’s revival in urban areas of the former Yugoslavia, it is necessary to understand the political, economic, and cultural position of this country in Europe after the Second World War. After the Second World War,1 there developed a massive propaganda campaign encouraging urban migration in all parts of Yugoslavia (SFRJ), including Serbia. As in other communist countries, the government instituted policies to foster quick, mass industrialization that created a great population shift from rural to urban areas.2 New workplaces were created and workers’ residences were built all over the country; thousands of village inhabitants decided to move to towns and start families. Once in the towns, newcomers found it difficult to express their rural identity. On the one hand, they could not communicate with their neighbors through their traditional music because many of them had come from different geographic areas;3 on the other, it was impossible for this first generation of newcomers to quickly assimilate elements of urban culture that remained strange to them. Their music, moreover, was suppressed and the newcomers were thus deprived of their familiar means of spontaneous expression. In time, the migrants from the villages, at first on the level of their own personal and family lives, and later at the community level, adopted the popular urban music genres available to them through the mass media of radio and television. It seems a paradoxical fact that the regime practiced a form of communism (a political movement thought to favor the common people) that distanced itself from traditional culture in general. Its leaders preferred that middle class bourgeois (petit bourgeois) cultural values define the country’s “socialist realism.” Folk music was, in fact, regarded as a “primitive” genre. As in other European communist countries, traditional culture was presented in stylized and strictly controlled forms,4 with few traces of spontaneous expression. Like their music, newcomers to the city were to be “cultivated” according to more “urban” values.

    * [Footnotes omitted in this excerpt. Please see full book.]


  • Image: Members of vocal group, MOBA. Belgrade, 2003.

  • Image: Early 20th-century photograph of Serbian women in traditional costumes and headscarves. Petar Z. Petrovic, Ethnographic Museum, Belgrade.

  • Image: Transcription of a portion of “This Morning the Dew Does Not Withdraw.”

  • Audio: “This Morning the Dew Does Not Withdraw.” Sung by MOBA.

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