To Voltaire’s statement “Without the senses there is no memory, and without memory there is no mind”, we would add that without memory and mind there is neither Justice nor Civilisation. Music is the most spiritual of all the Arts. In fact, it is the Art of Memory par excellence, which only exists when a singer or an instrumentalist brings it to life. It is then, when our senses are moved by the beauty and emotion of a song or by the surprising vitality of a dance, that, thanks to memory, we can capture it in our minds. Such intense yet fleeting moments bring peace and joy or sweetness and nostalgia to our hearts, moments that we cherish in our memory.
In today’s world of instant communication, the overriding influence of globalisation is one of the principal causes of the daily loss of ancestral memories. We are faced with such an avalanche of information, visual stimuli and leisure activities that age-old local cultures belonging to the oral tradition can be crowded out. Often these include unique musical traditions passed down over the centuries from parents to children and from teachers to pupils, which have been kept alive to the present day, thanks to the essential role they play in the daily lives of individuals and families, and because they are an integral part of the ceremonies and festivals that celebrate the natural Cycles in the Life of both Man and Nature: music that has survived and has helped us to survive.
“Progress” is finally making inroads in some of those parts of Eastern Europe, which, for more than four centuries, were isolated from the social and technological development experienced in mainstream Europe. However, this modernisation of our everyday lives has meant that much of the music that had survived unscathed by the passage of time and oblivion is now gradually disappearing and being replaced by more “modern” and “universal” music. The moving songs and the beautiful old dances are gradually being ousted by the global music that floods the modern mass media: TV, Internet, Radio, Cinema, CDs, etc.
We hope that our new CD/Book “The Voices of Memory” in the BAL·KAN countries (“Honey & Blood”), driven by a creative approach that is characterised by its respect for original stylistic differences, will contribute to introduce these repertories to new audiences. At the same time, we wish to pay a sincere tribute to all those musicians, to all those men and women who, with their sublime and profoundly authentic art, continue to breathe life into the music that has been the backdrop to their own and their ancestors’ lives. In our opinion, it constitutes one of the richest and most moving examples of the intangible heritage of humanity. In this new recording, true “Voices of Memory” will accompany us on a fascinating and illuminating musical journey: an imaginary voyage, but one which exists in time and space and in the “Cycles of Life” of this ancient part of Europe that the 15th century invading Ottomans called Bal Kan (Honey & Blood), a region which, more than three thousand years ago, was the cradle of our European civilisation.
In devising and developing our programme, we invited and worked with 40 singers and musicians of various faiths: Muslim, Christian and Jewish, from 14 different countries: Armenia, Belgium/Manouche, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Cyprus, Spain, France, Greece and Crete, Hungary, Israel, Morocco, Serbia, Syria and Turkey. Performing as soloists or in ensembles, they offer a wide selection of music belonging to many living traditions that make up the vast mosaic of musical cultures of the Balkan peoples and their Gypsy and Sephardic diasporas. To provide a poetic and well-structured listening experience, we have grouped together songs and new music under the six different headings of “Cycles of Life and Nature”. This magnificent original idea by Montserrat Figueras was developed during 2009/2011, finally culminating in a concert programme devoted to the “CYCLES OF LIFE: The paths of the Sephardic Diaspora”, which was presented in Barcelona on 31st May, 2010, and at the Fontfroide Festival on 18th July, 2011. This dynamic structure allows the songs and instrumental pieces of the BAL · KAN project to combine and alternate in a highly organic way within the six principal parts of the programme:
UNIVERSE, ENCOUNTERS & DESIRES
BIRTH, DREAMS & CELEBRATIONS
ENCOUNTERS, LOVE & MARRIAGE
MEMORY, MATURITY & JOURNEY
SPIRITUALITY, SACRIFICE, EXILE & DEATH
The selection of music for this recording has been carried out on the basis of our research into the Sephardic and Ottoman repertories conserved in the principal cities of the Balkans and, above all, thanks to the proposals made by the various specialist musicians and ensembles: Agi Szalóki, Meral Azizoğlu, Bora Dugić, Tcha Limberger, Nedyalko Nedyalkov, Dimitri Psonis, Gyula Csík, Irini Derebei and Moslem Rahal, whom we invited to work with us on the project. We thank them all for their remarkable commitment and their wonderful musical performances. Their variety and diversity have contributed to the shape and meaning of this “Bal·Kan: Honey & Blood” Ancient and modern musical traditions, rural and urban music, celebratory or evocative pieces, including songs and dances of very different origin, from Bulgaria to Serbia, from Macedonia to the furthest reaches of Ottoman Turkey, from Romania to the Hungarian border, from Bosnia to Greece, from Sephardic music to Gypsy traditions.
