Balkanarama is a Balkans influenced night of music, dance and revelry. But, as Anna Docherty discovers, it’s the passion of the performers that raises the event above the crowd.
A belly dancer flip-flops around the stage while dapper men in black suits toot shiny brass instruments. At the centre is a raven-haired woman, belting out traditional tunes. And this is just a tiny snapshot of the evening’s events. Welcome to Balkanarama! (exclamation mark obligatory).
As with many sparks of ideas, Balkanarama was a bit of a sprouting bean. ‘It all started when I began to crave a taste of the Balkans here in Edinburgh,’ explains organiser Saska Haramina. ‘A friend and I organised a mini Balkan festival with food, films, exhibitions and dancing - but it was the musical element that was particularly amazing and the Balkanarama club nights grew from there.’
Unlike London, Germany and France, where the Balkan music scene was already pretty well established, Scotland was yet to latch on. And so it seemed to make perfect sense to stage a regular event in Scotland’s capital. ‘A huge collective of musicians and artists were involved in this process and Balkanarama went through lots of different phases to finally become what it is today,’ explains Haramina.
Around 40 individuals now perform at each event and this generates an incredible amount of energy. It’s all quite intuitive, with sound and movement gently colliding and bodies weaving in and out of each other’s space. ‘It’s just nice to be able to introduce people to something a little different,’ says Haramina.
And different it is. In fact, each Balkanarama is a bespoke piece of musical-themed entertainment. They always kick off with a spontaneous live jam session of around 30 musicians, but from there on in each one is unique - you can expect anything from haunting polyphonic Bulgarian choirs to table-top gypsy dancing, interspersed with experimental DJs and free grape brandy.
Each event is so thoughtfully planned that there is even a separate room playing chilled out Balkan beats all night long. Haramina points out that ‘any other club night in Edinburgh would have maybe one band and a DJ or two, but Balkanarama is packed with live entertainment.’
Plus, there is no grand aim to force a culture upon you or to spread the Balkan gospel, it’s more that an appreciation of Balkan culture will be the incidental outcome of a great night. ‘Balkanarama doesn’t solely aim to promote Balkan culture; it’s more about sparking a curiosity in foreign landscapes and offering something new and exciting,’ explains Haramina.
Indeed, the measure of a truly unique event is when it can transcend any single theme, purpose or otherwise, to become something much more tangible. ‘We invite people to let loose: scream, laugh, cry, dance and sing along - it’s about generating emotion more than anything’.
And so, more than being about a specific culture it’s about a group of people with a deep-rooted passion for partying. You are hit by something utterly alive and you are able to see beyond the shiny instruments, wibbly bellies and rattling drums right into Balkanarama’s heart. And it beats fast and furious.
For more information visit www.facebook.com/people/Balkanarama-Klub/1602895927. There are also regular Glasgow Balkanarama nights and the Glasgow Midsummer Special will be on Fri 12 June at The Arches.
The Balkanarama Midsummer Special
The Balkanarama Midsummer Special will have all the usual elements, but with added pizzazz. There will be an early live jam session - spontaneous, non-amplified and featuring musicians who have never met before. There will also be an eight-piece gypsy brass band, a Balkan choir, non-stop live dancing and special film visuals. Phew! And guests are promised free homemade baklava cake, plus there will be a big pot of Turkish coffee brewing all night long. The theme will be ‘dress to impress’, so make of that what you will. Here at The Midgie, we are impressed by shark outfits and people dressing up as their favourite vegetable. Double dare you.
Sat 13 June, The Picture House, Edinburgh (D5), 9pm, £7.