April 10, 2010

Prishtina, Kosovo

We meet Vigan outside the Grand Hotel, one of the few structures in town that looks solid. He is stubble-chinned and greets us with a generous smile. We’re led through side streets to Tingell-Tangell, one of Vigan’s two bars –I’m booked to play at the other one. It’s the spit of an East London coffee shop, line drawings on the walls and Sugarhill Gang on the sound system. We feel at home and drink our coffee in the sun outside, meeting Vigan’s friends one by one. They’re all artists of some sort, into film or paints or music, wearing cardigans and talking culture. I cast my mind back to images of Kosovo from 90’s news flashes, and it has a hard time finding a place to land.

The old pain is still there, though, hiding in the corners: talk to a Kosovan for five minutes and you will hear a story that aches your heart. One told of his Albanian school being shut down. He and the other pupils were moved to a school up the road, a Serb school- they had to attend at night once the other kids had finished. He was beaten up every day, he said, his nose broken. The Serb kids brought chains and sticks. When the war came, he was a refugee- his father was in the army and wouldn’t follow orders. He describes how it feels to turn on the television and see the names of family members among the newly dead.

Another man says he was stopped in the street by four policemen, who searched his bag. Finding an Albanian language book, they beat him with boots and batons. There was nothing he could do but take it.

This was just over ten years ago, when I was into pills and falling off my skateboard. I’m humbled.

My time in Prishtina is busy; Lara (a friend’s friend who lives here) has set me up just lovely. First is a slot on Urban FM, a local hiphop station manned by Bim, run from the top of a ramshackle house with a punctured van outside. Afterwards, Bim drives me to his mate’s studio at the top of another house, his mate a long tall producer with a mad expressive excitement for his craft. The three of us set to making a tune together, and I find I can write about nothing but Palestine, walls placed to diminish your pride, sticks and stones.

The next morning I go for a run in a park close to the guest house Vigan arranged for us. Kids play with a ball, crisp packets blow through, and I come across a cluster of graves. There must be forty of them, and every single one carries 1999 as the year of death.

Though razor wire lines the cloud and saps its colouring

The music isn’t dying out. In fact it’s flourishing…

We work further on the song that afternoon, and the more I repeat the words I wrote for Palestine, the more they fall for Kosovo.

A young child’s lifetime ago, this nation was subjected to systematic persecution, racism, rape, murder. And still, I’m in a flat with three of its grinning sons, bopping our heads in the universal dance of hiphop appreciation, stating ourselves with equal pride and equal humanity.

… and nothing can stop it. Not a tank, not a government

We do it for the rush and the love of it.

In the evening, I perform at Vigan’s other place, the Tetris bar- jammed full of people, all shouting Yeah at the right moments. Vigan plays Roma music off his laptop, afterwards, and we all dance ‘til we can’t any more.

Kosovo, Pristina. Photographs of men who 'disappeared' during the conflict are pinned on the government gates, to remind politicians of issues that have still not been properly investigated. 2010

Kosovo, Pristina. Children carrying a football walk past the Kosovan government buildings. Pinned to the gates are photos of men who disappeared during the conflict. 2010

Kosovo, Pristina. Shopping for jeans, downtown. 2010

Kosovo, Pristina. Locals buying groceries at the public market. 2010

Kosovo, Pristina. Posters cover a wall in the capital with hateful images of 'Don Anton' - a Catholic minister, originally from Kosovo, whom local people say "compared Kosovans to dogs".

Kosovo, Pristina. Wall of a house in the market area. 2010

Comments are closed.