The country that was Yugoslavia might not exist anymore but it lives on in the hearts of some. Katarina Gadjanski and other “ex-Yugoslavians” who came to see her ensemble The Gypsy Fever Quartet at the Hootananny Brixton proved the case, on what would have otherwise been just another Wednesday night. Gadjanski took a packed house on a nostalgic journey through the musical landscape of Former Yugoslavia, and thanks to her informative commentary throughout her set I could almost believe it still existed.
Gypsy Fever’s repertoire was essentially a tale of love and loss, summing up the story of the now defunct country in a nutshell. The stories were in the form of Bosnian, Dalmatian, Serbian or Vojvodinan folk serenades to young maidens and elements of nature. The songs were striking in their sorrow – like Zajdi Zajdi, which though mournful was a Macedonian wake-up call to a slumbering young girl. The reference to maidens was a recurrent theme – another song was Macedonsko devojce (Macedonian Maiden) – and an audience could be forgiven for thinking they’d fallen into a parallel universe of Grimm’s fairy tales.
Though led by Gadjanski, Gypsy Fever seems more like a collective of musicians, with Gadjanski generously allowing the other talents in the ensemble to shine. Lori Secanska constantly hit the high melancholic notes that gave these folk songs of a remembered Yugoslavia their haunting character. The multi-instrumentalist Alex Paton added his voice to the list and came into his own in Oj Savice, a Croatian serenading of the river, which the ensemble delivered acappella-style to hypnotic effect. While the stars around her sparkled, Gadjanski crouched low on the floor, blissfully communing with her harmonium.
The irony of Gypsy Fever’s ‘Yugoslavia state of mind’ becomes more apparent with the fact that of the whole ensemble only Gadjanski, who is Serbian, is ex-Yugoslavian. More interesting still – as I gathered in my impromptu interview with her – none of the instruments they played were indigenous to ex-Yugoslavia. Along with Gadjanski’s Indian harmonium, there are Celtic whistles, Italian mandolins, Spanish cajons, the West African Jembe (or Djembe), as well as Secanska’s Slovakian dulcet tones. With its international members and multicultural instruments Gypsy Fever is truly World Music.
The ensemble, according to Gadjanski, is continuously in a state of flux, with a revolving door of members adding to the sense of a collective: the line up at the Hootananny Brixton was just one of its many incarnations. Gadjanski told of a group whose formation was inspired by travel and which to date, over five years, has gone through an organic process of change. Just like the “ex-Yugoslavia” in the hearts of Gadjanski and her audience of fellow-nostalgics, Gypsy Fever gets reborn if and when required: as much a state mind as a musical ensemble. The launch of the latest reincarnation of the group is at the Jamboree, Lime House on the 8th March 2015.
For details of Gypsy Fever’s forthcoming events please see the following link: