[15 September 2011]
A lot of people will get scared off at the label of world music that is attached to this. One might think the music contained within is, to Western ears, highly stylized to represent the indigenous sounds of its performers. Therefore, even something from another country that would be considered their version of pop music would be far too strange and pun-intended foreign sounding. Rest assured that despite the fact that this group is far from a far off land with a history and culture significantly different from that of America and the UK, there is nothing even remotely off-putting about the music they make.
Dubioza Kolekitiv is a group from Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country that has long been a crossroads of various cultures for better or for worse. It is a country that has been under the thumb of all sorts of conquering powers, everyone from the Nazis to the Romans. Trying to decipher the entire history of the region is akin to solving a Rubik’s cube without hands or eyes, and to this day the country in several ways resembles someone taking three different countries and sticking them in a blender.
So it comes as no surprise then that the music to come from this area is extremely turbulent and diverse, Such is the case with Dubioza Kolektiv, who over the course of a single song manage to incorporate bits of reggae, dub, electronica, hard rock, funk, hip-hop and half a dozen different types of folk music. This staggering number of genres they stuff together is made all the more astounding by virtue of the fact that the amalgamation is completely seamless. Nothing about their sound is forced or awkward, and is in fact highly appealing. To anyone who can enjoy even one of the aforementioned genres, it would be worth their while to give this a try. It could act as a gateway drug to try out the other styles of music that you never would have bothered with before.
The ethnic styles in question that they take from are rather diverse. Where else could an accordion that sounds like it was ripped from some Franco-Italian band sit right next to African-sounding percussion next to Romanian brass trumpets, a guitar playing phrases using Indian-like scales, along with fat dub Jamaican bass and peppered with a number of ethnic instruments that I can’t identify and would just misspell anyway? But none of these elements is too overwhelming—they are tempered very evenly and as a result, none of the musicians step on each other’s toes.
The two vocalists bounce off each other and complement each other, trading singing and rapping, harmonizing with each other. The only thing that is missing from the vocals that I would’ve kept if possible are the talents of Adisa Zvekic, who left the band a few years back and took her talents to La Cherga, another fantastic band from the region. Unfortunately, her voice was the one that brought the most melodicism to the group and while it is sad to see it missing here, the band compensates by becoming even tighter and integrating the diaspora of sounds they’ve culled in the past in a much more fluid way. So I guess it was an even trade.
Another astounding thing about the group is that despite living in one of the parts of the world where they should be pretty pissed off—with the members having grown up during the horrific and bloody war of the early 1990s that claimed almost 100,000 lives—these guys are pure positivity. Maybe not the kind where they’re always going on and on about peace and love, but the kind of positivity where they’re encouraging activism and pride while avoiding the violence and hatred these things can often lead to. As they put it in “Celebrate the Riot”, “We celebrate the riot, but there is no return, they’re playing with the fire, gonna get burned”. In other words, the intentions of a riot can be honorable, but the method is reprehensible.
Other powerful messages include “USA”, where they attempt to dispel the notion of America as being the automatic paradise it seems to be to many impoverished countries throughout the world. Upon realizing that the U.S. has its own fair share of problems, the protagonist decides to return home and try to improve the domestic issues in his own home country. In “Euro Song” they refer to the long awaited entrance of Bosnia-Herzegovina into the Europan Union, something that many in their country have long hoped for. But at the same time the band calls out the widespread class system across the whole of the continent that has placed Western European countries in the dominant position, turning admission to the EU into a game for little more than their own amusement. The point that they make, and it is a good one, is that it should not be up to certain, less well-off countries to mold themselves into the shape that other countries want them in, when they should both be meeting each other halfway.
Other standouts for me are the condemnation of the policy of capitalism at the cost of others that takes advantage of the poor in “Making Money” and ‘“90’s Surprise”, a slow groove that warns against the possibility of another conflict that arose in the aftermath of the slow and painful Yugoslav dissolution of the 1990s. And a few songs that really hit me were ones that had me thinking I was listening to a parallel universe version of 311, where instead of being white-boy posers they were a bunch of guys who were drinking their milk straight from the cow. I’m talking a specifically about “Decisions” “Move Ya” and “Whistleblower”, where big heavy riffage comes to the forefront on top of the heavy reggae/ska feel.
But despite all the serious messages, not everything is gloom and doom for these guys. “Balkan Funk” is one of the best moments on the album, starting off with a disco beat with the singer quoting Fatboy Slim and trying his damnedest to sound like a cheesy lounge singer. It has to be heard to be believed. Throughout the rest of the song, the band cycles through half a dozen genres one by one while rapping about their love of marijuana and chanting about nothing in particular. This is a song that expands and contracts several times over the course of three and a half minutes, and despite the fact that lyrically it is the least interesting and inspiring track by far, it is still very entertaining, almost as if they were playing a joke on the audience who are only listening to the beats and ignoring the words.
Overall, if there are any glaring flaws present on this album, I haven’t caught them. I have yet to tire of it. There are enough layers that one can appreciate something different each time one listens to it. Therefore, this album is highly, highly recommended. The only thing preventing this from a 10/10 is that I reserve that for the White Album, Fun House, Astral Weeks, etc. This isn’t quite on that level, but few things are. Bravo, Dubioza Kolektiv. Keep up the good work and please come to America so I can see you in concert.