Slovene Rock Star Urges Return to Balkan Roots

Unveiling his new album, Zoran Predin says Balkan nations need to rediscover their traditional music, if they don’t want their musical scene to be overwhelmed by English and American pop.
Zoran Predin on stage.

Zoran Predin is every bit as critical of the state of music today as he was in the 1980s, when his band “Lacni Franz” stood for a progressive critique of Yugoslav politics.

Presenting his new album, Tragovi u sjeti [Footsteps in Melancholy] in Belgrade, his target is no longer a regime that has shut out the outside world, but its opposite – the rampant globalisation from which small musical markets have no means to protect themselves.

Predin’s velvety voice is almost as much loved today as it was back in the days when he was a household name of Yugoslav rock.

After leaving his rock days behind him in the 1980s, he embarked on a path of a balladeer, as most of his audience had passed their rebellious years and sought calmer music.

Now he has decided to pay homage to those times by recording an album in which he sings Yugoslavia’s biggest pop hits as though they were slow, jazzy tunes with only the piano for accompaniment, played by Croatian jazz maestro, Matija Dedic.

Q: To what do you attribute Lacni Franz’s popularity in former Yugoslavia?

A: We were the only band that made it in Yugoslavia singing in Slovenian, so in a way, we were the ambassadors of the Slovenian language. Our fans were learning the language to understand what we were singing about.

Q: When you perform in Belgrade or Zagreb in the local language, which language you would say you are using?

A: I’d say I sing in a language that everybody understands. Sometimes I use Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian and Bosnian words all in one sentence. But it’s not crucial. I speak a mixture of languages, which I think everyone understands, while I sing the songs in the language they were written in.

Q: You were one of the first Slovenian singers to return to his audience in the lands created after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Why?

A: People invited me. They did not forget me. The ‘New Wave’ of which I was a part in the 1980s joined people together, rather than promoting divisions. As in basketball, we musicians came out of those sad times clean. That is why today musicians and sportsmen are welcome in all parts of former Yugoslavia. To me, singing in Belgrade is like singing at home.

Q: You went to Sarajevo just days after the 1995 Dayton Agreement. What are your recollections?

A: The Slovenian group Laibach and I went to Sarajevo while there was still the curfew and we experienced Sarajevo in all its horror. The contacts and bonds we’d made before the war with people there were never broken. Our generation prevailed. We are still here and can have a good laugh about it all.

Q: What about your trips to Serbia, which was a less desired destination for artists at the time?

A: Once those who created these wars were left powerless, things changed. The climate got better. Normal human exchange was possible. Traditional Serbian hospitality, connected to excellent food, music and film and an excellent sense of humour and self-irony resurfaced. Self-irony is a characteristic of great nations. Some stereotypes helped us triumph over the dark times, which I believe no one wants to think about anymore.

Q: Since the break-up of Yugoslavia numerous Slovenian musicians have opposed colleagues from Serbia and Croatia, who are enormously popular in Slovenia, going there and grabbing a share of the market. What is the situation like now?

A: It is still like that. With popular music, the competition is hard. Also, a mass exodus of the Slovenian population to Dalmatia every summer has brought results. I sometimes joke that every second Slovenian was probably conceived in Dalmatia. This joke is likely not far from the truth. In winter, when Dalmatian bands come to Slovenia, the music halls are sold out. But such a situation is not a problem. The real problem is the fact that the Slovenian state does not protect its musicians. Take Croatia. There are no regulations there, but if you look at the charts on the national radio, the most popular foreign song is in 52nd place, way behind all the domestic production. In Slovenia, the first Slovenian song is in 20th place. So one must think about how we value our music and how our country values it.
The French decades ago said that on radio stations there must be one domestic song for every foreign song. Foreign music capital, and by that I mean American and English, wants to subdue Slovenia. That may happen because we did not develop defence mechanisms. One of the key reasons is that we did not teach the young generations to value their traditional music. If you go to Ireland, make no mistake that every 10-year-old will know by heart ten Irish traditional and folk songs. In Slovenia, that is not the case.

Q: Now you work with Matija Dedic. How did that come about?

A: I’ve known and worked with Arsen Dedic, Matija’s father for a long time. In a way he was my mentor when I devoted to chanson, which was after the Lacni Franz period. During that time Matija became an excellent pianist and it was only a matter of time before we did something together. ‘Tragovi u sjeti’ is a project everyone was very pessimistic about. We took Yugoslavia’s biggest pop hits and adapted them to piano-voice combination. No one believed this would turn out well. I did not want to compete with the singers of those mega-hits, but rather turned things upside down and went minimalist. We reduced these songs to what I believe is some sort of original state. Now, when you hear the songs, you can notice that much of the work was done in the production room. There is nothing you can take away or add to such songs. There is no space for imagination, but with the way we do it, you can employ your imagination intensely.

Q: How do you choose your projects?

A: I set five projects as a goal and then see two of them through. Once I am done with the first, I immediately work on the second. While working with Matija, I also worked on a project with a Slovenian group called Cover Lover. They play loud and energetic music, which is a stark contrast to what I do with Matija.

Q: How did you see the musical potential of the region when it was still Yugoslavia and how do you see it now when we have several independent countries?

A: In the 1980s the Yugoslavia’s popular music scene was the third in the world after the American and English. Of course, we were not aware of that. Those times were innovative, with many excellent songs that still live today. But if we look at things from a broader perspective and take, for example the Eurosong that was made to represent regional music in domestic language, now you have the situation when everyone sings in English, which is pointless. This region has enormous musical potential. We always followed world trends. We were not behind with quality. That is why we should protect our music with legislation so that one musical scene does not overwhelm all the others. I believe the time is coming when we will again be interested in the original, the autochthonous.

Q: What are the problems when it comes to the free flow of music through the region?

A: I believe the difference between the urban and the rural is the key difference. Urban music connects, and is beginning to prevail. Much self-consciousness is needed if we are not to have negative sentiments after the times we experienced in the 1990s. But this self-consciousness also comes from the fact that you know how to be proud of your music.

This article is funded under the BICCED project, supported by the Swiss Cultural Programme.