Rock 'n' roll is here to stay in communist Europe


SARAJEVO, Yugoslavia -- The girl with green hair and the boy in 1950s shades were tuning up in a downtown Sarajevo courtyard before a blank wall scrawled with an English-language slogan: 'Punk's not dead.'

A little later they were splitting the night in an outdoor concert by three local Sarajevo bands playing 1960s rock and soul classics, reggae protest tunes, plus a combination of 'wall of sound' and garage-band metal whose devotees call themselves 'New Primitives.'


'There are three kinds of people,' explains Sasha, the laid-back 19-year-old leader of one of the groups, Alexanders Fellows. 'Real Primitives, Mainstream Primitives and New Primitives.

'Real Primitives realize their identity but don't want to face it. Mainstream Primitives don't realize their identity. New Primitives realize their identity and act naturally,' he says.

Punk definitely is not dead in Europe's communist states. Neither is any other type of rock music, though in some countries the climate is much freer than in others.


Young people in countries like Yugoslavia, which though communist is not part of the Soviet bloc, as well as Soviet allies such as Poland and Hungary are well clued in on Western music trends and support well developed domestic rock music industries.

Big-name as well as little-known Western bands regularly include Warsaw, Budapest, Belgrade and provincial towns on their European concert tours.

Western music is popular but less readily available in Romania, Bulgaria, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, where either ideology or financial considerations limit access to internationrends or keep the lid on local groups.

'More Western groups probably play in Bulgaria than in Czechoslovakia,' said a Vienna-based Western journalist who travels regularly to both countries.

'There is a big campaign against New Wave and other such music in Czechoslovakia,' he said, noting that Czech authorities have banned some groups, including one of the most popular, Prague Selection. 'But the youngsters are really keen,' he said, and they manage to keep well informed of trends.

Austrian, Hungarian and West German radio stations can be heard in parts of the country and hundreds of thousands of Czechoslovaks flock to musically wide-open Yugoslavia for their vacations.

In Romania, where it's virtually impossible to find any current Western rock hit on sale, fairly up-to-date mainstream rock blares from cafe loudspeakers even in provincial towns. Bulgarian radio plays most standard European Top-40 selections, but records are hard to come by and acceptance by the authorities of 'normal' Western rock in both countries is a relatively recent phenomenon.


Poland, Hungary and Yugoslavia remain by far the most 'liberated' communist countries where music is concerned.

'Young people just take it for granted they can like, listen to or play whatever music they like,' said a teenager in Belgrade, where rock magazines feature in-depth articles on Boy George and other curent heroes, television shows the late night videos and local groups go by names like Dorian Gray, Film, Video Sex and Electric Orgasm.

Americans may have been surprised that Poland was included in the current European tour of heavy metal group Iron Maiden, but not Poles.

'The scene at the airport was incredible,' said a 34-year-old Briton who flew into Warsaw on the group's plane. 'There must have been 1,000 kids at least, all waving placards and chanting I-ron, I-ron.'

The normally staid official Polish news agency PAP even reported on the group's Aug. 11 concert for more than 4,000 packed into a sports hall in the southwest city of Wroclaw. It said they 'thrilled the audience' with Polish favorites.

Western hard rock has a long precedent in Poland: in the mid-1960s The Rolling Stones played in Warsaw's Palace of Culture, a hulking edifice donated by the Soviets during the Stalinist era -- a concert people still talk about.


Poland and Hungary, like Yugoslavia, support hundreds of local bands of all shades, from country-western to locally inspired folk-rock, to '50s retro to you name it. Some club together and share equipment to defray costs.

Hungary has even produced a spectacular rock opera by Levente Szorenyi and Janos Brody based on the life of Stephen I, Hungary's first King.

Last year the Hungarian Record Company, which operates four subsidiary rock labels, opened a million-dollar pop recording studio outside Budapest, the first of its kind in the country, with a 40-track tape capacity and a 42-channel mixing panel. Its first major project was the rock opera, 'Stephen the King.'

Breakdancing is already a fad in Hungary, introduced by local singer Miklos Fenyo. Fenyo's latest album contains breakdance numbers and he has opened a dance school to teach it. He also sponsored the country's first breakdance competition in April.

A young peoples' peace group sponsored by the communist party even dedicated itself to John Lennon and made 'Give Peace a Chance' its theme song.

'It's not possible for any one person to give the full picture of Hungarian rock,' said a Budapest concert promoter. 'The trends are the same as in the West.'


Latest Headlines


Follow Us