Academy 3, Manchester, 21/2/2020
published: 29 /
Denzil Watson watches Balkan ska/punk collective Dubioza Kolektiv play an energetic set at the Academy 3 in Manchester.
Dubioza Kolektiv remain something of an unknown quantity in the UK, so here’s a bit of a potted history. Formed in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2003 by keyboardist/multi-instrumentalist Brano Jakubović, bassist Vedran Mujagić and dual vocalists Almir Hasanbegović and Adis Zvekić, they released their dub-influenced debut album in 2004. After another dub album in 2006, 2008’s 'Firma Ilegal' saw current Dubioza drummer Senad Šuta join the fray, as they sung exclusively in their mother tongue, about the social and political climate in the Balkans. Their breakthrough to the international stage came with 2011’s 'Wild, Wild East' album including 'Move Ya' – a song that, unknown to me, proved to be my first exposure to the band’s music (if you went to any of Europe’s many independent cinemas about seven or eight years ago you would have seen the trailer where all the names of cities popped up). Now blending ska and hip-hop with their reggae/Balkan roots and joined by their Serbian sax player, Mario Ševarac, the band switched between their native language (2013’s 'Apsurdistan') and English (2015’s 'Happy Machine'). It was 'Happy Machine', including the pro-Pirate Bay single 'FreeMP3', that took the band to the next level, establishing them as one of the must-see bands on the European festival circuit.
Fast forward to a tightly packed Manchester Academy 3 and their breakneck tour of England (ten dates in eleven days). Surprisingly, Dubioza remain relative outsiders in the UK, so the tour takes in modestly sized venues compared to the stadiums they can fill back home. With the audience made-up of predominantly Balkan-ex pats and a few in-the-know locals, Dubioza are equally at home whether it’s a big or small gig. As they bounce on stage brandishing their 'Make Some Noise' billboards they kick-start their breakneck twenty-song set. Resplendent in their now trademark yellow and black football-team style kit, they are a tightly drilled unit, with every member of the band equally as important as the next, in this fourteen-legged Bosnian groove-collective. Sometimes it’s easy for spontaneity to get lost in what is undoubtedly a carefully choreographed show, but there’s far too much band-crowd interaction going on for it to seem staged.
Set-starter 'USA' from 'Wild Wild East' and its tales of US immigration from the Balkans has lost none of its relevance and sets the Dubioza juggernaut rolling. New album '#fakenews', which the band are giving away for free like their previous albums, understandably features heavily in the set. 'Minimal' is a perfect mix of ska, Balkan brass and techno while 'FreeMP3' gets an even bigger cheer as the up-for-it crowd go bananas. It epitomises the band’s seemingly endless ability to pen infectious pop songs that put a humorous spin on contemporary issues. Founding member and keyboardist Brano Jakubović summed it up perfectly stating "Our songs prove that people can dance and think at the same time". The band’s vision has always reached far beyond their native Balkans and is no more so demonstrated by new track 'Cross the Line', where Adis laments the impact of borders on global migration. But then its seamlessly back to their mother tongue and ska roots with renditions of the infectious 'Domaćica 2.0' and 'Firma illegal'.
The pace and energy doesn’t wain for a second, apart from several acoustic interludes where the band come up front of the stage for an acoustic sing-a=long with the crowd. It’s very hard to not get sucked into Dubioza’s world and, given the current state of things, it’s a much better and more positive place to be, albeit for the two hours of their set. Co-vocalist Almir extends the line-up to eight as ten-year-old Leo is invited up from the crowd to join the band for a show-closing rendition of 'No Escape (from Balkan)' for a night this young man will never forget.
The band’s overriding message of positivity is carried over to the encore in the shape of a cover of Bobby McFerrin’s 'Don't Worry, Be Happy' before closing the night with the dub-ska of 'Volio BH' and a pile-driving 'Balkan Funk'. They take their applause and Brano, Vedran, Almir, Adis, Senad, Mario and Jernej exit stage left. With the continuation of their European tour cut short after a final show in the UK and an appearance in Amsterdam, and the Covid-19 crisis casting a shadow over the world, it’s hard to say when Dubioza will be back to these shores. Right now, though, Dubioza Kolektiv is exactly what we need in these dark times.
Photos by Denzil Watson
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