A veritable musical mosaic performed by the “Voices of Memory” and accompanied on original instruments from each culture: Kaval, Gûdulka (Bulgarian Lira), Tambura, Greek Lira, Kamancheh, Kanun, Oud, Tambur, Ney, Santur, Saz, Violin and Double Bass, Frula, Cymbalum, Accordeon, Organ and Guitar, etc. All this music, together with the earlier recording of instrumental music, “Spirit of the Balkans”, enables us to evoke a multicultural map of the musical traditions of this rich part of Eastern Europe, which astonish and entrance us not only with their vitality and passion, but also with their beauty and spirituality. We can see that, despite the national characteristics of the various peoples of the Balkan Peninsula, it is very often those very same traits that unite them at the deepest level.
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The idea of embarking on a major musical and historical project on the peoples of the Balkans and the Gypsy and Sephardic diasporas was born towards the end of 2011 during the preparations for a concert dedicated to the city of Sarajevo, which we gave as part of Barcelona’s Festival Grec on 9th July, 2012. Twenty years ago, during the tragic events of the war, which led to the disintegration of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, the city had suffered a terrible siege by Serbian troops; more than 12,000 people were killed and more than 50,000 were seriously wounded. Europe in particular, and the whole world in general, responded with absolute silence and a more than questionable decision not to intervene in the conflict, the consequence of which was a brutal four-year siege of the Bosnian capital (1992-1996). International intervention did not decisively come about until 1995, but by then more than twenty thousand tons of missiles and shellfire had for ever disfigured the physical and human geography of a city which for centuries had been the cultural crossroads of the Balkan Peninsula. There the traditions of the Slavonic world, both Orthodox and Catholic, existed side by side in perfect harmony with more recent cultural traditions such as Islam, brought by the Ottoman Turks – who ruled the Balkans for more than four hundred years - and Judaism, brought by the Sephardic Jews, who found refuge there after being expelled from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492. As Paul Garde observes, “This last Balkan war broke out suddenly in Europe after half a century of pacification, when the more troubled chapters of its history lay forgotten. Hence the incomprehension and the suspicion directed against the region, and the resurfacing of stereotypes which portray it as eternally doomed to a pattern of killing and misery.” Still regarded as the “powder keg of Europe”, we should not forget, as Predrag Matvejević points out, that the Balkan Peninsula was also “the cradle of European civilisation.” A peninsula forming part of the Mediterranean world, which stretches from the island of Cythera in the South, to the Danube and the Sava in the North, but one in which, as Georges Castellan points out, “the olive tree does not actually reach as far as Istanbul, and the Bulgarian countries owe nothing to the soft breezes of the Mediterranean.” And yet, from the Peloponnese to Moldavia, despite the changing landscapes, the towns and villages have much in common: everywhere there are dome-topped Byzantine churches, often a mosque, and the corbelled buildings (çardak) and inns (han), and caravanserai or caravan stops, that are to be found both in Patras and Bucharest, in Skodra and Plovdiv, not to mention the pavement workshops where the craftsmen invite you to join them in a Turkish coffee as they hammer away at their copper plates. A family resemblance? Yes, undoubtedly that of diverse peoples who, after a long shared adventure, have constituted within Europe a distinctive cultural expression.” Observant travellers pointed to a certain style of living, a sort of “spirit” of the Balkans, which combines a laid-back approach to life, conviviality and above all a sense of hospitality, a fundamental value that is still greatly respected by all Balkan societies, and in particular continues to be cultivated in rural areas.
However, for a true understanding of this distinctive Balkan character, we must take a look back in history. In the eastern Mediterranean, the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century gave way to a blueprint for the Byzantine Empire with its capital at Constantinople, which was to be the greatest and richest city in the Balkans for more than a thousand years until 1453. Byzantium was to unify the peninsula in both political and religious terms, leaving its legacy of Orthodox Christianity, which continues to be an essential characteristic of the majority of Balkan countries today. In the 16th century, however, the whole of the Balkans fell to the Ottoman Empire, which, in 1453, adopted from its capital at Istanbul the tolerant attitude of traditional Islam towards the Christian majority as another “People of the Book”, as long as they accepted Muslim rule and paid the taxes exempting them from military service. This Ottoman conquest also brought considerable upheavals in the human geography of the region. On the one hand, it introduced a third religion, Islam, and at the same time left a trail of devastation and mass migrations, resulting in an inextricable mixture of populations, languages and cultures. As Manuel Forcano reminds us, it was after this invasion that the Ottomans referred to the region using the term Balkan, which is derived from two Turkish words meaning “blood and honey”; they encountered not only the richness of the region – its fruits, and the sweetness of its honey – but also the courageous, warrior-like and rebellious nature of its inhabitants, who fought fiercely against the invaders.
