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Bargain Bin Babylon: Various Artists: Croatian Jubilee 2

Bargain Bin Babylon: Various Artists: Croatian Jubilee 2

Croatian Jubilee 2 seems to reside in some uncontroversial land between folk and pop.

The cover of Croatian Jubilee 2 features a quaint illustration of a couple in the old country leading livestock through a snowy landscape. The couple happens to lead you through a nation’s music as well.

Credited to Kićo and Friends, the instrumentation throughout the two-album set is similar. Crisply recorded for the Croatian Radio Network, the album features minor variations on Croatian folk music, heavy on the tamburica. Croatian Jubilee 2) is part of a series which, according to Discogs, went to at least five volumes. This album isn’t dated, but since Discogs dates the premiere volume to 1982, this sophomore set is likely from 1983.

Kićo is the nickname for Croatian pop singer Krunoslav Slabinac, and most of his friends play the stringed lute-like instrument native to Croatia and also popular in Hungary and Greece. The hard vowels of Kićo and his friend’s names seem forbidding but have an appealing ring: Od Srca Tamburitzans. Etna Tamburaši. Bijela Zvijezda Tamburitzans. The challenging syllables and foreign diphthongs evoke a rougher and harder music than the fairly pleasant sounds these groups make. This music seems perfectly traditional without a hint of American or even Liverpudlian corruption, but leading man Kićo is very much a pop star to his people: in 1971 he represented Yugoslavia at the Eurovision competition.

With no context for Croatian folk, save perhaps incidental music in some Dušan Makavejev film, a two-record set of tamburica-based music may seem impossible to get a meaningful bead on. But it helps that Kićo has so many friends; even if they all play the tamburica, that doesn’t mean they all sound alike. The Sloga Tamburitza Orchestra features an ordinary male chorus and a hooky break of what may as well be rhythm tamburica. If you’ll pardon the hopelessly American frame of reference, it seems vaguely like the Croatian equivalent of Lou Reed’s spirited rhythm guitar on the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.”

That doesn’t make this a Croatian version of the garage band comp Nuggets, however. The second disc opens with a solo track from its marquee star, Kićo. His performance of “Svi Se Momci Oženiše” seems warmer and rawer than some of the ensembles on the first disc. Exactly how pop is this? The album’s final side starts with the spirited “Sa Slavonskih Sokaka” by the Vaiovi Tamuritzas, led by a woman with an oddly operatic voice that doesn’t quite suit the rustic sound and slightly out of tune strings. She clearly has chops, but when the singer strains to hit high notes that she then misses, the blown notes begin to seem like texture more than the work of amateurs.

Croatian Jubilee 2 seems to reside in some uncontroversial land between folk and pop. But it raises the question: Did an underground music scene ever emerge from the former Yugoslavia? Makavejev was an iconoclastic filmmaker whose work was banned in his native land. While he turned to the Fugs for music on WR: Mysteries of the Organism, did he have underground bands to choose from, like the Czechs had the Plastic People? Further research indicates that there was a Yugoslavian rock scene little known in the West, and the blog Jugo Rock Forever is dedicated to the region’s rock – and punk!

The album raises another question: How did Croatian music end up in a mid-Atlantic dollar bin? The answer may not be as mysterious as it first seems. A note on the back of the album explains that you can order more records from the Croatian Radio Network – with an address in Pittsburgh. As the world grows ever smaller, a wealth of unknown music is easily within our reach. Listen to it on Spotify or YouTube – or better still, grab it from your favorite neighborhood dollar bin.

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