PRISTINA, KOSOVO – Last June I was introduced to Petrit Çarkaxhiu, frontman of Jericho, by a friend at a bar in Pristina. The first thing I noticed about him was his drink order - a Coke - while everyone else at our table ordered beers. Petrit, I’d later learn, is a practicing Muslim, a minority in a country where everyone claims Islamic ancestry though seldom practices the religion. He is also one of Kosovo’s biggest rock stars - who less than a week after our interview opened for Snoop Dogg in Snoop’s first concert in Kosovo. "Jericho is the best sound that we’ve got in Kosovo at the moment," veteran rocker Migjen Kelmendi told me. "They have this perfect way of articulating their songs and music that’s authentic."
Petrit - "Rrusta" to his friends - formed Jericho (then Jericho Walls) in 1997 at the age of 19. The band’s name derives from a song by the Brit group Simply Red, though their musical influences are heavily American: Rage Against the Machines, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and bands from the Seattle grunge scene like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains. During that time, in the 1990s, the Balkans was in turmoil. War was breaking up Yugoslavia and MTV had just arrived in Kosovo.
PRISTINA, KOSOVO – Never had I heard of the music genre called "turbo folk" until I stepped foot in Kosovo. A bastard mix of dance-cum-electro-pop paired with traditional folk music, turbo folk originates from Serbia - it is awful - and it is everywhere in the Balkans.
Fortunately, turbo folk isn’t the only characteristic sound coming out of Kosovo. During my second week in town, I attended Pristina's second-annual Freedom Festival and met local musicians willing to school me on alternative rock in the region. My first lesson: You cannot talk about the history of rock in Kosovo without addressing one of the biggest events in these people’s lives - war.
Migjen Kelmendi, frontman of Gjurmët, has been hailed the godfather of rock in Kosovo. Gjurmët ("The Traces" in English) was one of the biggest names coming out of Kosovo in the 1980s. Today, Migjen has retired his guitar and wears the cloth of a journalist and media executive. He owns a magazine, Java, and TV station, Rrokum TV. In 2001, he published his book, To Change the World: A History of the Traces, a biographical account of his band that simultaneously details how the rock scene in the Balkans anticipated the Yugoslav Wars.