Published on 30/11/2021 11:00 am

Not to be overly nostalgic or anything, but this show would be amiss if it didn’t note yesterday’s November 29th. Back in the old country that used to be called the Day of the Republic. A Yugoslav version of Nationalfeierdag, if you will. Look it up if you care to learn about it. But for the purposes of this show, the date is a nice segue way into this weeks band, a Bosnian rock group Zabranjeno Pušenje.

Zabranjeno Pušenje literally translates into No Smoking and as the name suggests, they did not – and do not – take themselves too seriously. Nevertheless – or maybe precisely because of that – the band went on to become one of the most influential groups in Yugoslavia of 80s and 90s.

New Primitivsm

While most of Yugoslavia was discovering punk and new wave, Zabranjeno Pušenje discovered pure rock. Formed in Sarajevo in 1980 by a group of high-school colleagues, the band had less to do with punk rock and more with New Primitivism. That was a Bosnia-specific subcultural movement that included music, radio and television and which took Yugoslavia by the storm with its pointed but subtle critique of the socialist country in its terminal stage.

The lineup had changed dramatically over the four decades of the band existence. But for the sake of posterity, let us note that the founding members of Zabranjeno Pušenje were vocalist Nele Kraljić, guitarist Sejo Saxon, flute player Ognjen Gajić and percussionist Fu-Do. And yes, most of those were nicknames that just stuck. Today, Sejo Saxon is the only original member remaining. Tthe rest of the lineup consists of Trak, Robi, Toni and Klo. Times change, love of nicknames remains.

Das Ist Walter

To date, Zabranjeno Pušenje have released eleven studio albums. Their first album saw the light of day in 1984 and was titled Das ist Walter. It was an homage to Sarajevo and a Yugoslav cinema blockbuster of the same name, extolling the resistance of Sarajevo during WWII. Their last album was released three years ago, titled Šok I Nevjerica, Shock and Awe.

It goes without saying that Zabranjeno Pušenje left a lasting impression on the music scene of what used to be Yugoslavia. That said, the band formally split in the summer of 1990, and band members drifted their own separate way. In this they predated the dissolution of Yugoslavia by mere months, They also foreshadowed forces that would ravage the country and especially Bosnia-Herzegovina so horribly. The band got back together in 1996 and continued where they left of. The lineup might have changed but the new social order was just as ripe for criticism as the old social order.

Zabranjeno Pušenje continue to be one of the greats of the Balkan music scene, a band that continues to draw crowds and whose message resonates still. Among the many songs they’ve written and the albums they’ve released, everyone has their own favourites. But the band had secured their place in Yugoslav rock lore quite early. In a now-famous incident in 1984, that is only four years after Yugoslav autocrat leader Marshal Tito died, Zabranjeno Pušenje was setting up a gig in Croatian port town of Rijeka.

The Marshall Croacked

The gig was to be held on November 27th, just two days before the Day of the Republic. The Yugoslav version of Nationalfeierdag, if you’ll remember. And it just so happened that the guitar amplifier blew a fuse during the gig. To that, frontman Nele yelled “the Marshall croaked!”. When he was later interviewed by the police, Nele maintained that he meant the amplifier of the same make and not the late leader. But the subtext of the joke was obvious to everyone. It landed the band in serious trouble, but that only served to cement their cult status.

Check out Zabranjeno pušenje ob Youtube, Spotify or wherever you get you music from and Balkan Express will be back next week.


Balkan Express takes weekly trips into contemporary musical production of, you guessed it, the Balkans. Forget the gusle and tamburice, this show is about rock, pop and a sense of humour. Well, at least there’s guitars. On air most Tuesdays in a new-and-improved time-slot at 1100 hrs. Usually. Your train conductor is Aljaž (aka @pengovsky) who once did the world a solid and decided never to sing again in public. Which is why he ended up doing radio

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Balkan Express takes weekly trips into contemporary musical production of the Balkans.

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Zabranjeno Pušenje (Balkan Express 064)