Goran Bregovic

Goran BregovicIt was the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall, on a balmy spring evening; with, seemingly, less than the usual throng around, presumably missing in inaction, early victims of the global economic meltdown, now glued to their soon-to-be repossessed big-screen tvs. No penguins, just brightly-attired Balkans, appetites whet for their countryman and hero, Goran Bregovic, and his Weddings & Funerals Band. That came soon enough and in fine style, but first, under the mentorship of local legend & medieval plucker, Llew Kiek, and active directorship of his wife, Mara, the Martenitsa choir took the stage, delivering a short, sharp set of folk songs, which, narratively, put me in mind of Benny Hill, sending-up Nana Mouskouri, but which showcased a diligent replication of the renowned Bulgarian state choirs, even though they hail from Ultimo. Llew beat his trad drum, while a lineup of women wooed us, in a strange (to me) lingo, with sonically sensational, pitch-perfect and dauntingly complex arrangements of innocent tales, sweetly, melodically, harmoniously told.

While waiting for my belated friend, I enjoyed a mini-education in Bregovic, from a warm & friendly young lady, also in waiting. I learnt that GB's music was energetic, inspiring and that he'd written scores for numerous films, including (I think) 'White Cat, Black Cat', which I really must see. (My research tells me she's wrong about the last, but her contagious enthusiasm told me something about the man in question.)

Proceedings got underway, as I recall (the concert lasted more than 3 hours, so go easy on me), with a 14-strong (and I do mean strong) male choir. To my count, there were 15 mikes, so I figure they were down a man. This made no dint in their cathedral organ-like power to move the very soul, with the bass notes proving especially stirring. Bregovic's virtuosic right-hand man (or one of 'em), on reeds; then, from the wings, blasts of brass, including a few tubas. There were strings galore and a couple of angel-voiced women in, apparently, national dress ('though I can't pretend to know the nation represented). The Bregster's W & F Orchestra is a big deal, with a big-hearted, full-throated, deep, rich, resonant presence.

It's not just irrepressible, but an 'uncontainable' sound; perhaps the truest-ever expression of the term world music, since this crosses borders, styles, cultures and languages in a way & to an extent I can't bring to mind ever having stumbled into before. One moment you're in cinematic reverie, the next amidst the histrionics of opera; then a liturgy, drinking song or darkly alternative pop-rock song. It's klezmer, Bulgarian polyphony, Mexican street band, Greek wedding, sensual Arabic reverie, tango. (Genre-bending has become bigger business than gender-bending, it seems to me, notwithstanding Priscilla hitting the London stage.)

Bregovic, around 9 years older than me and, thus, veritably venerable, is a renaissance man, a musical polymath, which makes all of the above, seemingly impossible, entirely feasible. His role, onstage, is to direct and inspire; playing tasteful licks on his electric guitar, delicately bringing what could so easily otherwise be an incongruous rock flavour to the musics (deliberately plural). No subtitles are necessary for songs sung in another language, as there is an emotional universality to his compositions, which needs no translation: sad; comic; introspective; alcoholic; invigorated.

In some way, Bregovic's personal journey is, perhaps, discernible, in his works. From half-hearted music student, to rebellious guitarist; Eastern bloc idol to collaborator, with Emir Kusturica, on Times of The Gypsies. His success enabled him to realise his dream of dwelling, in a small home, by the Adriatic, but the tumults of war put paid to it all. He was exiled, in Paris. (There are worse places to be exiled, I suppose.) Since, he has become a prolific, renowned and revered composer for the big screen; evidenced in further work with blood-brother Kusturica, but also the likes of Patrice Chereau.

It represents quite a trip, as does a Bregovic concert. And, on either count, trust me, you probably don't know the half of it. For example, he's written for theatre, too, in his, ahem, spare time.

Extra-special mention must be made of his deservedly front-and-centre, all-in-one, percussionist, accordionist & flamenco singer. (I'm only too sorry I don't have names at my disposal, inorder to pay proper tribute.)

Goran Bregovic and his 'band of gypsies', in performance, is a colourful, poetical, fantastical experience. The rest of life should be so redolent; so pregnant with passion & other feeling. And, at the same time, it's so extraordinarily real & reflective of the human condition. GB has tapped into the collective unconscious.

Goran Bregovic
In Concert

Venue: Sydney Opera House
Dates: October 14 and 16
Visit: www.sydneyoperahouse.com

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