Forgotten Musicians in a Pre-Apocalyptic Country

This article was written as a gentle reminder. It is, in my humble opinion, in everyone’s interest to get to know and appreciate the extent to which the Yugoslavian Republic was flourishing in intellectualism, music culture and other art forms. Let us for the moment focus on the music, as we’re all here to read about Strange Sounds From Beyond. From Yugoslavia, for example.


I grew up in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. My father is a sound and light engineer, music lover and record collector. He was the one introducing me to different kinds of music and educating me on its rich history. Unfortunately, he had to leave his record collection behind in Sarajevo when he fled to Amsterdam.

Many of the artists shown to me were Yugoslavian. Most of these were punk rock and new wave bands that he and his friends used to listen to, while I was more interested in electronica, soul and disco. Still, well aware that Dad’s Yugoslavian picks were all amazing musicians in their own right, I was motivated to seek out genres from within these that I might develop an interest in. In this article I will discuss just some of the many obscure yet influential musicians throughout the 70s and 80s, up till the beginning of the war. Because that’s when things started to get too complicated to write about.


The Seventies: Early Experimentalists and the Funky Fusion of Genres

We’ll kick off with some rare funky tunes from the mid 70s, where jazz, rock and funk started fusing. My personal jazz-funk/jazz-rock favorite is an album by Tihomir Pop Asanović from 1974, called Majko Zemljo, or “Mother Earth”. The whole album is smooth as silk, but especially the second song, Balada O Liscu (The Ballad of the Leaves), is boli glava (so good that it will give you a headache). With a nice Moog synth, Hammond organ build-up and several tempting tempo changes it’s a full-bodied and warm song from beginning till end. Asanović has made only two albums to date, both excellent in every way. His second album Pop was released two years after Majko Zemljo and was accompanied by the great female singer Zdenka Kovačiček.


Tihomir Pop Asanovic – Balada o Liscu (1974)

Another jazz-funk single that I’d like to mention from this period is the eight-minute vivacious 7” Gorila (1975). Just because it’s so thrillingly funky, and because we’re going to discuss the keyboardist Slobodan Marković later on in this article. The band is called Miša Blam i oni koji vole funky, or “Miša Blam and they who love funk”.


Misa Blam I oni koji vole funky – Gorila (1975)

The mid 70s. On the one hand jazz and funk started fusing into the above-mentioned gems, but on the other there was the rise of Yugoslavian electronica experimentalists. Branimir Sakač was an important experimentalist, composing classical ambient music electronically. His Matrix Symphony from 1974 was a notable electronic piece of classical music. The last part of the symphony, Synthana, is co-produced by Paul Pignon, another noteworthy person in Yugoslavian electronica who will be mentioned again later in this article.


Branimir Sakac – Synthana

On the less experimental side of things, an important name to note is Igor Savin.

An influential composer in early electronica, you may also know him from his sought after Yu-disco Expres album. In 1977, he accompanied Zdenka Kovačiček in her well-known and equally well-received self-titled album. The result is “Elektra”, a song produced entirely electronically, and one that carries an uncharacteristically experimental sound that stood out from the rest of the album. To my delight this album was reissued earlier this Spring on reissue label PMG. Savin subsequently followed this up with the release of an ambient album in ’82.


Zdenka Kovacicek – Elektra (1977)

Zdenka Kovacicek – Ti nikad neces znati srce jedne zene (Originally released in 1975 as a single, and later in 1977 on the album)

An important name you might not expect here is Oliver Mandić. He is mostly known for his controversial music videos, popular synth-pop and disco during the first half of the 80s, although he was already experimenting with synthesizers in back in ’78. This is the B-side of his ’78 hit single Ljuljaj Me Nežno.


Oliver Mandic – Suma (1978)

The Eighties: Smooth and Strange Synthesizers from Beyond

All through the 80s, there was just too much good music produced in Yugoslavia. In the realm of “Strange Sounds” however, it’s impossible not to mention Miha Kralj, an influential figure in the electronica scene. Kralj produced three albums respectively in 1980, 1982 and 1985. They range from beautiful soft harmonies, to some heavier new wave electronica, and finally, even offering up a touch of euro-dance/italo-disco.


Miha Kralj – Embrio (1980)

Miha Kralj – Aliens Trip (1985)

On the latest Yugo-synth music compilation on Discom you can also find two tracks by this pioneer, one of which was unreleased until now, and the other was only released on a compilation album from ’82.

One of my favorites from the early 80s is this 7” single by Zana. The group Zana produced music in a wide variety of genres, but a large part of their productions was considered pop. This 7” single however, is really a couple of years ahead of its time and is produced and arranged by the aforementioned Paul Pignon. Like Branimir Sakač, Paul Pignon was interested in electronica from early on, and was thus considered a pioneer too in Yugoslavia, despite not being originally from there.


Zana – Ti si neko staro lice (1981)

As nostalgia carried me into the mid 80s in Yugoslavia, Bastion was the first name to pop up. Formed in ’83 they are one of the first electronic bands in Yugoslavia. Their self-titled album from ’84 is truly outstanding. The pungent voice of their vocalist merges delicately with the often soft synths and the continuously grooving bass. Varying from low tempo synth music, to new wave punk rock, and club-ready new wave, this album is as diverse as it is good.


Bastion – Molitva (1984) – a beautiful low tempo synth track

Bastion – Mesec u solji (1984) – a continuously grooving progressive track that I’d love to hear in a club these days

Towards the end of the 80s, one particular group – Sanja & Sloba – was worth mentioning. Sloba is short for the aforementioned Slobodan Marković, keyboardist of the group Miša Blam i oni koje vole funky. Their album Delta Project was very diverse, consisting of ambient synth melodies and even housey tracks. It reminded me of Tony Humphries’ Zanzibar house with a cosmic twist. A beautiful album well deserving of a proper reissue in my opinion.


Sanja & Sloba – Icon (1987) Amazing ambient track

Sanja & SlobaTraffic (1987) – Cosmic New Jersey house from Yugoslavia

As with most articles, it’s impossible to include every single artist that made it to my personal list here, and the ones that were left out, in my opinion, deserve just as much to be remembered and credited for their contributions to music culture. If you’re new to the “Strange Sounds” originating from Yugoslavia and if this article has piqued your interest, you can start by looking up bands or groups such as: Beograd, SCH, Vanila Pakt, Kozmetika, Andrej Basa, Gastrbajteri, 300.000 V.K., Max&Intro, Laibach, Katarina II, and many more.

That being said, it is my hope that with this article, I have been able to shine a much-needed light on obscure Yugoslavian music. Personally I was very glad to learn about the recent reissues of some of these albums, notably Boban Petrović’s Zora and Zdenka Kovačiček’s self-titled album. I certainly hope the trend continues to move in this direction, for there is much good music made in Yugoslavia worth remembering, and just as many musical talents worth celebrating.