There is something going on in South-Eastern Europe and who can tell us better about the situation on the Balkan than the number 1 urban artist from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Edo Maajka. The Message Magazine met the Bosnian superstar last year, two hours before his gig in Vienna. In a very familiar setting, we talked about several topics like the impact of football on the people of the Balkans, politics and of course: Hip Hop. Read a very special interview with somebody who really spreads knowledge …
Interview: Thomas Kiebl
Foto: Daniel Shaked
TM: If we talk about Bosnia, we have to mention the national football team, which will participate in the World Cup 2014 for the first time. This is considered as a big success and other examples have shown that this can really have a big impact on the people, if you think about France or Cote d’Ivoire. Do you think that the successful national football team will influence the state-building process in Bosnia and will change people’s minds?
Edo Maajka: It will change something! The success of our football team is one of the rare good things that happened to the citizens of our country. Football is really important in people’s heads, especially in Bosnia. This made the people feel a little bit normal, just in one dimension in their lives. It opened peoples hope for a lot of stuff. Life is connected, life is made of connected stuff. If you have hope in one dimension, it will move to the other dimensions. The national football team did more than every politician had done for the people and it made us proud. It helps people to remember themselves how their life used to be and make them forget politics and religion. We are very thankful for the football team.
Do you think that the team will have any success at the World Cup? (Bosnia-Herzegovina has been drawn to Group F, together with Argentina, Nigeria and Iran, A/N.)
Yes, I really believe this, and I’m not a really fanatic guy. I see this objectively. I remember when Croatia achieved the third place at the World Cup, I was happy like a hippo. I think the situation of the Bosnian team is very similar to that of the Croatian team in 1998. They are thirsty to win, thirsty for success, they want to prove themselves to be worthy to participate. I’m optimistic because we have a really good team with a lot of talented players, Edin Džeko, Zvjezdan Misimović and so on.
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia are the only teams from South-Eastern Europe playing at the World Cup. Do you think that the people from other, former Yugoslavian countries will support Croatia and Bosnia?
Yes, everybody who is normal will support us (laughs). Because, for me as a Bosnian, if Croatia or Serbia or Macedonia or anyone else participates in a tournament, I will support them, I will be a fan of that team. And there are people from Serbia and Croatia and so on that support us, that really change a lot of stuff, of course in Bosnia. Because the politics of Croatians and Serbians in Bosnia was to separate their part from the other and now they support the whole country. That is something really positive. I like to see that mass psychology, how this can change the minds of the people on the whole Balkan, especially in Bosnia, and their acceptance of one another.
„To change something from negative to positive. This is the meaning of HipHop.“
For somebody who really knows the HipHop scene in Bosnia-Herzegovina: Can you tell us something about the situation of the scene?
It’s hard! First of all it is really hard for people over there. Many youngsters, the young kids, who have a scene, must work hard for making a record. In the last two years a lot happened, kids from Sarajevo started to rap, some of them got record deals because of the internet. The record labels see the rising views on their videos on YouTube and this helped them to get a contract with a record label. But I don’t think that you really need a record deal nowadays, because of all the possibilities which are provided by the internet. Generally, I think something is going to happen, you just have to wait.
You have also worked with Elvir Omerbegovic, one of the founders of the very successful German Hip-Hop label “Selfmade Records”. What is your connection to him, does he have any influence on the Bosnian Hip-Hop-scene?
No, he doesn’t have influence on the scene, but we are really good friends. Many refugees, who came back from Germany and Austria returned with a lot of German artists in their hearts and heads. So, if artists like Azad do a show in Sarajevo, it is a full show and everyone knows the lyrics. It is amazing for me, I could not believe it. We have a lot of people over there who liked Creutzfeld&Jakob, so we brought them to our HipHop-festival in Tuzla.
So a lot of people in Bosnia listen to German music?
A lot! A lot! They listen to a lot of german Hip-Hop. This is something that people in Germany maybe don’t know. There is really an audience for their performance. For example, the Bushido show in Sarajevo was completely sold out a few years ago. It is crazy if you have people in Bosnia who are singing songs in German. My dream is to see Seeed one day, my favorite artist from Germany is Peter Fox. I tried to get in contact with him, but I only talked to his managers (laughs).
Peter Fox is an interesting artist, because he said that his time as a solo artist, because of all the stress, is over. Now he just works and performs with his group “Seeed”. Can you tell us something about your situation? As a big star in Bosnia, do you have similar experiences?
