“It was exhilarating to see an audience”

MOST MUSIC programme’s Urban Policy pillar is an incubator for projects connecting the music sector and cities. The programme helps develop and implement initiatives that draw the ties between the creative sector and the region’s urban environments closer. The first round of the Urban Policy pillar seek to facilitate collaboration between local institutions and people with great ideas.

Dana Mckelvey, as Urban Policy Researcher, observed the ways in which these dynamic projects represented the goals of MOST. In this report, she described to us what she experienced during her journey:

The Urban Policy Pillar for MOST has already, for participants, trainers, and for myself as a researcher, carved pathways of connectedness after the long hiatus in live music brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. While conducting fieldwork in Bosnia and Herzegovina for my PhD in Sociology and Social Anthropology at Central European University, I was lucky enough to become part of a network of musicians and scholars through the online CEU Summer School in Balkan Music and Heritage, and through this, to find an enthusiastic group of practitioners in MOST. After fostering a warm—but online—community in our initial meetings, I had the opportunity this fall to connect with two participants, Alexandra Pavolić who conducted ESTAM World Music Fest in Kragujevac, Serbia, and Jelena Božić, who organized TAKT Festival in Novi Sad, Serbia.

My mission as the Urban Policy Researcher was to observe the ways in which these dynamic projects represented the goals of MOST (which means “bridge” in Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian) to connect and support actors of the world music scene—not only the artists themselves, but also the spaces, managers, and institutions involved. As in my PhD research in urban social movements in Republika Srpska or the “Serbian Republic” of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I observed the emotional and personal aspects of gathering. What connections, tangible and intangible, were made at these festivals? And how were these connections particular to the Balkan urban settings in which they took place? The Balkan region is often called the “most” or bridge between several cultures because of its complex history; but, it is also a region in which personal connection and unparalleled hospitality towards foreigners make it easy to forge bridges.

When traveling to ESTAM, I embarked on my journey from Banja Luka via a bus to Belgrade, where I had enough time to sit with my coffee and feel the Belgrade spirit before my second bus to Kragujevac. Like the musicians headed to the ESTAM festival, I had spent many months without the opportunity to travel, let alone to travel to a space created by forward-thinking, and internationally conscious, people. I would soon see that the festival provided exactly this medicine.

Alexandra organized hotel stay in the center of Kragujevac for myself, representatives of other organizations such as the Belgrade based Multikultivtor, and the participating musicians, creating an informal space of connection beyond the festival hours. Alexandra explained to me the significance of the World Music Fest setting—the historic Knežev Arsenal, founded in the mid 1800s, but now a coveted venue for concerts, music videos, graffiti artists, and more. With the “urban pillar” in mind, Alexandra aimed, through the festival, to support the transformation of the Arsenal, a place of industrial heritage, into a creative and cultural hub. After months (even years) of digital encounters with art during the pandemic, it was exhilarating to see an audience of diverse ages, backgrounds, and social circles come together at the Arsenal to form and to witness not only one another, but also musicians from around the region and the world.

Sona Jobareth

The first night of ESTAM World Music Fest began with the collaboration of Sudeshna Battacharya, a connoisseur of North Indian classical music and one of only three global masters of the the rababa instrument, and Rastko Obradović, a saxophonist who finished his studies in Oslo and performs not only with a quartet in Kragujevac, but also with international musicians specializing in other genres. The meditative sounds of Sudeshna and Rastko held the audience in a spell, and their unique mix of jazz and Indian classical music typified the “bridge” building philosophy of MOST. Sona Jobareth, the second performer of the evening, was just as groundbreaking; she is the first female virtuoso ever of the kori, a harp-like instrument from West Africa. Her attitude drew more than just the cultural bridge between her native Gambia and the Kragujevac audience, but also between herself and the audience, and between music and social issues. She led an engaged audience in chants of Muso! or “power” for women, who, in her words, “work so hard to achieve their goals despite restrictions.


The second night featured the Nenad Vasilić Trio. Vasilić, a double bass player and composer, forms an innovative bridge between the rhythms and melodies from Balkan folklore and the broader genre of European jazz. Along with Marko Zivadinović on the accordion, and Rastko on his saxophone, Vasilić brought what was to me, an American who has lived in the Balkans for years, the local spirit to the World Fest. After witnessing the trio lean into their improvisation, complete masters of their craft, the audience was carried to a different musical universe with the sounds of Naked, a core band who mixes urban groove with Balkan tradition, and describes themselves as in an “endless search“ for their true musical identity. Even the toddlers in the audience danced to Nenad’s wild energy, while I was treated with traditional Balkan hospitality by the organizers and volunteers to rakija and a tour of Kragujevac’s kafane (cafés).

The TAKT festival in Novi Sad more than continued the MOST spirit of interconnectivity. As a head organizer with Kulturanova, Jelena succeeded with the help of MOST to continue the years-long TAKT project of promoting young singer-songwriters from the region and beyond who create outside of the usual commercial/pop standards. Jelena emphasizes the need for youth, especially in Serbia, to experience cultural phenomena beyond the local framework, and even managed to offer free entry to TAKT, thus opening access across class lines. The festival, set in the newly opened OPENS Youth Centre (one of the network of cultural stations belonging to the Novi Sad European Capital of Culture project), featured an impressive 150+ artists, from filmmakers to musicians to visual artists to speakers on relevant issues such as women in the cultural industry and urban access to people with disabilities.

Like Alexandra, Jelena sought to connect organizers, artists, and volunteers by accommodating them in the same space, giving them the opportunity to foster lasting personal connections. This year, more than ever before, Jelena received calls from past participants satisfied with their experience and hoping to perform again. These participants are representatives of the different national identities of the Balkans, as well as of other European regions. Already, Jelena and her team plan for next year’s festival, showing that the bridges being built not only span a vast geographic region, but also are long-lasting and sustainable. The MOST Urban Pillar team looks forward happily to more festivals in 2022, which we know will connect (and re-connect) cultural practitioners and audiences in real time after a season of alienation. ”