Steva Nikolič – Arnautka

nikolic.jpgSometimes I catch myself being overly swayed by certain music because of its rawness, or because it seems on its surface completely alien to me, as I close my eyes and ignore that I live in 21st century California. This is not a terrible thing to be swayed by (and perhaps is what keeps me alert), but I am often flung out of that narrow listening mode by music that I might have otherwise passed over that isn’t ostensibly “raw.” Today’s post is one of those recordings.

I had found this record years ago and played it once, quickly forgetting about it. Recently, I spun it again and was captivated. Recorded in December of 1927 in Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia), Steva Nikolič’s brilliant violin playing and the murky, sonorous backup accompaniment are haunting in a way that other “gypsy orchestra” records are not, in my listening experience. “Gypsy” music – music of the persecuted Roma people – is varied. This piece sounds similar to Hungarian Roma/gypsy music from the same period, but is a far cry from the music of the Roma in Spain, flamenco.

The title “Arnautka” is, according to the label, an “Arnaut National Dance.” Arnaut is the Turkish word for Albanian, so this may have roots there as well. Perhaps someone can help us out. Also of interest, this track was recorded in Belgrade by HMV engineer George Dillnutt, who, 25 years before he recorded this track, accompanied Fred Gaisberg on the very first recording expedition to the Near and Far East.

Steva Nikolič – Arnautka

Technical Notes
Label: Victor (from HMV master)
Coupling Number: V-3049
Matrix Number: BK2636

14 thoughts on “Steva Nikolič – Arnautka

  1. As a historian, I love the little tidbits from the past that you sprinkle into your posts. As a listener, I enjoy the vast sonic diversity you bring us. Please keep it up!

  2. Jonathan you continue to do marvellous work!
    A small contribution to info on this post: the technique of tuning two fiddle strings in octaves and running them in the same groove of the nut to be able to play continuously i parallel octaves is called çifteteli (dhiplohordho in Greek)(double/paired strings) which has subsequently given its name to the common term for ‘belly dance’. So this is one more example of the continuity of Ottoman traditions in the Balkans.

  3. Thank you for all the comments, I very much appreciate it.

    Tony: so glad you brought this up, thank you! Indeed, the fiddle string tuning is something that I wanted to mention, but was hoping someone with musician’s knowledge could jump in. Of course, I instantly recognized the tunings as being so familiar from my Turkish çifteteli 78s by people such as Kemani Recep and others. A beautiful sound!

  4. just discovered the site. wonderful! my ears thank you! well curated and incredible music. keep it up! best-nye

  5. This record is truly heartbreaking, one of my favorites so far – are there many reissues of this kind of early Gypsy music?

  6. There are many recordings of “gypsy” music from Hungary and elsewhere, but not from Serbia. Check my Resources page, but I don’t think there’s much, if anything. I also recommend checking out the blog Tamburitza and More as he might have another record or two posted from these Belgrade sessions.

  7. Greetings! There are many recordings made by Gypsy musicians, though almost none of actual Roma music. Musicians such as Milan Tomić, his wife Dokica Tomić, Mara Petrović Pančevka, etc., were all Gypsies, but recorded Serbian music. Stevica Nikolić’s orchestra wasn’t the only such orchestra, no sir! There was the orchestra of Dušan Popaz, Gračanin brothers (Predrag and Nenad), Jova Jare’s orchestra (before the 1st World War), etc.

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