Turbo-folk (Serbian: турбо фолк, turbo folk), is a musical genre that originated in Serbia. Having mainstream popularity in Serbia, and although closely associated with Serbian performers, the genre is widely popular in Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey and Montenegro. Its style is a mixture of Serbian folk music with modern Pop music elements, with similar styles in Greece (Skyladiko), Bulgaria (Chalga), Romania (Manele) and Albania (Tallava).


The term turbo folk itself was coined by Rambo Amadeus, who used it jokingly during the late 1980s in order to describe his own strange eclectic sound combining various styles and influences. At the time, the term was nothing more than a soundbite, the phrase being intentionally humorous for combining two contradictory concepts - "turbo", a way of forcefully injecting fuel-air mixture into the engine and "folk," a symbol of tradition and rural conservatism.



The so-called "novokomponovana muzika" (newly composed music) can be seen as a result of the urbanization of folk music. In its early times, it had a professional approach to performance, used accordion and clarinet and typically included love songs or other simple lyrics (though there have long been royalist and anti-Communist lyrical themes persisting underground). Many of the genre's best performers also play forms imported from even further abroad. These include Šaban Šaulić, Toma Zdravković, and Silvana Armenulić. At a later stage, the popular performers such as Lepa Brena, Vesna Zmijanac and Dragana Mirković used more influences from pop music, oriental music, and other genres, which led to the emergence of turbo folk.


Turbo Folk was conceived with the commercial rise to stardom of singers who used traditional Serbian music in addition to catchy or quasi meaningful lyrics.

New Belgrade's Blok 62 at night (blokovi)

Pre-origin of turbo folk in its native sense was in 1991. There were several illegal radio stations in New Belgrade's Blokovi neighbourhood. The owner of one such station was DJ W-ICE who mixed folk songs with dance rhythms and broadcast them. Later he appeared in Zorica Brunclik's video, and then in other commercial folk performers' videos.

However, a few more years would pass before the term turbo folk made a comeback in earnest. 1993 was a year of severe economic hardship and galloping inflation in FR Yugoslavia. War was being fought only a few hundred kilometres away and the country was under an international trade embargo; many Serbian citizens sought solace in the escapist sounds of commercial folk music.

Commercial turbo-folk seemed to take its presentation up a notch in this period. Hedonism and a flip-off attitude became prominent themes. Songs like "Ne može nam niko ništa" (No one can touch us) by Mitar Mirić, singing about a couple's love surviving against all odds, but also implicitly defiantly celebrating Serbia's isolated international position appealed to the general sentiment of the Serb people.

Still, if there is a single song that widely launched the turbo folk phenomenon, it would be 1994's "200 na sat" (200 per Hour) - an energetic tune about speed and sports cars performed by Ivan Gavrilović. The song is a cover of 2 Unlimited's Eurodance hit "No Limit." The same song was later covered by Croatian parody group Vatrogasci, as "Nema ograničenja" in which the phrase "turbo folk" is explicitly mentioned in the chorus line. On the same day, "200 na sat" and "Gori more, tope se planine" (Sea is burning, mountains are melting) by Željko Šašić were first aired on Belgrade TV Palma. That event could be considered as the manifest of turbo-folk.

Soon, a distinct style would be known by that name. Short-skirted leggy girls such as Ceca, Mira Škorić, Dragana Mirković, Snežana Babić Sneki, and others, all of whom were already established performers (though with slightly more demure attitudes) quickly embraced the new style, letting go of most inhibitions and going on to become some of turbo-folk's biggest stars.

The mix of scantily clad young women, lascivious stage movements and innocuous, accessible lyrics proved to be the winning combination that launched many performing careers and ensured high ratings for plenty of television stations across Serbia.


Production and marketing strategies in turbo-folk emulate and worship global mainstream trends in music, fashion and design. It is basically only the vocals using the characteristic rhythmic ululations techniques that distinguish it from Western pop music.

