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Recap of my trip to ‘Berlin of the Balkans’ for Balkan Trafik Festival

Balkan Trafik is a yearly festival promoting the interchange of Balkan and European culture through all artistic domains. From music to dance, to street art, exhibitions and political debates, Balkan Trafik Festival is a space where creatives from South-Eastern European countries and from Brussels come together. Moreover, they’re celebrating their 15th anniversary this year! Here’s WHEN you need to be WHERE:  

  • Friday 29.04 @ Brussels – De Brouckère
    • 16.30 – 18.30 (FREE)
    • 18.30 – 00.00 (last entrance: 22.30)
  • Saturday 30.04 @ Brussels – De Brouckère
    • 13.00 – 18.00  (FREE)
    • 18.00 – 00.00 (last entrance: 22.30)
  • Sunday 1.05 @ Brussels – Grand-Place
    • 14.00 – 18.00 (FREE)

You’ll be able to see well-known Balkan artists such as Goran Bregović and many more. Get your tickets here.

Text and photography by Rosanne Coetsier (@rosiephotography)

Why Balkan Trafik?

It is commonly said that the Balkans are Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania. However, as these countries are stigmatized by human trafficking, arms trafficking, etc, Europeans are often not too keen to visit these countries or even learn about their different cultures.

Therefore, Balkan Trafik enthusiastically aims to overturn these preconceptions through cultural and artistic interchange to provoke reflection, curiosity and openness.  “Balkan Trafik” stands for a ‘traffic’ in cultures and experiences offering keys for integration, communication, and sharing. At the end of the day, we all are humans of flesh and blood with different traditions and cultures that we can learn from.

The Belgrade Trip

In the context of the approaching Balkan Festival, Chase was offered  the opportunity to join a press trip to Belgrade. Chase collaborator and ex-intern Rosanne joined the trip as a photographer from the 29th of March until the 1st of April. 

As I love discovering new places and never really considered Serbia as a travel destination, I was intrigued and immediately said yes! Let me guide you through my intensely filled journey through the ‘Berlin of the Balkans’ - Rosanne

DAY 1: Graffiti Tour + official reception at the Belgian Embassy

As we had to reschedule our flights, everything was a bit of a rush on our first day. We arrived a bit later and went immediately from dropping our luggage at the hotel to hopping on the bus to our first activity: a graffiti tour through the suburbs of Belgrade with muralist Jana Danilovic who showed us amazing murals of different Balkan artists.

I found Jana’s philosophy behind graffiti really inspiring. For her, a mural should reflect the neighbourhood and the people living there. The whole point is that locals perceive the mural as their own, engage with it, identify with it and obviously like it. Therefore, she always involves the community (who are often subjects of the mural) from the start and talks with them about their expectations of her art. 

Jana also mentioned there are not many female graffiti artists in Belgrade as it’s not normalised yet for Roma women to perform such arts. As I’ll mention further down below, Balkan countries have more patriarchal systems that don’t really encourage women to get out of their comfort zone and pursue a career, let alone a creative one. That’s why she loves getting together with other female artists to create art and inspire each other, which you can see on the mural below.

You can admire her art in Belgrade but also in the Nieuwlandstraat 132 in Brussels, where she created a monumental fresco for last year’s edition of the festival.

In the evening, we were all (very) formally invited to the Belgian Embassy for a talk and reception. As there’s not much press coming to Belgrade (for now), we were literally welcomed and treated as royalty. Quite an experience and I just soak it all in (including the amazing food). I didn’t expect anything like that, and I enjoyed every second of it! 

DAY 2: Live concerts in Vladičin Han 

After a 4h drive (!) we arrived in a village close to the Macedonian and Bulgarian border: Vladičin Han. We barely got out of the bus when we heard the energetic sound of trumpets welcoming us. During 4 intense and uplifting hours, we were treated to live concerts of three brass bands: Bojan Krstić Orkestar, ROJAZE, and Orkestar Mladi Braka Kadrievi, consisting of Albanese, Serbian and Macedonian artists. You will be able to watch all three at the Balkan Trafik Festival on Saturday 30/04.

The thing that touched me the most was the incredible hospitality, pride, and authenticity of the Romani people showing their music and culture to us. All generations, dancing together and enjoying themselves, ... they were so connected. I literally didn’t know where to watch- and what to photograph first. It was an inspiring, unique and eye-opening experience that I, once again, didn’t see coming. 

After some traditional Serbian food, a.k.a. carbs on carbs, we got back on the bus to Belgrade in a tired but grateful mood. 

DAY 3: Debate day

Day three was dedicated to politics and debates.

We started with a press conference with environmental activist and chairwoman of the Rzab- God save Rzav Union: Nataša Milivojević. What stuck with me was that there’s still a lot of corruption with regard to environmental regulation in Serbia. Just like anywhere, capitalism rules over the wellbeing of the people and the world. However, with the right motivation, pressure, and patience of different initiatives (such as Balkan Trafik!), there is hope for a better future.

It is clear that with these encounters and debates, Balkan Trafik wants to encourage specific Balkan Regions to create more equality between men and women. The festival also takes into account the important influence of the Jewish, Muslim and Romani minorities. Those, and especially the Romani communities, free themselves from borders. Thanks to them, the festival gets access to many more countries.

In the afternoon, we attended a debate between different Balkan artists, musicians, activists and Young European Ambassadors about women empowerment and emancipation. Romani culture is known for its patriarchal ideals, so it was super interesting to see how many Romani women want to break out of that gender-normative tradition of marrying young, staying at home with the family and not pursuing careers. You can rewatch the livestream here.

Afterwards, I had the opportunity to talk to one of the women taking part in the debate: Silvia Sinani, singer of ‘Pretty LOUD Band’. Pretty LOUD is the first Roma female rap group. With their music, they want to encourage Roma women to look beyond the tradition and go for their dreams. They combine hip hop with traditional Romani music and dance, such a vibe! You will be able to watch the interview soon on our socials. Listen to their latest single ‘Ravnopravno’ here

To conclude the trip, we got to go to a live concert of Balkan Jazzovic, a band that was created at the initiative of Balkan Trafik itself! The organisers asked jazz musicians Vasil Hadzimanov (piano) and Brussels based Nathan Daems (saxophone, ney or oblique flute, and kaval, a diatonic oblique flute from the Balkans) to bring together renowned artists from Belgium and the Balkans in a unique musical project. They compose and arrange together original and traditional music. The end result is rearranged, jazzified and/or Balkanized.

I loved the trip and the experiences and would recommend everyone to have a taste of Balkan culture, music and food. See you at the Balkan Trafik Festival

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