EMIR KUSTURICA & THE NO SMOKING ORCHESTRASerbia
Emir Kusturica is not the only director who has a band. Woody Allen plays the clarinet in a small jazz orchestra, Almodovar was once in a glam punk band, Jim Jarmusch plays a guitar, Clint Eastwood used to sing ballads, while Vittorio De Sica sung canzoni… But no other film director can fill concert halls with ecstatic audiences from Kiev to Montevideo. Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Switzerland, Ukraine, Spain, France, Canada…when Kusturica is not making movies he is touring the globe with his band, The No Smoking Orchestra, in which he plays the guitar. It wasn’t a coincidence that Kusturica quoted The Sex Pistols frontman, Sid Vicious, when he received his second Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Punk music was one of the earliest influences over a group of neighborhood friends. The band was closely associated with an urban subcultural movement called The New Primitivism, which originated in Sarajevo in the early-to-mid 1980s. Some of the members of this movement created the Surreal Top Ten, a TV sketch show which became a sort of Balkan version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Its authors used absurdity and black humor in their politically subversive and visionary television sketches that predicted the fall of Yugoslavia.
Today’s circus-like performances of The No Smoking Orchestra, with hidden political messages, are echoing the spirit of the New Primitives. “Wake up from your boring dream!“ they call in Unza, unza timе, denouncing the public ignorance in Western countries during the bombing of Yugoslavia by the NATO forces “back in 1999,” when “people killed the line between punishment and crime.” Kusturica’s films and the music of The No Smoking Orchestra merged into a single, unique universe – the band’s music is an essential ingredient of his films, while cinema is an inspiration for the on-stage performances. They sometimes invite their friends – as well as their idols – to join them: Javier Bardem accompanied the band on percussions during their 2005 Cannes Film Festival gig and Diego Maradona climbed onto the stage in 2008 during a party, following the launch of documentary Maradona.
The key to the success of The No Smoking Orchestra is that they didn’t just copy other musical trends which have come and gone, but managed to find the intersection between rock and traditional melodies rooted in the heritage of their homeland. The sources of their inspiration are icons of rock, but also musicians from local Balkan taverns – kafanas – where they gather to play popular folk songs to the public singing along in an ecstatic atmosphere, with their arms high up in the air.
Kusturica’s band blends classic rock riffs with brass music, which is played during weddings and funerals all over Balkans, authentic Serbian folk melodies with a punk attitude, a Gypsy guitar and a Hungarian violin with classical music. The No Smoking Orchestra shows can be described as a fusion of group psychotherapy and a cardio workout.
After a show with The No Smoking Orchestra in 1999 in Venice, Joe Strummer proclaimed, “This could be the music of the future!”