BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA: Wild Wild East - Dubioza Kolektiv
Updated: Jan 20
Aggressive and authentic, satirical and political themes are hidden under a mix of genres
It took me a bit of effort to attune to Dubioza Kolektiv’s eclectic, satirical and unusual style, but once I did, I found much to enjoy in this album, though it wasn’t always an easy ride. Their songs are by turns catchy, funny and distinctively Balkan, and it’s a good mix. It isn’t purely Balkan music however. Dubioza Kolektiv combine Bosnian music with rock, rap, dub music, ska, reggae and a whole bunch of other genres that I’m probably missing. This fast pace (a Balkan music constant I’m beginning to notice) and furious switching from genres from song to song can be a bit exhausting at times, even with a rather slender runtime of 38 minutes, but that’s not to say it’s a bad album. Far from it. This is definitely an album with hidden depths when one looks closer at the lyrics. I can’t deny that on a musical level I don’t love this (though I still enjoy it), but on a lyrical level it comes alive.
“It has an authentically Bosnian outlook, and it touches on serious topics, and that’s a hallmark of their song writing.”
The songs are often political and satirical, and that is best shown on the songs USA and Euro Song. The latter is written from the perspective of someone who is tired of the hypocrisy of the European Union, name-checking former and current European leaders like Silvio Berlusconi, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Angela Merkel, and accusing them ignoring Bosnia and Herzegovina. The singer is “sick of being European just on Euro Song”, and he is effectively decrying the way Western Europe looks down on their home country. They’re good enough to participate in Eurovision, but that is it. Euro Song is humorous and tongue-in-cheek, but it has an authentically Bosnian outlook, and it touches on serious topics, and that’s a hallmark of their song writing. It also has a bit of backstory. They were considered to be the Bosnian entry for the Eurovision song contest, but declined as they would have had to sign a contract stating they would refrain from making political statements. Euro Song was their response.
USA is another great example of Dubioza Kolektiv at their best. It is probably my favourite song on the album, and it has a catchy Balkan-inflected ska beat. Once again, it deals with contemporary issues in Bosnia & Herzegovina, namely the lack of opportunities in the country, and how the narrator, buying into the American Dream sold to him through the media and Western culture, wants to leave Bosnia & Herzegovina to make it in America. However, the narrator finds that America is hardly all it is cracked up to be, and ultimately finds himself wishing he was back in the Balkans. It sneakily pokes fun at Bosnia and the USA, but ultimately appreciative of their homeland and critical of the widespread view of America being the land of opportunity. They also show a maturity in their satirical style. Making Money is an anti-capitalist song written from the viewpoint of an arch-capitalist. In this, we find a similarity with the work of the great American satirical song writer Randy Newman, who also writes songs in character, taking perspectives that aren’t his own in order to skewer them. Now, Dubioza Kolektiv are by no stretch of the imagination as slyly satirical as Newman – they’re also not as daring in their provocation either – but the similarity is definitely there.
If I were to identify a problem with this album, it would be that often interesting, political lyrics are hidden underneath catchy, fast-paced rhythms and unclear singing. They are often so well hidden, in fact, that it is very easy to miss it entirely. If I did not need to listen to it several times over to write this review, I could easily have not noticed much of what the album has to offer. However, that could very well be the point. Dubioza Kolektiv’s keyboardist Brano Jakubovic has stated that they wish to create music that can make people dance and think. Therefore, on their own terms, they must be considered a success. So, if any of what you have read has intrigued you, take the time, listen actively, and enjoy.