Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

Balkan Fascination: Creating an Alternative Music Culture in America

Academic journal article Yearbook for Traditional Music

Balkan Fascination: Creating an Alternative Music Culture in America

Article excerpt

Lausevic, Mirjana. Balkan Fascination: Creating an Alternative Music Culture in America. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007. x, 299 pp., photographs, figures, musical examples, bibliography, discography, notes, appendix, CD/DVD, index.

In August 2006-several months prior to publication-one could already hear talk of Mirjana Lausevic's forthcoming Balkan Fascination at the East European Folklife Center's annual Balkan Music and Dance Workshop in Rock Hill, New York. The anticipation of this book among many of its primary interlocutors demonstrates the intrigue and dialogue generated by the author's research. It also raises questions about the role of music scholarship in the North American Balkan scene, the authority granted musicians from Southeast Europe, and the very nature of fascination. In an admirably cohesive balance of ethnography and historical inquiry, Lausevic analyses many of these issues and elucidates how, over more than a century, many Americans have come to dedicate much of their lives to Balkan music and dance.

Balkan Fascination concerns primarily the dancers, musicians, ensembles, and workshops that constitute the Balkan music and dance scene. Part I, an ethnography based on fieldwork conducted from 1992 to 2006, introduces the current scene and its members. These "Balkanites" are typically white, urban, and highly educated professionals of non-Southeast European heritage who regularly attend summer Balkan music and dance workshops. They participate throughout the year in ensembles and classes with a focus on either a specifically Balkan or a broader, international folk repertoire. Among factors such as the social intimacy of circular Balkan dances and interest in novel rhythms, harmonies, and vocal timbres, Lausevic cites the notion that Balkan music offers "realness" that American culture lacks as one of the most common reasons for participation. Balkanites perceive these traditions as sufficiently ancient, different, and rooted in the folk to facilitate real experience yet white enough to appropriate without difficulty or compunction. The finely compiled CD/DVD of field recordings accompanying the book illustrates effectively the virtual tourism of transforming a weeklong workshop into a Balkan village in order to experience the "realness" of peasant traditions.

Lausevic's status as a Bosnian music authority and yet an outsider to the value systems of the workshops highlights the uncertain relationship of the scene to actual musicians and traditions in the Balkans. Balkanites frequently perform and perpetuate stereotypes of "real" Balkan folk. They also commonly collect costumes, records, and dance steps with both eagerness for new material and concern for its authenticity. The search often leads Balkanites to Southeast Europe, however, where they find their stereotypes and "museum mentality" difficult to reconcile with the diversity and fluidity of both the musicians and the traditions they encounter. Although a source of conflict within the scene, the increase in members from or with experience in the Balkans (especially those who amplify their instruments) has helped to dispel conceptions of authenticity as absolute. Lausevic argues that this embrace of fluid tradition over orthodoxy has allowed the scene to flourish at a time of generally decreasing participation in folk music in the United States.

One of the primary misconceptions that Lausevic herself challenges in Balkan Fascination is the assumption that interest in Balkan repertoire within the US began in the 1960s. The remainder of the book covers three periods of increasing interest in Balkan music and dance. Part II, "Folk Dancing and Turn-of-the-Century America," begins at the late nineteenth century when settlement-house workers first organized dance classes, social evenings, and cultural pageants for European immigrants. These workers sought not assimilation but incorporation into American society of immigrant cultures whose traditions might benefit the progressive democratic society and multiculturalism the settlement houses wished to foster. …

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