Once Upon The Time There Was Bijelo Dugme
30h anniversary of the first single of the most popular band in the
When Zagreb based record company Jugoton on 29th of march 1974
released the first single of Bijelo dugme, then largely unknown band
from Sarajevo, no one could have imagined that soon in yugoslav pop
music nothing would be the same.
Not long after the release of the single "Top/Ove cu noci naci bluz",
using original mixture of folk elements and hard rock, Bijelo dugme
led by guitarist and songwriter Goran Bregovic, achieved unprecedented
popularity in Yugoslavia.
They caused contoversies and scandals, constantly swimming between
public aclaim (even fan hysteria) and outbursts of hate of those
convinced that BD were guilty of making domestic pop music sound
However, they've sold loads of records, filled stadiums all over the
country and until the split up in 1989, BD was force who dictated
music trends in Yugoslavia.
After initial successes, Bregovic could confidently claime: "We have
sold as many records as there are record players in Yugoslavia.
Perhaps now we should start selling record players along with the
What BD had that the rest didn't? In the song "Top (Cannon)", rough,
but powerfull voice of Zeljko Bebek threatens: "I'll shot you with a
cannon babe, if I see you standing with another!"
Simple three minute song with firm rythm, keyboard and guitar duels,
and seductive, almost folkish refrain carrying more or less hidden
love (erotic) massage.
"With that BD has formulated hit song capable of atracting attention
of the audience. Goran has managed to connect in the most succesfull
way rock and folk elements in lyrics. I think his greatest talent is
capability to make a song, somwhere between city and village, still
sounding terribly seductive", explains Petar Janjatovic, rock critic
and author of "Illustrated rock encyclopedia 1960-1997".
With formula, described by rock critic from Zagreb Drazen Vrdoljak as
"sheperds rock", BD achieves unprecedented success with albums "Kad
bih bio bijelo dugme (If I Could Be A White Button" (1974) i "Sta bi
dao da si na mom mjestu (What Would You Give To Be In My Place)"
"Complete hysteria", Janjatovic describes firestorm that had swept
entire Yugoslavia within months, appropriately named - "dugmetomania".
"It was fascinating. They had dimension of ultrapopular band and
there allways were some kind of spectacle going on around them.
Entirely different atmosphere was in Belgrade when they were having
concert. Around their hotel, streets were crowded with girls".
At the very begining, BD could have claimed to perform revolution all
by themselves: they were the first who filled concert halls across the
country, the first who showed that it was possible to live out of rock
and roll, and finally, they showed yugoslav record companies that
there existed a huge market for LP records, until then completely
neglected in favour of single records.
In those days Bregovic bragged: "There's nothing on our rock scene but
BD, 'cause the rest are more or less trying to run after us and nick
But the party didn't last. With the third record "Eto! Bas hocu!
(There! I will!) (1976) sales droped and after a series of bad
concerts, rumours started to spread about band falling apart.
And then, after an idea of Belgrade rock journalist Petar "Peca"
Popovic to set a farewell gig for Bregovic, before he went to spend a
year in the army, on a 28th of august 1977 free concert was organised
near Hajducka cesma (place in Belgrade). Against all expectations,
concert atracted over 100.000 fans and brings BD back in life.
"That was fenomenal! Belgrade has never seen anything like that
before! It really was a spectacle! I was there, the amount of people
at such a place, hysteria, sense of danger, that's unbelievable. It
was event of an entire generation", remembers Janjatovic.
WE'RE ALL PEASANTS
Not all wholeheartedly embraced BD. Prominent scholars publicly
denounced BD for alegedly bad and primitive influence on the moral of
socialist youth. Later on came even harder accusations that Bregovic
with his mix of folk music and rock have destroyed rock and roll scene
in Yugoslavia and contributed to later naissance of "turbo-folk".
Rock journalist Aleksandar Zikic in his book "Fatalni ringispil -
hronika beogradskog rokenrola 1959-79 (Fatal Caterine Wheel, chronicle
of belgrade rock and roll) writes that with BD "from Sarajevo came a
wave in which rock and roll only covered explosiv charge of cleverly
According to Zikic, DB have "encouraged paesants to loudly and proudly
be what they are. It started general and unstopable decline of
yugoslav rock and roll. Belgrade unfortunately was unable to stay
immune: voices of sheep from the first BD record, unnoticed, but
unmistakeable became voices of audience".
Janjatovic doesn't believe in such theory: "If Bregovic alone with his
work have ruined yugoslav rock, then it deserved to be ruined".
And Peca Popovic claims that Bregovic only made communicative music
and in that process he wasn't ashamed to admit his origines.
"One who uses the simplest and the most communicative way of speaking
to his targeted audience earns the most success. It's my impresion
from this distance that we all tried to present ourselves far better
than we really were. He was the first to say: so sorry, but my pa was
from some village iz Medjimurje (rural part of Croatia), and my ma
from Hercegovina (even more rural part of Bosnia), and I live in
Sarajevo. He wasn't ashamed to admit that. Each and one of us is
peasant, only we're all camuflaged. In difference to those who
pretended, Goran was the only one who pretended to be what he really
was", says Popovic.
THIEF WHO HADN'T BEEN COUGHT
Even the bitterest opponents couldn't deny Bregovic inteligence and
brain for business. A man who learned musical skills at the age of 16
in local pubs, and at 20 in italian bars, had experience and
capability to strategicaly extremely successfuly push BD through
musicaly different records: "Bitanga i princeza "Thug And A Princess"
(1979), "Dozivjeti stotu (Living 'Till Hundred)" (1980) and "Uspavanka
za Radmilu M. (Lullaby For Radmila M.)" (1983).
