My Stories

Macedonia

I reckon if Yugoslavia stayed in-tact, it would be a European powerhouse today. It was well on its way before the civil war in the 90’s. Instead of one country, Europe now has Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia as separate countries. And none of them can ever come close to the power that Yugoslavia had as a country. As part of my European holiday, Macedonia was a place I visited and stayed in for 4 weeks. Afterwards, I did Barcelona and Mallorca in Spain, Marseille in France and the Cinque Terre Coast, the Amalfi Coast and Rome in Italy.

But this post is about Macedonia.

The kingdom is ransacked, the jewels all taken back
“Clampdown” from The Clash

After the First and Second Balkan Wars booted the Ottoman Empire out of the Balkans, Tsarist Russia demanded that Macedonia be broken up into three parts as it didn’t want a Macedonian identity so close to its borders. Eventually, one part was given to Greece, one to Bulgaria and one to Serbia. Bulgaria was not happy with the spoils of war and went to war against its allies for a larger piece of Macedonia. But by then, all of the riches got taken to Istanbul.

And since then, the Macedonia that exists as a country today is known as The Former Yugoslav Republic Of Macedonia by some or Macedonia by others.

The country has a population of about 2 million. It’s hard to know the exact number because the last census was held in 2002 and back then some issues came about. The Albanian Macedonian’s either refused to participate, or complained that the line of questioning was too personal and their answers could be used for the wrong reasons in the future. And history in the Balkans has shown that old grudges and past wrongs always come back to haunt. Plus, the census took place after an Albanian Macedonian uprising was defeated.

The current government is the VMRO party. The party leader was the leader of Macedonia, however due to some tapes and questionable dealings, he is now just the “party leader” and another member of his party leads the country. Seriously, this doesn’t make sense to me at all. Surely the party leader is also the leader of the country. But this is the Balkans.

Brussels sends millions of Euro into the country. Roads are getting built and agriculture is prospering, however there is an uneasy feeling that a lot of Ministers and their underlings are pocketing a lot in the process. Euro inspectors are always questioning the lack of “work” compared to the monies/grants “given”. And the opposition party, SDS, is not really that much better. To add further complexity, people’s careers are tied to the ruling party. When the SDS party was in power, SDS supporters held all of the well-paying jobs. As soon as VMRO came in power, the SDS workers got sacked and replaced with VMRO supporters. This is a general Eastern European problem.

But putting Government politics aside, the country is unbelievable. The history and the places to see are very well worth it.

You have Struga and Ohrid, two cities on the shore of Lake Ohrid. In Ohrid, you will see excavations of a city from Ancient Rome and the Byzantine times. On the way to Sveti Naum, you will see a reconstructed city on water. Leaving Ohrid to Bitola, you will pass the rotten egg smell of the Kosel Volcano. Driving to the monastery of Sveti Jovan Bigorski, you take the winding mountain roads past Debar and are wowed by some unbelievable scenery.

In Bitola, you will see how strong the Ottoman influence was over the country and excavations in Bukovo unearthed the Ancient Rome settlement of Heraclea.

In Radozda and Kalista, you have the cave churches, created as a way to keep their Orthodox faith in hiding from the ruling powers of the era. Religion is big in Macedonia. There are so many churches for such a small land area, it’s not even funny. The city of Ohrid alone has a tourist book on sale that shows you the 365 churches around Ohrid for each day of the year. And that’s just one city. It goes to show how much power, religion has over the masses. And Macedonia has Orthodox Christians and Muslims, in other words a Balkan volcano ready to explode. But for the people of the area, let’s hope it remains dormant.

For expenses, one Australian dollar buys you 40 to 42 denari. One Euro buys you 60 to 62 denari. One American dollar buys you 55 to 57 denari. When you take into account that a 500ml bottle of alcohol costs 50 denari, a packet of cigarettes costs 68 denari and a kilo of tomatoes costs 40 denari, you can see how cheap it is to be there.

You cannot walk into a record shop and buy a CD of an artist. There are none. The ones that exists are all copies, downloaded by someone and put to CD. So downloading music illegally is huge. There is no Spotify or Apple Music or Amazon. Google Play exists, however it has no traction there and no one is going to pay for it, when the majority of Balkan artists are not even on it and for the English speaking artists, they are just a few clicks away on the pirate sites.

For an artist to sell CD’s, they have them at their concerts. When I got to Macedonia, the Ohrid Calling Festival was in progress. Al Di Meola was on the bill and the closer was Prodigy. From the stories I heard, 15,000 plus tickets were sold however that figure cannot be verified. But, there is money in live music and let’s hope the artists are fairly compensated by the promoters.

For Government meddling, a copyright dispute was brewing while we holidayed.

You see, in Macedonia, they had only one music copyright collection agency called ZAMP.

