Edin Zubcevic is the founder and artistic director of Jazz Fest Sarajevo, and soon to be a creative director at the Ljubljana Jazz Festival. In the 20 years since the founding of Jazz Fest, it has become one of the most appreciated musical events in the region, hosting more than 700 artists over a few hundred concerts.
Zubcevic is also one of the founders and a producer at the Gramofon agency, that through its record label has released albums by some of the most significant postwar Bosnia and Herzegovina artists, including Dubioza Kolektiv, Adi Lukovac, Sikter, Amira Medunjanin, Damir Imamovic, and others.
A dedicated 20-year long career building the music scene and establishing artists whom the mainstream culture would probably never have given a chance, has led Zubcevic into a situation in which he has had to make some important decisions, that will surely have significant consequences on culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
K2.0 spoke to Zubcevic ahead of the 21st Jazz Fest Sarajevo, to be held in the Bosnian capital from Oct. 31 to Nov. 5. This year’s festival will be the penultimate edition, as Jazz Fest Sarajevo will cease to exist in 2019.
K2.0: This year’s Jazz Fest is the second-to-last. If the enthusiasm needed for this Festival to happen has not deteriorated even almost two decades since its establishment, what are the reasons for such a decision after 20 years of constant struggle?
Edin Zubcevic: Don Quixote’s enthusiasm and delusion aren’t something I identify with. We at Jazz Fest promote music as a universal language that doesn’t leave the option for misunderstanding. But we are doing this in a time of general misunderstanding, and at a time when, it seems, nobody understands each other on the topic of good, whereas common interests when it comes to doing evil always exists.
The basic problem of the Jazz Fest’s future is infrastructure — we don’t have a place to organize our festival programs. The reason is simple, but the explanation is complex. After the war in Sarajevo, not a single concert space was opened, not any facilities for any kind of music, whereas you had a tsunami of turbo folk and turbo pop music, and a general distaste based on raw and cheap emotions. This is a perfectly organized industry.
On the other hand, let’s say a quartet specializing in early music, or who plays only Bach, for instance, practically doesn’t have a place to perform in, let alone to take part in tours. Even if [a performance] happens for some reason, it would probably be a free concert, since the few organizers obviously don’t believe in what they represent, and therefore don’t dare to check the market for how much the audience is really interested.
For the past 20 years, we practically haven’t been able to reserve a hall 10 months ahead and be certain that we will get the hall to perform in. Sometimes it takes several weeks, and other times several months, to receive a response from some public institutions.
“Directors” are constantly replaced, and every new “director” brings in some new rules and goals of management. Normally, every director is worse than his or her predecessor, and twice as ambitious. Great ambitions, less knowledge, and no experience are a formula for disaster, but paradoxically, this doesn’t affect institutions, but others who lose time and money on that front.
Except for infrastructure issues which affect all aspects of the festival — from the program to production, and so forth, since if you don’t have certain types of space then you cannot at all perform certain kinds of concerts — another big problem is the lack of cultural policies. There are no cultural policies, but there is politics in culture.
For example, religion and religious communities who, unlike us, don’t pay taxes, have become subsidized more regularly and systematically than organizations on the independent cultural scene are. They receive funds from funds meant for cultural purposes. Religion, as an ideology, represents the core of our cultural reality, that is, of politics in culture.
The announcement of [Jazz Fest’s] termination after 2018 is also a statement, a protest against the situation in which music finds itself, the musical culture of this country.
How much has Jazz Fest contributed to understanding jazz as an important part of musical art in Bosnia over the last two decades?
We were always interested in music, and only then do we consider styles or, if you will, genres. Of course, this completely confuses the “jazz puritans” who love that music like they would archeology; the same thing is true with journalists, who know nothing about everything.
The fact that more than 600 concerts were performed in Sarajevo as part of the Jazz Fest says a lot about us. Many domestic musicians have very successfully promoted themselves at the Festival, and most of them today have successful international careers.
In one Festival edition, we present more music than the amount of music presented in this country — not only in the past year — but perhaps in all its history, when we take into consideration the importance of musicians who regularly perform at our Festival.
The festival was practically everything we had in this country in terms of many musical genres, not only jazz. Our audience could ‘discover’ not only exceptional musicians but many other music genres as well.
Is it even necessary to talk about the importance of music and culture to a society?
The situation in which this kind of question is legitimate is horrifying in itself. Unfortunately, this question is legitimate precisely because music and culture aren’t being talked about. Actually, they are being discussed, but only spoken about in passing.
That’s why we don’t have music and music production, or live and recorded music, and have an absence of culture. Even primitive societies have music, and culture, which is maybe why they don’t have identity issues. The issue of identity in Bosnia is the question of all questions.
When we speak about culture, how can we avoid the danger of presenting it as something elitist, but to present it as something elementary for every citizen? What is the destiny of culture in Bosnia and Herzegovina?
The destiny of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s culture is a tragic one, whereas the widespread absence of culture is a reliable indicator for society as a whole. The basic distinction between culture and sport, for example, is that culture is sometimes being presented as something elitist, and sport as something accessible to all.
Let’s take the examples of jazz and football. There is nothing elitist in jazz, the audience isn’t elitist, the musicians aren’t elitist. Somebody who has to travel for 24 hours only to perform for 60 minutes at the other end of the world is hardly part of an elite.
However, football players, mostly 20 year olds, are millionaires. They are fabulously rich and mostly uneducated, they run for the ball and everybody is worshipping them, experience mental breakdowns because of them, because they represent ‘something higher.’ They hold their hands on their hearts when the anthem is playing, they dress up in flags as if they were curtains — just because we scored a goal, everyone will be out on the streets.
However, nobody will go out on the streets for the reason of us being politicians’ slaves, because we work so they can have a job without any responsibilities and obligations. We feed legions of politicians, parasites, and it’s as if we all exist just for their sake, while it should be the opposite, but it isn’t.
It is obvious that many people working in culture mention the ever-decreasing support from responsible bodies and the increasingly poor conditions for continuing their work. Reactions to shutting down Jazz Fest have been numerous — however, you say that “heartbroken people and ‘sorrow’ are empty stories.” Has our activism come down to statuses on social networks and public expressions of mourning?
Perhaps the comments are numerous, but there is a lack of genuine reactions — politicians aren’t really interested in all of this, citizens don’t care about water shortages and that the heating system they’re paying for isn’t functioning — only a fool can expect that they will feel touched by the fact that the oldest music festival in the country will cease to exist; this is also one of the internationally most reputable festivals and events that this country ever had.