As mentioned, turbo folk is strongly rooted in commercial folk and neo-folk (novokomponovana muzika) which had already been massively popular throughout entire SFR Yugoslavia in the 1970s and 1980s, making it difficult to exactly pinpoint where one ends and the other begins.

Musically they sound very much alike with Greek Skiladiko music, Turkish "Arabesque" and Serbian brass bands on one side, as well as rock and roll and contemporary electronic dance music on the other. The major differences lay in visual and lyrical presentation. Turbo-folk is unabashed in its delivery of in-your-face sexuality with half-naked bodies, banal love stories, and suggestive lyrics, while traditional commercial folk at least tries to put up a more dignified front, though not always successfully. Since both subgenres pick from the same pool of musical talent, the most obvious differentiation goes along the lines of a given performer's age. Younger female singers usually play the sex card with provocative, revealing wardrobe on-stage and scandalous, jet-setting, bed-hopping lifestyles off stage. Older performers, whether by necessity or by choice, concentrate merely on vocal abilities and usually stay clear of risqué lyrics.

It should be noted that there are those who don't consider turbofolk to be a distinct genre or even a subgenre, but merely the next stage in commercial folk's evolution. They point to what they see as a clear generational trend over the last 30 years or so, and their argument goes as follows:

The 1970s commercial folk had the buttoned up Lepa Lukić and Silvana Armenulić as its biggest stars - singers who made names because of exceptional, or at the very least above average vocal talents. Then in the 1980s, the places at the top were taken over by Lepa Brena, Vesna Zmijanac, Zorica Brunclik and Dragana Mirković whose huge popularity was thought to have more to do with their physical than vocal attributes; to some it appeared that their love lives were more important to their popularity than the quality of their music. The fact that the 1990s brought Ceca and Indira Radić, and 2000s Seka Aleksić and Jelena Karleuša to the top of the commercial heap was the next logical step according to this view. It was only natural, they argue, that considering the trend up to that point, the next step in commercial folk would be open disregard for the vocals & music and complete focus on the physical.

Social and pop-culture aspects

Initially dismissed as benign lowbrow entertainment targeting consumers' basic instincts, turbo folk began to acquire a deeper social dimension during the mid-to-late 1990s. Two events that triggered this in large part were the Ceca-Arkan relationship and the launch of Pink TV. The former quickly grew to represent more than just a matrimonial union between two individuals, one of whom happens to be a popular singer and the other a known warlord. In addition to being a major media event covered live on Pink TV, in the eyes of some, their lavish February 1995 wedding was also the unofficial merger of two worlds.

Left-wing criticism

According to this persuasion, turbo folk and Serbian involvement in Bosnian and Croatian conflicts would become inextricably linked from then on.[2] They point to appearance of Pink TV on Serbian airwaves in 1994 along with its considerable commercial success through promotion of this lifestyle as further proof of their theory.

This left-wing section of Serbian and Croatian society explicitly viewed turbo folk as vulgar, almost pornographic kitsch, glorifying crime, moral corruption and nationalist xenophobia. In addition to making a connection between turbofolk and "war profiteering, crime & weapons cult, rule of force and violence", in her book Smrtonosni sjaj (Deadly Splendor) Belgrade media theorist Ivana Kronja[3] refers to its look as "aggressive, sadistic and pornographically eroticised iconography".[4] Along the same lines, British culture theorist Alexei Monroe calls the phenomenon "porno-nationalism".[5] Popular nationalist turbo folk musicians included Miro Semberac, Lepi Mića and Roki Vulović.

Furthermore, left-wingers considered Pink TV to be the major pusher of this deplorable material with the calculated intent of providing Serbian citizens with mindless, sugary entertainment to get their minds off the brutal war being waged just across the border in Bosnia and Croatia with the help of the authorities those very same citizens helped elect.

