It was not such a long time ago that Mitrovica used to be one of the most popular city for enjoying music and festivals. If you ask any Mitrovicali about “The Big Band” orchestra, he will most likely recall it as one of the most well-known jazz bands from Mitrovica during the ’80s. At that time, music was at the core of the cultural life of the city. People from every community used to gather in basements to play rock ’n roll or jazz, and many concerts and festivals were organized in the region. After the war, some of the former members of all these different bands took initiatives to bring together young musician from both sides. The Mitrovica Rock school was founded in 2008 with the same purpose in mind and helped the young Mitrovicali from every community to get acquainted with rock, jazz, and other musical genres. For this event, we had the honor to receive former members of the Big band orchestra: Gazmend Mustafa, Petar “Pera” Rakić, and Ergin Köroğlu. We had the opportunity to listen to their stories and hear Pera play.
Ergin Köroğlu, the oldest member of the Big Band orchestra started his musical career as a trumpeter in 1957. He had learned how to play the clarinet and the saxophone at the music school of the city. He then formed a small orchestra with his friends and brothers. Most of the people playing music at that time were working for Trepça in the city of Zveçan. Trepça holds an important role in the development of music in Mitrovica. It supported financially the creation of small music bands and helped to organize music class. Ergin and his mates became a very popular band when they started to play in Prishtina and contributed to the recognition of Mitrovica as the city of rock and jazz music in Kosovo. On a funny note: the official color of the group was pink which eventually led them to call themselves, “the Five-Pink”.
Pera also recalled all the rehearsals where members of different bands would gather in basements to play, giving to the city this image of “underground” music. It has always been very important for Pera to ally new musical trends while keeping the traditional music of the region alive. This was done by mixing musicians from all generations. Pera is the man behind the creation of the North City Jazz and Blues Festival that takes place every year in Zveçan.
Gazmend Mustafa started to be involved in music by providing technical support for the different bands of Mitrovica. He recalls the competition that existed between the numerous music groups of the city and the Balkan region, for instance with “Bielo Dugme”, one of the most emblematic rock group from former Yugoslavia. At that time, “it did not matter if you were part of another community as long as you could play music”.
The three men shared with us some funny memories of how they used to work, and rehearse. During the ’80s, there was no possibility to google for scores. They always had a notebook during festival and try to transcript by hand all the music pieces they were listening. They would give concerts in different places, coffee shops, hotels, festivals…They did not only play together, they also hang out together and created a long-lasting relationship. When the audience asked about their opinion concerning current commercial music, Gazmend remembered us a famous quote from Giuseppe Verdi: “Every music is good if it is well played by the musician”. He also emphasized the necessity for the young generation of musician to dare trying new trends in music and make its own musical choices. From Pera’s point of view, the older generation should get more involved in teaching the new generation about rock and jazz music. Our three storytellers were quite positive on the future of Mitrovica as a city of music. An initiative like the Rock School is promoting peace and connections between the youth from different ethnicities and give a chance to make Mitrovica “rock” again.
Written by Célia du Plessis
‘Storytelling Caravan IV: Mitrovica, City of Music’ was the fourth event of the project “Mitrovica’s Joint Story”. This project is financed by the European Union, through the project Divided Past-Joint Future with OKC as the leading applicant and organized by GAIA Kosovo. Events will follow, on different topics exploring our experiences of Mitrovica.
The content of this article does not reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author(s).