Let us, for a moment, imagine a parallel universe: 1978 and Lee "Scratch" Perry does not burn down Kingston's Black Ark Studios. Instead, disturbed by the CIA-funded violence and corruption disrupting Jamaica, he accepts an offer from Comrade Tito to relocate to the People's Republic of Yugoslavia, reopening Black Ark deep in the Southern Balkans. Tito, drawing on the gnostic mysticism musicians across the planet share, encourages exemplary talents to journey to the Ark. The likes of the region's finest jazz musicians and most raucous Gypsy brass bands stop by to see what happens in the echo chamber. A variety of vocalists add texture to Scatch's dub collages. From Mingus to Marley, Istanbul to Memphis, the Balkan Ark drew on the energies of legendary musicians and cities.
Tito believed the Yugoslav Ark would act as a conduit for world peace, international understanding, artistic communing and Balkan-flavoured partying. Yet before any of these Ark sessions were released the Yugoslav wars raped the region, leading to the fateful burning of the Ark and forcing Scratch to flee to Switzerland . . .
Back in our universe, amongst those forced to flee Yugoslavia's inflammatory nationalism were IRINA KARAMARKOVIC, a folk and jazz singer from Kosovo and NEVENKO BUCAN, a Croat electronics wizard with a taste for dubbed out Balkan grooves. Once settled in Austria, Irina and Nevenko sought out fellow Yugoslav musicians, finding Macedonian brass masters KIRIL KUZMANOV (alto saxophonist) and TRAJCE VELKOV (trumpet/fugelhorn) and Bosnia's MUAMER GAZIBEGOVIC (guitar) and NINO SKILJIC (bass). La Cherga came together as these musicians began to feel out a new musical identity, sharing what Irina calls a "Post Pessimist" philosophy, working on cultural exchange projects, differentiating between war profiteers and anti-war profiteers, whispering about raiding the lost Ark. La Cherga (named after a rag rug, appropriate for these musical recyclers) began weaving a sonic collage, inventing a Balkan internationalist music & manifesto: their sound drawing on the best of both East and West (skanking rhythms, sour horns and boiling dub) while Irina sings of freeing your mind from mental slavery.
La Cherga represent a pan-Balkanic consciousness (ripe, bright and tasty as stuffed peppers - with a shot of rakija!), good times music shadowed both by Yeats' maxim that "things fall apart" and Gramsci's "pessimism of reason, optimism of the will". Here then is a post-Yugoslav unity music, one sung in several tongues, its sounds advocating musical healing and a world without borders. These musicians, all too familiar with the insanity of nationalism and the impotence of bombs and the bleak reality of refugee visas, have created a temple of tolerance, one built on diversity. LA CHERGA: a weapon of mass construction.
author Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians