Serbian Folk Music - Covers or Theft?

Serbia is one of the countries that has been under the rule of the Ottoman Empire for centuries, and the oriental influences in popular music here in Serbia are more than obvious.

It might be popular for the intellectual sort here to renounce anything turbo-folk-related, but it is a fact that to a foreigner, it all sounds truly original and unique. The introspective debate there won’t be had on the subject of whether or not there is quality in Serbian turbo-folk music but will focus on the popular trend of pretty much-transcribing songs from the peer countries that surround us.

 

The trend

Some 10 years ago, I went to Greece, on vacation. Right outside a club, I and my pals brought an acoustic guitar and sat there, strumming chords and singing along to popular songs on the boardwalk. All of a sudden, I heard a song that I definitely recognized. Yep, it’s “Ljepša od noći“, by Dado and Šako Polumenta, famous Serbian turbo-folk singers. Only it wasn’t in Serbian. It was in Bulgarian. And sung by a Bulgarian turbo-folk star, Azis. Later, I learned that this trend is more than common.

 

Covers?

It is a well-known fact that musicians love covering their favorite songs. I mean, this is, after all, how they learned their trade – by reproducing music from their favorite artists. Even the likes of Johnny Cash have covered modern bands, like Nine Inch Nails; this is a tribute; a nod to their role models. The instance from the preceding paragraph (there are so many additional examples, you can just google it) simply isn’t a cover. The lyrics are different – they aren’t simply paraphrased or translated, they carry different meanings. Therefore, I’d argue that these instances are not covers – definitely not something of a nod, a tribute to a role model. They are merely blatant laziness to try and come up with a hit. Azis may have been proud of himself that the brotherly Serbian duo chose his song, but this was definitely not their primary intention. So, are these covers? Definitely not. What about theft?

 

Theft?

Theft, by logical definition, is something that leaves one party deprived of something else. Although the morality does need to be put into question here, blatantly taking a piece of music (the singing melodies and all), translating the lyrics to another language and releasing it under your own name isn’t exactly stealing. This is emphasized by the fact that it’s essentially a trend, and is, most likely, done in agreement with all parties involved. So, is the music transcription trend to be considered theft here in Serbia, and everywhere else? No, not really, to be honest.

 

Morality

I guess it all boils down to my opinion. I know people who enjoy both versions of every “stolen” song and learn them by heart. But I am of a different opinion. I consider music something that requires creativity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a band, a solo artist that buys music and lyrics for their songs, or a rapper who buys their own beats. It all came from someone creative, and the end result is musical progress, whether I like where this progress is taking us, or not.

This type of music transcription is highly immoral, in my opinion. There is little new that the copied versions bring to the table, and it mostly revolves around the different lyrics, which, by and in themselves, are mediocre at best, to begin with.

 

I am obviously not a fan of this trend, but then again, I don’t like remixes, either.

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