However, turbo-folk was equally popular amongst the South Slavic nations during the brutal wars of the 1990s, reflecting perhaps the common cultural sentiments of the warring sides.[4] When a Bosniak market seller in Sarajevo was asked why in the midst of a Serb shelling of the city he illegally sold CDs by turbo-folk superstar Ceca, a wife of the notorious Serbian warlord Arkan, he offered a laconic retort: "Art knows no borders!"

Right-wing criticism

Graffiti against Ceca turbofolk music in Imotski, Croatia: "Turn off all the 'Cecas'/Light up the candles/Vukovar will never/Be forgotten" (with every U character stylised same as in the Croatian Ustaše fascist movement)

On the other hand, turbo-folk music was not without its detractors on the right wing either. In fact, Serbian conservative nationalists often described it as an example of undesirable Turkish elements, left behind in the national psyche by the Ottoman Empire. Seeing it as something that carries a strong Islamic, oriental, and "un-European" sentiment they talk of it in terms of a "Tehranization of Serbia" as one of the MPs put it in his speech before the Serbian parliament during the mid-1990s.

In Croatia, the right wing considers listening to turbo-folk as nothing short of high treason. Anto Đapić (former mayor of Osijek, and national leader of the far-right Croatian Party of Rights) has declared "as long as I am mayor, there will be no nightclub-singers [cajki] or turbofolk parades in a single municipal hall".[6]

General non-ideological criticism

The resilience of a turbo-folk culture and musical genre, often referred to as the "soundtrack to Serbia’s wars",[7] was and to a certain extent still is, actively promoted and exploited by commercial TV stations, most notably on Pink and Palma TV-channels, which devote significant amount of their broadcasting schedule to turbo-folk shows and music videos.

Filmed visual presentations are criticized by some for celebrating the external symbols of easy acquisition of wealth, being too eroticized, and promoting violence. However, others respond to this critique by arguing that precisely such content is representative of the global pop-cultural scene. They point out that an average music video shown on MTV depicts just as many if not more "women treated as objects", golden chains on muscular bodies, and generally everything that is recognized and condemned as banal, sub-intellectual and unsophisticated.

In Western pop-rock music all of this is typically defended as being motivated by its potential to provoke and challenge "safe" value systems of the civic order. The subversive potential of turbo-folk is to be found in the fact that this phenomenon represents an imitation of global trends in popular culture but is, both by its critics and by its fans from abroad (including cyberpunk author Bruce Sterling), treated as in opposition to those trends.

Others, however, feel that this neglects the specific social and political context that brought about turbo-folk, which was, they say, entirely different from the context of contemporary western popular culture. In their opinion, turbo-folk served as a dominant paradigm of the "militant nationalist" regime of Slobodan Milošević, "fully controlled by regime media managers".[8] John Fiske feels that during that period, turbo-folk and its close counterpart Serbian pop-dance had a monopoly of officially permitted popular culture, while, according to him, in contrast, Western mass media culture of the time provided a variety of music genre, youth styles, and consequently ideological positions.[9]



See also


  1. An umbrella term covering Balkan; Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Bulgarian, Albanian, Macedonian, Bosnian, Montenegrin, Romanian, Greek, and Turkish music.
  2. In These Times 25/07 - Serbia's New New Wave
  3. A short biography of Ivana Kronja in Film Criticism: http://filmcriticism.allegheny.edu/archives30_3.htm
  4. 1 2 Komentari
  5. Central Europe Review - Balkan Hardcore
  6. Catherine Baker, "The concept of turbofolk in Croatia: inclusion/exclusion in the construction of national musical identity"
  7. Gordana Andric (15 Jun 11). "Turbo-folk Keeps Pace with New Rivals". balkaninsight.com. BalkanInsight - Culture. Retrieved 21 July 2013. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  8. Ivana Kronja, Politics, Nationalism, Music, and Popular Culture in 1990s Serbia Linacre College, University of Oxford
  9. John Fiske, Television Culture, February 1988, ISBN 0-415-03934-7


External links

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