Bregovic's ability to hold under absolute control everything in BD
machinery came to evidence, when he managed to replace Bebek without
any negative consequence with new singer Mladen Vojicic "Tifa", and
even him after only one album (from 1984) with Alen Islamovic.
"I fit in the picture of ideal Yugoslav: A thief who hadn't been
cought. When somebody's good and decent, it sounds to Yugoslavs like:
a bit dumb and don't quite get it", admited at that time Bregovic.
With that words it seemed that he proved those who accused him that
one of his greatest talents were media manipulation and creation of
Examples are numerous: a song "Kosovska" which Bebek sang in albanian,
DB version of national anthem "Hej Sloveni", record "Pljuni i zapjevaj
(Spit And Sing)" (1986), on which partisan veteran Svetozar
Vukomanovic "Tempo" with a orfinage choire sings revolutionary anthem
"Padaj silo i nepravdo (Fall Down Force And Injustice)".
Popovic thinks that in rock and roll a bit of provocation is necesary
and that Bregovic knew the best way how to recognize need of the
"Everything Goran did through BD, he did on purpose. If there's
something he didn't do, it means it wasn't worth of doing. He
unmistakeably knew how to atract media atention. How jelous he was if
someone else had some kind of scandal. I remember when (popular
singer) Zdravko Colic was cought with large (unreported) sum of cash.
Goran moaned why it didn't happened to him. It was good for his
biography, not to Colic", says Popovic.
GONE WITH DELIGHT
After the release of album "Ciribiribela" in 1988, probably no one
dreamed that it would be the last BD record. The last Bregovic
publicity stunt had no chance to succeed. Message of joining in one
song croatian national anthem "Lijepa nasa (Ours Beautiful)" and
serbian song "Tamo daleko (There, Far Away)", nobody seemed to have
heard or understood.
"The last tour I remember as a very sickening experience. The lights
go on, and there's lots of serbian flags. Ironically tomorow we play
in Croatia. Same thing, darkness and out of it croatian flags. Our
trucks were sprayed "Srbija uber alles". The same thing happened in
Croatia. I couldn't wait to finish that tour off", remembers Bregovic.
After gig in Derventa (place in Bosnia) on 15th of march 1989,
Islamovic without noticing anybody leaves the tour because of pain in
kiddneys. Although at first it doesn't look like, but it's the end of
It apear that Bregovic have never regreted this: "I left out of all
that with great joy. Because for the last ten years it bodered me to
play a part of a popular person. I think I worked far too much, being
far too popular and it annoyed me greatly. Life without BD I
understood as a great relief".
THIRTY YEARS AFTER
"BD is a music fenomenon and undoubtedly the largest and the most
important group of second Yugoslavia and it's paradigma. Born the same
year with new yugoslav constitution, DB for twenty years developed
along with their country, only to disappear with the first swings of
nationalistic euphoria", thinks former editor of Arts program in
Sarajevo television Slobodan Terzic.
BD is important part of the history of Yugoslavia, agrees both friends
and enemies of the group. But, today, thirty years after, it is more
important question wether their music stood the test of time.
Journalist Mirjana Bobic-Mojsilovic has her doubts: "They were unique
when they appeared, had that directness and force others didn't have,
but surely today somethings lost of freshness. That even have happened
to Elvis. With time everything has a tendency to sound a little
BD stood the test of time, thinks one of the authors of the first
video collection of BD (and any other yugoslav band), director Boris
Miljkovic. According to him, even today BD is relevant thanks to
Bregovic's faith only and exclusively in his own music:
"He didn't follow trends and try to make a video if he didn't know
what to say with it. Bregovic worked against current. When everybody
thought he must, he thought he mustn't. That's simply his luxurious
and huge talent. At one point he wanted to write film music and then
to direct a movie. He has a privilege to be debutant every single day
in his life".
It seems that second part of Bregovic's career, when he performs on
the world stage rearranged songs of BD, is the best example how strong
the music of the group really is.
Peca Popovic, who followed BD career working in magazines "Dzuboks
(Jukebox)", "Zdravo (Hello)" and "Rock", sums it at the end:
"And at the end it turned out that Bregovic can work anywhere in the
world. If you have told someone that in '75 or '76, they would be
loughing at you. Thirty years later, I think that those songs were
crutial in directing the course of development of yugoslav pop music.
Don't forget that BD brought literacy in domestic pop music. Bregovic
hasn't got a single bad lyric or a verse. Important things lean on BD.
Whenever someone thought of doing something important he asked Goran
for an opinion. If someone today denies that, he simply lies.
Bijelo dugme was a genuine yugoslav band. Today all republics of
former Yugoslavia wants them to be a part of their heritage. Or maybe
"If we talk about where BD belongs today, the answer is - in emotional
homeland", thinks Popovic, " and that emotional homeland is now even
Australia, Canada or US. I heard an interesting story: in Canada, our
man, seventy years old, falls in coma. When he woke up few days later,
everybody asked him what have happened. And he said that Bregovic
apeared in front of him in a dark tunnel and yelled "Come on, follow
me!". And then he awoke. The meaning Bregovic and BD got with years is
Blic news weekly, march 2004 issue