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If you're looking for entertainment value, then Goran Bregovic is your man. The Sarajevo-born musician/bandleader has been touring the globe with his multi-ensemble musical circus - which glories in calling itself The Weddings and Funerals Band - with ever-increasing popularity. His show tonight at 11:30 at Tel Aviv's Exhibition Grounds should warm the cockles as well as the corporeal beings of local fans. Other dynamic acts on the bill include the equally energized Balkan Beat Box - led by NYC-resident Israelis Ori Kaplan and Tamir Muskat - and the Giraffes pop group.
While almost impossible to pigeonhole due to the range of genres incorporated in the show, it could be said that Bregovic's music marries the sound and energy of a Gypsy brass band with traditional multi-layered Bulgarian vocals, topped off with rock seasoning.
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Playing 80-100 gigs a year, one wonders how Bregovic manages to stay fresh and keep his stage cohorts on their toes. According to the Bosnian, that's not a problem. He says he simply loves the music and is drawn to the sonority of what he performs.
"I had a long rock career. For 15 years I was a big rock star in Yugoslavia. But I was fed up with it, especially with playing rock, as it always has a need to amplify things, to enlarge, to improve the picture with light, to strengthen the sound with amplifiers," he explains.
That disillusionment led to a temporary break.
"Before the [Yugoslav] war I was already retired; I didn't want to play anymore. I'd had enough. What made me play again was when I heard the Balanescu Quartet playing two of my pieces in Rome for the first time and saw four men playing my music while sitting in chairs, without amplification. What I do today is a simple concert; it has nothing in common with show biz or stage performances. It's just music. So I sit and sip my drink slowly, surrounded by talented people, and it's a great pleasure."
Given the dynamism of The Weddings and Funeral Band's onstage antics, Bregovic's description of "a simple concert" is somewhat surprising. Bregovic's first show at Tel Aviv's Center for the Performing Arts had the packed audience in raptures. The show ebbed and flowed and roller coasted through a repertoire of wildly in-your-face numbers, subtle Bulgarian vocal polyphonies and emotive middle European textures. It was mesmerizing. Since then, Bregovic has brought his musical circus here several times, including an appearance at the Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat, and has always performed to wildly enthusiastic, jam-packed houses.
Bregovic says his own cross-cultural roots (his mother is Serbian and father Croatian) made it natural for him to explore varied musical terrain even in his previous professional life. He also attributes part of his success to that - unpremeditated - multi-pronged approach.
"I was always impressed by traditional music. At 15 I played traditional music as a professional. My rock group succeeded precisely because my music was always inspired by traditional music and the inevitable Gypsies. So I've practically been doing the same thing my whole life."
One thing that changed, though, is Bregovic's sartorial ethos. "When I was younger I believed my music had to be wrapped in the Western dress which so impressed the youth in the communist countries of Eastern Europe. One could say that I've always played the same music, only once I wore diapers and now I wear ordinary clothes."
But there is very little ordinary about Bregovic or his music. Even considering the expansive domain incorporated by today's world music, the idea of culling vibes from wedding celebrations as well as funerals seems revolutionary. Not for Gregovic.
"Where I come from, weddings and funerals are still the two most important events in life, both on a personal and sociological level, and the music that accompanies them is played by the same musicians. At funerals they perform the music that the departed person liked to hear. That is where I, as a composer, come from."
In addition to his own ethnic range, Bregovic's personal and artistic evolution was naturally affected by the hostilities in his part of the world. Many musicians talk about the ability of art to bridge political and cultural gaps, but Bregovic doesn't entirely subscribe to that belief.
"War is a stupid game that leaves behind not only terrible yet attractive scenes on CNN but also deep wounds in the social fabric, wounds that heal painfully, slowly, sometimes never. When you were born in a place like the one where I was born, or in the one where you live, you must be prepared for more bad news than good news in life. But you just step on the gas and go on. I'm now too old and too far from the time when - out of vanity - I imagined that art can change things.
"But I'm still too young to lose hope!"