7 songs that capture the capital’s undoubtable, but even changing swag in the past 50 years
1963: Beograde – Đorđe Marjanović
Đorđe Marjanović was the first post-war pop sensation. A trained pharmacist, he was the first Yugoslav star to gyrate around the stage and have a cult following by Đokisti, as his fans were called. Đokisti even started a minor riot in Belgrade after a musical competition in which he lost, and Đorđe had to sing to pacify them
This is the fantastically uplifting song, its cheery lyrics and swaggering music in line with the boom in post-War Yugoslavia, as New Belgrade was built and people from all around the country flocked to the capital.
1975: April u Beogradu – Zdravko Čolić
Arguably the most famous song about Belgrade, April u Beogradu (April in Belgrade) is actually real-life account of a tryst Kornelije Kovač, the songwriter and composer, while he served in the Yugoslav army.
It is of course, Zdravko Čolić, Sarajevo-born super-star crooner, who masterfully tugs at the heartstrings. His dramatic delivery and wailing at the end perfectly conjure bitter-sweetness of remembering a spring sunset at the banks of Sava with a crush.
1986: Belgrade, Belgrade – Nataša Gajović
The only English language entry, this song was part of Belgrade’s charm offensive to host the 1992 Olympics. Back then, the city was the most prosperous capital in Eastern Europe thanks to Yugoslav neutrality and Belgraders could travel all around the world, unlike their fellow-socialists behind the Iron Curtain. All this wasn’t enough, and Belgraders, always hungry for approval from “the Westerners”, wanted to show off with a single pop song.
The result is an 80s-tastic song that has it all: silly lyrics, heavily accented English and a bizzare video. Nevertheless, Nataša Gajović, a singer of the popular band, Zana, manages to bring palpable joy to this celebration of Belgrade at its zenith, and just before it all tumbled into a nightmare of the 1990s.
1995: Beograd – Ceca
Released just after Ceca, the star turbo-folk singer, got married to Arkan, a Serbian mobster/warlord who plundered and slaughtered all around Bosnia and Croatia, this song marks post-WWII bottom of life in Belgrade.
Due to the people like Arkan, Belgrade in 1995 was under sanctions with much of its citizens impoverished from a recent hyper-inflation and relying on black market for supplies. Furthermore, in the same year this song was released, a massacre in Srebrenica will happen and several hundred thousand Serbs from Croatia and Bosnia will seek refuge in Serbia.
Ceca’s (and Arkan’s) symbolism and the song’s timing understandably puts a lot of people off from this song, yet its nostalgic lyrics have etched itself into the city’s consciousness.
What makes the song even more notable is that it was written by Dino Merlin, a famous Bosnian singer-songwriter who also penned “Jedina si jedina”, an anthem of newly independent Bosnia and Herzegovina between 1992-1998.
This collaboration on an arguably good song, between Ceca, the (fomer?) symbol of rabid Serbian chauvinism and Meriln, a somewhat-nationalistic Bosniak icon, at the height of the Yugoslav civil war, only serve to underline the hypocrisy, idiocy and tragedy of that disastrous era.
1997: Divni Mladici Beograda – Bisera Veletanic
Bisera Veletanic is a grand-damme of Yugoslav jazz and soul. This slightly campy song about the wonderful youths of Belgrade, is an ultimate ballad of Belgrade-homesickness. Despite admiring the bright lights of a foreign city and vastness of the non-Belgrade world, Bisera still lusts not only for Belgrade’s boys, but also for spring and chestnut blooms in the white city.
Homesickness in 1997 was a reality for thousands of Belgraders who had to leave the city in the past 30 years to seek better life elsewhere. The exodus from Belgrade continues to this day, mostly with highly educated and artistic youths, many of whom end up longing for Belgrade despite successes abroad and indulging in sweetness of Bisera’s song.
2011: Znoj – SevdahBaby
The first good song about Belgrade in this millennium is an ode to its sweaty nightclubs. Although the chaos of 1990s impoverished and drove people away, it also created a vibrant club scene. Those who did not escape from Serbia, escape(d) the gloomy reality by partying the nights away.
Reminiscing about various DJ nights in the city from 1970s to early 2010s, one line can serve as a motto of Belgrade’s party scene “it wasn’t easy back then, and it ain’t easy now, but funk made me sweat so that I can’t cry”.
2015: Nadrkano Hodanje – Sajsi MC
Although rapping about Belgrade per se, Sajsi recounts an average night out in the city, from pre-gaming in parks to posing in the clubs. As if the shout-outs to children playing in Tašmajdan and cheap wine brands aren’t enough, Sajsi’s affected Central Belgrade delivery probably makes the song more Belgrade than Kalemegdan.