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Macedonian Čalgija: A Musical Refashioning of National Identity

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What is the role of music in fashioning a national identity out of a cosmopolitan past? The Macedonian Čalgija genre is an instructive case study of the process by which state agencies and historical communities engage in, and contest, identity construction. This article traces the effects of state cultural policies that shaped Čalgija—an Ottoman urban genre—during the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–91) and the processes by which Čalgija was gradually recast as a distinctly Macedonian Christian and modern form of expression. This study contributes ethnomusicological rigour to an anthropology of nationalism per Turino in order to explicitly analyse the musical ground of national identity construction as proposed by Herzfeld and Danforth. This article uses an approach that I term critical semantics to analyse the ways in which boundaries of musical style become contested frames through which musicians, audiences and state representatives experience varied attachments to national ideology and historical communal identity. I focus on the discourses of folklore agencies, research institutions and musicians alongside musical practice in two formative periods: 1944–60, during which Čalgija was highlighted as a symbol of Macedonia's cosmopolitan urban past; and 1960s–80s, when Čalgija was subjected to increasingly homogenising stylistic features and loss of regional specificities in response to growing ethnic tensions in the region. I trace the impact of these political and social changes through a musical analysis of four versions of a heroic ballad (‘The song of Gorgi Sugarev/Mariovo began to weep’) that span 1928–79. I argue that studies of musical nationalism need to address musical silences, erasure and transformations as well as the incorporation of new elements.
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Keywords: Cosmopolitanism; Critical Semantics; Macedonia; Nationalism; Romani (‘Gypsy’) Professional Musicians; Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia; Tradition; Urban Music; ‘Folk’ Music

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2012

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