Much of the music from Serbia is similar to that of the larger Balkan region. A large portion of traditional early music is tied to the church, especially music from the Medieval Period. During this time, court music pretty much made up the rest of their music. Later, more secular music used epic poetry as its basis.
The gusle (a 1-stringed fiddle) was often used in the music using that epic poetry. (Skip forward on the video below to about the 1:30 mark to watch an example of the gusle.) Other instruments you can hear include the gadje (bagpipes), several kinds of lutes (tambura, tamburitza, gusle, kaval, bouzouki), different kinds of drums (tarambuke, davul), frula (a 6-holed wooden flute), diple (another woodwind instrument), zurna (another wind instrument that looks like a small trumpet), the accordion, and the duduk (a double reed instrument made from apricot wood).
Serbia has a long history with its folk music. Generally, they’ve divided it into rural and urban folk music. And unlike many cultures as we enter the modern era of music, Serbia never dissed theirs: they incorporated it into other musical styles. Today, there are a plethora of musicians who integrate traditional folk styles into pop, jazz, and a combo of different genres. During the 1970s and 1980s, many of the lyrics spanned between typical folk poetry themes to more of an edgier political nature (anti-Communism). After the break-up of Yugoslavia and through the 1990s and 2000s, turbo-folk emerged, which brought rock and electronic dance music into the folk genre. And the lyrics got racier as well! Think sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll!
Although many folk songs were danced to, there is one type of folk dance that stands out: the kolo. It's a circle dance, most often danced to the music of an accordion. And it’s almost done entirely with feet and no movement from the waist up (perhaps a little like Irish dancing in that aspect).
One of the faults of teaching Western classical music is that it generally only covers certain music of certain countries: England, Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Russia, the United States with a few others added in for effect. However, there are whole cultures of classical composers not extensively studied. Serbia has produced many classical musicians and composers alike, many who have studied under some of the top European legends. If you’re looking for something different to perform, try looking up some of these names: Stevan Stojanovic Mokranjac, Petar Konjovic, Stevan Hristic, Miloje Milojevic, Ljubica Maric, and Milan Ristic.
I found quite a few musicians on Spotify. The first ones I listened to were several artists who sung various folk traditions. In some songs, I could definitely tell a modernization to them. For one, they used modern instruments, but with trills and vocalizations that were indicative of folk styles. Some of these musicians include Silvana Armenulic, Lepa Lukic, Vesna Zmijanac, Neda Ukraden, and Lepa Brena.
They also have some dance/EDM/pop representation with MC Stojan. Still including plenty of Serbian flare, he mixes these styles with others like hip-hop and incorporates traditional instruments in with the electronic sounds.
Mile Kitic brings a little more of a pop sound to his music that also clearly incorporates Serbian vocal folk styles. However, compared to the earlier folk music where I felt like I was at an international festival, this one made me think I could probably hear this on the radio. Sanja Dordevic, Tina Ivanovic, and Indira Radic are other singers who also make me think I’d hear their music a little more commercially.
I even found a few rock musicians here as well! Smak is a blues rock band that I very much enjoyed listening to. Van Gogh is another band I listened to (I wonder if they pronounce it as “van goff” like the rest of everywhere-that’s-not-the-US?). The lead singer has a deep voice that sounds like the Serbian answer to that Canadian band from the 1990s, Crash Test Dummy.
As far as Serbian hip-hop goes, I found a few who hold up. I was hoping I would. It was kind of an interesting listen; you can tell they pulled their influences from a variety of places. Beogradski Sindikat uses a lot of strings in their music, which I like. I also listened to two female rappers: Sajsi MC (with DJ Bko) and Mimi Mercedez. Sajsi MC’s music tended to be a little more on the EDM side of things, while Mimi Mercedez had more of a “hardcore” sound to it (not to mention that every song had “explicit” next to it, even though I had no idea what she was rapping about). I’m just happy they have some female rappers.
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