Sarajevo as a center of SR BiH in former Yugoslavia had a critical influence in society and the culture of the country in general. A subcultural movement was founded in early ‘80 by the group of young people from Sarajevo neighborhood Kosevo. Later on, the movement took over the whole Yugoslavia and grew on the scale to become a cultural movement of the country.

“The New Primitives were, in essence, a kind of local, Sarajevo-specific response to punk. We created the movement as a channel through which to receive punk or New Wave music, if you will, which had exerted the greatest influence on my generation. We made it up to poke fun at everything and everyone around us.”

Nenad Janković (aka. Dr. Nele Karajlić, one of the co-founders of New Primitives and the lead singer of Zabranjeno Pusenje)

The most famous projects of the movement were the creation of the bands Zabranjeno Pusenje, Elvis J. Kurtovich, and his meteors, Plavi Orkestar, Bombaj Stampa as well as the creation of the TV show under the name of Top list of Surrealism. This movement mostly used music as their way of expression but didn’t stop at that, eventually, they ‘ll create radio and TV shows that will influence the youth of Sarajevo and rest of Yugoslavia.”

Zabranjeno pusenje album cover
Zabranjeno Pušenje's 1985 double album While You're Waiting for the Dawn with the Devil.

The New Primitivism was created through humor and spirit of Sarajevo streets, as a way of transferring spirit and life of streets into musical compilations. There is a lot of usage of slang as they try to recreate everyday life situations of Sarajevo dark society through their music. As the humor was their main weapon of mass entertainment over the underground society of Yugoslavia. They were often compared to the Monty Pythons flying circus as both used a short sketch and absurd as a form of expression.

The name of the movement arose as a reaction to two already popular musical movements, New Romantic that came from the west as a global pop music movement and the Neue Slownische Kunst in Slovenia. The New primitives were the complete opposite of the New Romantic as they depicted raw material from streets of Sarajevo and it’s everyday situations which would serve them as an inspiration. On the other side, the idea was to make a difference from the Slovenian and Bosnian spirit as the Slovenians were known as cold, strict and serious, while Bosnians were the complete opposite, raw, unsophisticated and sincere.

The importance of  the New Primitives for the city was by outlining its two main functions: “authentication of one’s own identity in light of one’s everyday reality and experiences; and affirmation of one’s own milieu as the basis for one’s socio-cultural purviews and the foundation of one’s attitude towards the ‘world out there’ ”. As one of the artists stated. In addition, a type of humor unique to Sarajevo that noted mundane with wit attracted people of Sarajevo and the region to the New Primitives. The main goal was to bring attention to the often ignored topics of local social and cultural life. As the creators tried to present Sarajevo through the eyes of the local community and its people.

Cover of Bombaj Stampa album
Bombaj Stampa cover for the audio cassette.

Like all the great spirits even “primitives” encountered misunderstanding. As the Nenad Jankovic in public better known as dr. Nele Karajlic and at the time frontman of the group Zabranjeno Pusenje during one of their gigs made a joke “Marshall is dead, I mean the amplifier.” which was followed with negative reactions and was considered as a mockery towards the former leader of the country, Josip Broz ‘Marshal’ TITO.

The New primitives were officially down when all of the creators met and came to the conclusion that is better for them to shut it down than to wait for someone else to do so.

As they reflected the Sarajevo’s mixture of cultural, political and historical influences and presented them in their unique way through art and music. Even though the efforts to preserve Yugoslavia were unsuccessful, the culture that came out of Sarajevo during this time period left a rich and lasting legacy that we share with you in this article.

Take a look at this short insert from Top List of Surrealism, so it would enable you to understand their perspective and sense of humor. Content of this video was based on a true story, when one of the locals from Sarajevo sold the City Hall to a tourist. 

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