Of course it’s hard, you don’t expect that, but when it happens it fucks you up. It also happened to me when my first album came out. I was thinking about that maybe some people like it, because it contained a lot of refugee stuff. But it was number one on the Balkans for a lot of years. It got me scared, really. So I can imagine a little bit what happened to him, but there is a difference, because in my situation, there are a few millions who are listening to me – in his situation, he has a few millions in Berlin listening to him. That’s crazy.
You once worked with an orchester. Can you tell us what this means to you?
I started my career from the live band. I was in a Hardcore-Crossover band, I was the Mcee, I came from there. I had a band for my first three albums, than I was performing with a DJ. For the album before the last one, I made a “Best-Of” where everything was rearranged with a live band. I also had performances with a live band, about 40-50 shows in the Balkan, these were great shows. But now, the financial situation is really bad over there, it isn’t easy to pay eight to nine people in a band. So, I am performing with a DJ again, but I like that live band stuff. And one day, I may will perform with a live band again, who knows? I like to change stuff.
A few years ago, you also worked as a judge for the Red Bull MC Battle in Sarajevo. Are you into freestyle rap?
I used to be, when I was younger. I was crazy about it. So when they invited me to be a host or judge for this event I really enjoyed it. There is a big freestyle scene in the Balkans, in all the big towns, Split, Sarajevo, Zagreb, Belgrad. But these kids don’t meet each other, because they don’t travel a lot. There are no informations exchanged, but with events like this, they meet each other, which is really nice, because they see that they are all normal guys. For me, that is really important, also that these kids bulid friendships. This is a great success for us. The guy who was organizing the event in Sarajevo was Frenkie, by the way.
What do you think about the competition between Belgrade and Zagreb, especially regarding a possible nationalist background?
You have nationalists in Serbia, you have nationalists in Croatia. But I hope that there won’t be any clashes, because we all know each other. So I hope that these people will change – this is why HipHop exists in the first place: To change something from negative to positive. This is the meaning of HipHop.
„Nobody protected the civilians“
With Slovenia and Croatia, two former parts of Yugoslavia have become members of the European Union. Should Bosnia follow them and would such a membership help to improve the political and economic situation of the country?
First of all, I don’t think that the situation in Croatia and Slovenia would never be so good as now, as a part of the European Union, without the pressure from the European Union to fix some problems before they became members. I think that in Bosnia, this won’t happen, if people wait for a gorgeous moment for the nation, progression won’t happen. Corruption etc is such a crucial part of the system, pressure to change must come from outside. I hope one day Bosnia will be able to implement something from the outside, which will help to fight the problems. Currently the situation is so fucked up – you can not be in the condition for European Union from nothing. We have politicians working only for their national crews. Until people understand that this – nationalism – is intellectual poison, nothing will change. Another big problem is the mafia, which is supporting the nationalists.
Do you see any progress regarding the fight against the mafia?
Right now, Serbia and Croatia are in this position, especially Croatia. Nadan Vidošević, one of the most influential economic guys is in jail right now. They captured him a few days ago. Croatia and Serbia are in the position to make such moves while Bosnia is not strong enough. Little by little, you know.
In 1992, you had to leave Bosnia due to the war. Do you remember anything about the circumstances?
It was a war, there were rockets and bombs and all that shit. It was a period when a lot of people died, a period were concentration camps existed. We were really happy that we could run away from such a shit. People were lucky that they could move to Croatia, not as tourists like nowadays. They just wanted to escape and be alive. That’s it.
In September, a Dutch Supreme Court decided that the Netherlands were responsible for the death of three Muslim men, which were expelled by Dutch Soldiers from a UN compound and then got killed by Bosnian Serbs in the massacre of Srebrenica. Many questioned the role of the UN – do you think that the United Nations are responsible for the genocide in Srebrenica?
Everything what happended in Srebrenica is the fault of the UN, everything! Because nobody protected the civilians. Civilians went inside of the UN area, and they threw them out and handled them to the Serbian generals, who killed them as a revenge for something happened about 700 years ago (The Battle of the Kosovo between the Ottoman Empire and the Serbian Principality on 15. June 1389, A/N.) It was pure craziness, a pure war crime.