In the late 17th century the might of the Ottoman Empire began to dwindle. The Austrians re-conquered Hungary, Vojvodina and Slavonia. Finally, in 1739, the Treaty of Belgrade was signed, thus putting an end to a long war between the two empires, and for a century and a half their borders remained stable along the Sava and the Danube and the peaks of the Transylvanian Alps.
In the 19th century, nationalism spread throughout Europe and, one by one, in the same surge of national feeling, all the Christian nations subject to the Turks revolted against their rulers: Serbia (1804), Montenegro (1820), Greece (1821), Wallachia and Moldavia united to form Romania (1877) and Bulgaria (in 1878). There followed a cultural, linguistic and literary renaissance of the various peoples in the region: Hungarians, Romanians, Slovenians, Croats and Serbs. In 1912 the First Balkan War broke out; Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro formed an alliance to fight against Turkey. The Second Balkan War broke out a year later following the defeat of the Bulgarians, while at the same time Macedonia was divided between the Serbs and the Greeks, and Albania became independent. Not long afterwards, the First World War was triggered in the Balkans when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on 28th June, 1914.
A melting-pot of peoples, languages, beliefs and cultures, the Balkans are the mysterious face of that “other Europe”, which for 400 years as part of the Ottoman Empire was almost entirely cut off from the main cultural and social currents of Western Europe. The Balkans have always been a highly contentious crossroads, constituting at one and the same time a rich meeting-point and the theatre of dramatic confrontations.
Despite their turbulent history and their linguistic and political fragmentation, the peoples of the Balkans still share a great many cultural traits and the legacy of their historical past. And it is their shared features that we wish to highlight in this recording along with our guest musicians from the various cultures, religions and regions. With them we have studied, selected, prepared and recorded a variety of pieces to create a beautiful musical anthology, combining the ancient, the traditional and the popular from this fascinating and still very mysterious part of Eastern Europe. We firmly believe that the emotion, vitality and beauty of all these musical expressions will help us to understand more fully what can be seen as the musical image of the authentic “Spirit of the Balkans.”
In Western Europe today, “Balkan” culture, made popular thanks to the films of Emir Kusturica and the music of Goran Bregoviç, seems to have gained currency. Balkan music festivals abound, and concerts by Fanfare Ciocârlia and Boban Markovic play to packed audiences. Traditional Balkan music, or at least what the West regards as such, has secured its place on the world music shelves of all good record stores. But little is known about the less “folkloric” repertory, which doesn’t fit into the mental schemes of Western audiences. It should be remembered that Balkan music has been influenced at a very deep level by Roma, or Gypsy culture (see the article by Javier Pérez Senz “Music with a Gypsy Soul” in the booklet accompanying the CD Spirit of the Balkans) – a fact that appears to have been overlooked by the musicologists of the region, who talk about “Serbian”, “Bulgarian” or “Macedonian” music, without mentioning that its sources and the musicians who perform it are very often Tzigane (Gypsy).
Some of the most outstanding musicians representing the different cultures of this part of Eastern Europe, together with the soloists of Hespèrion XXI and myself, have delved into this extraordinary historical, traditional and even modern musical heritage to study, select and perform it, thereby creating a genuine intercultural dialogue between the different cultures that have so often been torn apart by dramatic, age-old conflicts.
The consolidation of Peace on the peninsula is an enterprise still beset with difficulties, particularly in those regions which have been most severely scarred by war: Bosnia and Kosovo. But understanding and integration between the different peoples of the Balkans can only come about through genuine reconciliation similar to that which was forged half a century ago between France and Germany and the integration of all the countries of the Balkan Peninsula in the European Union. As Paul Garde writes, “they don’t have to become Europeans, they are already”, but even as “the angel of history” moves forward, it does so looking back over its shoulder in what is a major process of reconciliation involving individual national identities and their own past, in which all the multiple layers of the Balkans’ past, and notably their Ottoman heritage, must be taken into account. Like Jean-Arnault Dérens and Laurent Geslin, we believe that “it is in this rediscovery of their own history and their multiple identities that the peoples of the Balkans will eventually once again be the masters of their own destiny and, to the surprise and wonder of Western Europeans, devise a different way of being European.”
Padua, 21st October, 2013
Translated by Jacqueline Minett