BALKAN:MOST event blows minds in Veszprém
How do you make a sold-out street fiesta celebrating a musical niche removed from its place of origin, attracting small-town folks and seasoned professionals? BALKAN:MOST pulled off just that in the Hungarian town of Veszprém, between 7 and 9 September, with free entry. Taking showcase festivals to the next level, it acted as a roll-call for Balkan talent, and people loved it.
Location, location, location
Veszprém is small in comparison to say Budapest, but a neat little cultural hub seated in the picturesque Balaton region – rich in wines, views and prime venues. The town used the impetus of Veszprém-Balaton 2023 European Capital of Culture year to the max. BALKAN:MOST Showcase and Conference, in cooperation with WOMEX, acted as a double-edged sword: it attracted European music buffs besides bagging popular appeal. The crowds – over a tenth of the city’s population – chanting along to Bosnian ska punk or falling in love with heritage-inspired R’n’B would definitely agree. Organisers Hangvető delivered production seamlessly as per usual, nursing delegates along to revelative experiences and fruitful networking. BALKAN:MOST represented the region in its diversity and carried out an ambitious professional agenda and a three-day street fiesta. No coincidence, in a city that has welcomed buskers at its Street Music Festival for decades, and where locals easily take to quirky musicians occupying their quaint streets.
“MOST gave us a big boost, and a new network. We learnt a lot about how the music industry works”
Organisers relied heavily on the Balkan brand, while questioning and broadening its content. The term oversteps the backlog of ‘world music’, while suggesting that musical heritage is indeed involved. Showcase bands had already had an established working relationship with the team, who began to map out the region’s talent and industry as part of project MOST.
“This is the most important event to show almost everything this project has achieved in these years, like a final exam. Except it already includes the celebration afterwards,” as Balázs Weyer, MOST mentor and programming director at Hangvető put it.
The showcase and conference was the pinnacle of a four-year-long development project ‘bridging’ the gap still dividing the Balkans with the rest of the European market. MOST literally means bridge in Slavic languages, also resonating with Hungarian and English speakers. Thirty-two bands, 100 managers and 60 festivals received a boost throughout the programme, in the form of mentoring, training, networking and performance opportunities. Some, like Divanhana, champions of sevdah, went through rapid evolution: professional awards and attention are resulting in more and more invitations outside their home.
“Being the only Finnish-Bulgarian singer can be lonely. With MOST, I was brought to this big family of Balkan musicians”
Bridge through music
The mastermind behind the project, the festival and MOST’s long-term mission is Hangvető, a Budapest-based 360° music firm with increasing scope in its region and beyond. They initiated the cooperation with 11 Balkan and European partners (BOZAR, EXIT, European Music Council among them), secured funding from Creative Europe, and threw in their expertise and professional network. They recognised the impact hands-on training and personal connections can have on artists’ careers. MOST set off a new generation of not only musicians but other professionals with closer ties in Europe, and made it all visible through BALKAN:MOST. But will it remain a one-hit wonder?
Repeating MOST magic
Inspirational gigs at BALKAN:MOST underlined two key factors of the region’s scene: its kaleidoscopic diversity and underrepresented nature. A sense of shared Balkan belonging emerged among artists emerged as an added extra. Feedback across all tiers of the industry agrees that MOST succeeded in its mission, but the quest remains. A tangible legacy seems to be the personal pathways across two ends of Europe, and within the Balkans itself.
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