This “Battle of the Kosovo” is also very important nowadays, especially for the Serbians and their claim on this area. They argue that the Kosovo is the birthplace of their nation, and so it has to be a part of Serbia. Can you tell us something about the current situation in this country?
I don’t have so much information, so I can’t tell you many things seriously in this direction. But I know that the problems over there, in former Yugoslavia started in Kosovo, because the Albans said that they were treated bad in this federation of nations and they wanted more rights and everything. I mean, it’s a fight of Kosovo-Albans for their country, but in the same moment, Serbians say that this area is the birthplace of their nation and religion. It is a complicated situation, but I don’t think that there will be any war, because nobody has the time and money for war.
„The less influence you have of religion, the luckier man you are“
Many scientists like Maria Todorova argue that the Balkan is undergoing something like a transformation, especially in family life. Do you see any clashes between people who are keen on the traditional way of living and the others, who stand for a modern way?
You have a fight on the whole Balkan, not just in Bosnia. This is a fight between people who want a religious, very primitve country, and people who want a secular country. This is the main fight. This kind of fight can be found in many regions all over the world, not just in Balkan, not just in Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. I stand for the secular part, I will fight for this part all my life. I think that anything else is mistaken, is dangerous. After war, after communism, many people found religion for themselves. For example, many muslims were born muslims, but they never participated, and then, they started to participate: some for good reason, and some for bad reason, but I think these reasons don’t exist. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but I will fight for the secular side, I think that religion has no place in a state, in military, in a judical system. I think that the less influence you have of religion, the luckier man you are. I mean, I live in Israel, you have this everyday, I know what it means if you fucking going on like this. Don’t do it.
A couple of years ago you moved to Israel. Is your life in Israel different?
Yes, I am living in Israel and I am a father over there. In a few years, I will come back to the Balkan, I just wait for my kid. I don’t do music over there, except some sampling stuff and so, but I am not part of the music scene there, I am not interested in that stuff. I really fucking enjoy it that nobody knows me over there and fucks me up, really (laughs).
How does religion influence the life in Israel?
You have a very strong influence of religion, many of the taxes which people pay are going to these religious people, who are just at home praying and doing nothing else. This is the problem over there and these people are voters, this is not fair. Religion fucks people up. Many think just about the muslims, no. There is so a lot of stuff that Christian doe, Jewish doe and so on.
You just have to look at the United States, the Tea Party Movement, for example …
Yes, exactly. They say: We are the best, fuck the rest. It’s crazy.
You started rapping in 1998. Can you tell us something about your main influences?
My main influence, lyrically, is from Balkan artists who are not Hip-Hop, like Azra, an old new-wave-punk band that influenced me a lot. And you have American artists, like KRS-One, I really fucking love him. His first albums, I love them. And Everlast, I was crazy about House of Pain, always. And of course Eminem, I think he is still number one. Name me one MC who would not be killed lyrically by Eminem, it’s impossible. You can’t have skills like Eminem. The last CD I bought was from Menahan Street Band. You remember that “Roc Boys” song by Jay-Z? Jay-Z sampled them. Really amazing band, fantastic music. And there is this guy, a rapper, his name is Old Man Saxon, you have to check out „On Point“. He is a new guy and this is his first single, you must listen to him, I was laughing my ass off.
„The country with the biggest number of Nazis right now is Russia“
You named Punk as one of your main influences. Is there a big Punk-scene in the Balkan?
Yes, it was at it’s highs at the end of 80s, but now, not so.
Were there many nationalist tendencies in that scene?
It used to be more, during the war, and after the war, people had this national impact, this national moment. Now, it is not so much, but we have guys, for example in Croatia, Marko Perković and his band Thompson, he is the guy who can be called a nazi. He begins his shows with “za dom – spremni!”, which can be seen as the croatian version of “Sieg Heil!”, and he has shows with 10-20.000 people. And this is fucked up. But it is good that he has not so much media support like he used to have.
For most of us, it is difficult to understand why there are such tendencies, especially when you think of all the crimes, which were committed by German troops during World War 2 on the Balkan…
Yes, it is the same with Russians. The country with the biggest number of Nazis right now is Russia. How the fuck is that possible, if you think about how many people they lost because of the Nazis … this happens all because the politicians in these countries have not enough balls, smartness and brain to start to clear the shit out, to getting the problem. But when you let people behave in that way, they won’t stop.