First, the Culture Ministry reduced the rate at which broadcasters had to pay ZAMP. Then the Culture Ministry granted a licence to a newly formed entity called SOKOM MAP. ZAMP believe it’s a ploy by the Government to get their hands on money meant for the artist so they banned the music of its 6,000 members from being broadcast in protest. Regardless of what ZAMP believes, I agree with what the Techdirt article states;

“ZAMP took a dispute over how much money it got to collect as the only collection group in the country and managed to reduce that amount of money to absolutely zero by banning that music from broadcasts entirely. Seems like a recipe for new legislation that will further neuter ZAMP, as one imagines the artists it represents will be screaming bloody murder any moment now.”

Nothing like Balkan politics in music. ZAMP had a monopoly and the Government decided to create another entity of its own and get some of that royalty money pie. And how is this helping the artists of Macedonia. It’s all about lining the pockets of people who contribute nothing to culture and music in general.

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A to Z of Making It, Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Copyright, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories

The “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” Effect – Another Progress Is Derivative Example

The history of metal and rock music occurred because of some serious copying. My favourite saying has always been that all “progress is derivative.” What I mean by this term, is that all the music we love is an amalgamation of music that has come before. In a lot of the cases, this amalgamation involved some serious copying. To use a common term that is banded about today, the history of music as I know it involved a lot of “stealing.”

Previously, I posted on “The Kashmir Effect” in hard rock and heavy metal music. This was my take on the legacy that the Led Zeppelin song “Kashmir” had on hard rock and heavy metal.

In this post, I am focusing on that descending bass line that I first heard on the George Harrison penned “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The way that it descends is that it goes down by a whole tone first and then four semi tones in a chromatic progression. So if the song was in the key of Am, then the progression would be A – G – F# – F – E

Since the Sixties, that descending passage has appeared in countless songs that are all seen as classics in this day and age.

Recently it was “Trial Of Tears” from Dream Theater that triggered this study into the descending bass line.

So where do we begin. The beauty of progress in music never begins in one place. It begins in many places and then there is always a creator or an artist that starts to bring it all together.

In one instance, it all started in the fifties when an unknown folk singer by the name of Anne Bredon wrote a song called “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” By 1962, Joan Baez had popularised the song.

In another instance, in 1966, an American band called The Loving Spoonful released a song called “Summer In The City”, that had a verse riff in the key of Cm that descended.

Also in that same year, a British band called The Kinks released “Sunny Afternoon.”

Both songs have a lot of similarities, especially that descending bass line. Back in those days it was common for artists to release similar sounding songs across two continents, or for artists to cover a song that was popular on one continent and unheard of in the other.

In 1967, the mighty Cream released “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” another “progress is derivative” gem that featured a similar bass line to The Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Summer in the City” and a vocal melody inspired by Judy Collins’ version of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.”

Then in 1968 came “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by The Beatles with a definitive guitar solo from Eric Clapton, who had more or less worked out a similar solo the previous year on the “Tales Of Brave Ulysses” song.

So at this point in time, you have two separate stages of music happening. The US “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You and Summer In The City” stage and The British “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” stage.

In 1969, another British band by the name of Led Zeppelin took these two stages and merged them together in their re-interpretation of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”. A perfect example of progress being derivative.

That is how the language of music is learned. We imitate our influences. Some will call it “theft” and others will call it “inspiration.” In the end, there is a saying that goes something like “Talent Imitates, True Genius Steals.”

However, the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effect doesn’t end there. An American band called Chicago more or less copied the aggressive part of Led Zeppelin’s version of “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” for their song “25 or 6 to 4.”

It was just another song that proved successful using the same descending bass line that I will always know as the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” bass line.

So moving on, in 1971, The Grass Roots released “Temptation Eyes”. Another song that proved successful that was tied up with the descending bass line and the “Summer In The City” groove established years earlier.

Culture is all about emulation. Copyright is about governments intervening and this is when Copyright started to become a force to be reckoned with.

Up until 1971, music culture had 11 years of unbelievable progress by copying what came before and making it better. Look at the quality of music released around a descending bass line.

It didn’t end there. I am sure there are many other examples in between, however to my knowledge the next time the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effect was heard occurred in 1975. At this time Styx released “Suite Madame Blue.”

The Eighties had a real pop element to it.

Then in 1993, I purchased an album called “Countdown To Extinction” from Megadeth. The opening track, Skin Of My Teeth had a chorus riff that reminded me of The Beatles classic. Dave Mustaine was well known for taking his influences from the Seventies and converting them to thrash and metal music. He even got a mention for the Kashmir influence in the song “In My Darkest Hour.”

Then in 1995, Oasis released “She’s Electric” and there it was again. The “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” effect was in action again in the Nineties after going largely unnoticed in the Eighties.

Green Day then released “Brain Stew” in 1996 and there it was again, the definitive descending bass line.

The following year, 1997 saw two releases that had the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” descending bass line. This time is was progressive masters, Dream Theater and their song “Trial Of Tears”. Pop rock band Texas also had a song called “Black Eyed Boy.”

Remember songs are not created in vacuums.

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