My Balkan tour started in Paris, actually.? I was flying through Charles de Gaulle, but my original plane was delayed.? This gave me 8 hours in Paris which was really great.? I hadn’t been there since 1996 and I was pleasantly surprised to see that I could still find my way around after all these years.? I found the restaurant where I worked and went to the Mus?e d’Orsay and found some paintings and sculptures that had had a pretty strong impact on me at the time.? They still worked for me now 🙂
Our Balkan tour proper started in Sofia Bulgaria. We didn’t get in all the rehearsals we wanted to get but still managed to make the record crowd of 3200 happy. The previous record for a Songs of the Soul concert was last year in Budapest for 2000 people. A very auspicious start to a great tour.? Just like in 2009, Abhijit and I performed two songs as a duo and then I played bass for the Gandharva Loka Orchestra.? Other acts included Blue Flower, Mandu and Visuddhi, Premik & Friends, Adesh and Ajita, Paree’s Group, Irina and Vedic Fire.
The drive from Sofia to Skopje? went fine but there were no highways. Prior to 1991 the so-called Iron Curtain was drawn at that border.? Bulgaria being part of the Eastern Bloc and Macedonia being part of Yugoslavia which wasn’t on any side of the Cold War, really.? Tito (Prime Minister and President of Yugoslavia 1943-1980) being the champion of a nonalignment treaty.? So it was a scenic drive on small roads. The concert in Skokie was also very nice and on we went for the third concert in Nis, Serbia. The Nis concert was special because it was our first outdoor concert.? It was an amphitheater built within the walls of the old fortress. The weather was very nice and so it was a very memorable evening.
The local organizers had even gone so far as buying television spots for the concert. I have to say that in general the local organizers spared no effort to make sure that the crowds would be substantial. For example, in our next city, Belgrade, there were at least 12 full sized billboards for the concert.
Belgrade was also a fantastic concert. Just like in Sofia, we played on the same stage that Bob Dylan had played on the night before.? We more or less were following Mr. Dylan on his tour of the Balkans. Some of us got to calling him our warm-up act.? From Belgrade we drove to Pecs Hungary. This was one of our most challenging drives. We tried to avoid crossing into Croatia and waiting at another border but in so doing, we lengthened our trip by 2 to 3 hours. All was good in the end and the crowd amassed in the University Auditorium was very appreciative. Pecs is in a very hilly area and several of us got a chance to go out running in the lovely setting. After having unsuccessfully tried to avoid Croatia on the drive from Belgrade to Pecs, this time we deliberately crossed the border into Croatia and drove on to Zagreb. The hall where we played in Zagreb was the most prestigious in all of the former Yugoslavia. Excellent acoustics, excellent equipment, and excellent technicians.
It was a very nice way to conclude the tour.? Last I heard 10 800 people attended the 6 concerts.
After the tour proper, Premik and I drove back to Belgrade and spent three days visiting. Our hosts took care of us way above any of our expectations. It was really a great time. Premik had interviews with local television and radio.? One of the interview led to our hanging out with a bona fide Serbian jazz legend – Misa Blam – who told us stories about Charles Mingus and the like.
We visited the local sites, the local beach and hung out in cool caf?s.? My favorite was the Everest Caf? managed by my friend Purnendu (who incidentally gave me a very thorough and fascinating explanation of Yugoslavian and geopolitics). I had a similar feeling in Belgrade as I did in Istanbul. The feeling of being in an incredibly rich historical place that has been a crossroads for civilizations for thousands of years.? Really cool (except for all the wars of course. Those are not cool. Belgrade has been destroyed and rebuilt 38 times in its history).? Our hosts even serendipitously set up a recording session in a studio right by the Danube.
Premik and I had the honor and privilege of jamming with Mira (voice) and Dhanu (guitar, mridagam, sarod) who have their own devotional music group called Kamala.? Special thanks to Dragan who invited us and engineered the short session.? This was one of my favorite experiences on this trip. Maybe I will even be able to post some music from this session in the coming weeks.
In any case, I was charmed by the entire region and hope go back there in the near future.