I think one problem is a lack of education: Many of them don’t know history.
Of course, but it is not because they don’t know history. There is a group of people who teach wrong history. Right now, there is a big discussion in Croatia about people who use wikipedia for spreading lies, to justify the crimes of the Nazis, to glorify them and to defame the Anti-fascists. And this is legally happening right now, this is the situation in Croatia.
Some people also paint the logo of the Ustaša on the walls, without any knowledge of the historical context.
Of course, they think it is something cool, when they write it down, it is similar to the “AC/DC” symbol. They think it is the same – but it is not fucking the same!
On the otherside, swastikas and other, similar symbols, are used to provoke people. For example, in the Great Britain’s Punk scene.
Of course, people from the urban scene are not so much in this nationalist side. People who are members of urban scenes are mostly joking about that stuff. I mean, it won’t change nothing if we are afraid of people who take all that stuff serious and if we are quiet all the time. It won’t change nothing. We need to confront them at some level and say: “Listen! This is fucking wrong!” That is why I’m supporting an organisation right now which is against the referendum on December 1st. The church, the right-wing parties and so on want to put in the constitution that marriages are only possible between man and woman. This is a goodbye for gay-people rights for a very long time. And they know that people would vote for that shit, because they don’t know. The name of that crew who want this change is “In the Name of the Family”. What sort of bad marketing is this? And this is happening right now.
If you watch football games from Serbia and Croatia and if you take a look at the audience, you will see that many of the people there are using political symbols for supporting their team. In your opinion, how strong do nationalists and their ideas influence football supporters?
This is a very big problem in Europe, but especially in East Europe. I don’t know how to fight this, you need education, it will not help if you just kick their ass. This is really sad, really. Because I like football. But I don’t like to hear if somebody screams racist paroles, make monkey sounds when a black player takes the ball.
Russia has a big problem with such racist fan groups…
Of course, and this is really amazing to understand. Russia (laughs). For me it’s so funny, because it is so weird, it is dangerous, of course, but weird. But you even have Nazis in Israel. Kids who moved from Russia to Israel with a antisemitic world view. And they don’t get that out of their mind.
„Israel must change, but also the Arabs.“
As an inhabitant of Israel, what is your opinion on the Israel-Palestine conflict?
You can not have one opinion or side. There is no side. I think the aim should be to find a way that both countries will co-exist. This would be best, because the people are amazing, from both sides. But there is just too much manipulation, too many years of fighting. They fight since 1948. It’s fucking crazy. It’s very hard for people who have never been to Israel to understand. I understand it much better right now, but it does not make me happier, it makes me more sad because I realise how this is going to be. There is so much corruption on both sides, especially on the Arabian side. There is no unity over there, there are no strong intellectual politicians who make peace between the nations. Israel must stop building settlements in the West Bank, this is really terrible. But on the other side, the Arabs must accept that Israel exists. Israel must change, but also the Arabs. There is a lot of stuff that must be done, but it is possible!
One situation that affects Israel directly is the situation in Egypt. Do you think that all the political changes in Egypt will have an impact on the peace contract between Israel and Egypt?
I hope the peace won’t stop, because this would be really bad. They have peace since the 70s or 80s, I hope it will continue. It’s a difficult situation for both.
The whole area is faced by a lot of problems, if you think about Syria, Lebanon …
Of course. I mean, in Syria, you have genocide for about four years, and nobody does anything. The world also did nothing, they did not take knowledge of what happened in Bosnia. What is happening in Syria right now is exactly what happened in Bosnia in the 90ies. Now you’re watching TV and civilians dying and people don’t do anything, because of Russia, because of China, because of the United States, it does not matter. They just pushing this from one back to another and commenting: “This is your fault, this is your fault” – while civilians fucking die. It’s the same way I’m against a military option from Israel in the Gaza, because mostly civilians die. This is not fair. France, Russia, US don’t give a shit, they could stop the killings, but they don’t give a shit. If one day Russia will attack Estonia or Ukraine, nobody will help them. It will take five years in the UN and they will still not know what t to do. Nobody gives a shit, if you’re powerful enough, you can do whatever you want. But this can not only be found on the bigger scale, but also on the smaller ones – lots of slaughters, wars, fights are going on in this world and we are not so much aware of it. In Africa you have kids with guns who are killing people. They just want to do this. It’s fucked up. We all need to take responsibility, all of us.
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