Spring 2001

In the 1920s and 1930s, a revolution in tamburica style and repertoire was brought about by rural Gypsy musicians in the Vojvodina province of the former Yugoslavia. The recent introduction of the sremski system of tamburica tuning opened up new technical and musical possibilities, which were quickly discovered and exploited by Gypsy musicians, principally those from villages in west-central Backa, the Fruska Gora hills of Srem and the mid-Tisa River region of Backa and Banat. Indeed, when the first radio tamburica orchestra was founded in the 1930's, it was composed principally of Gypsy musicians from these areas. It has proved to be the single most influential tamburica ensemble of this century, providing the model of technique and texture still used by most professional ensembles.

The Radio Beograd tamburica orchestra was founded by Aleksandar Aranicki (1892-1977), a Serb from the village of Nadalj, north of Novi Sad. According to stories among tamburasi, he was a wealthy industrialist with a strong amateur interest in tamburica who gave up his business interests in the late 1920's to devote himself to tamburica full-time. He formed an orchestra by traveling throughout Vojvodina searching out the best tamburasi; usually these were Gypsies playing in kafane, although there was initially one important non-Gypsy member. This was Pero Tumbas "Hajo" (1891-1967), a Bunjevac from Subotica who played prim and basprim and was considered among the finest and most influential tamburasi of the last century.

Other members of the original ensemble are now legendary among tamburica musicians: Macika (who later taught Janika Balaz), primas; Cika tosa (the senior member of the Balaz orchestra in the 1970s), basprimas; Pero Levak, cellist; Pero Kontras; Beli Stevo, basist. Aranicki brought these musicians to Beograd and devoted extraordinary energies to forming an ensemble. Stories are told of Aranicki's personal efforts: paying the musicians not to play in kafane or to take casual employment (so as to concentrate on their radio commitments); finding apartments for the rural, city-shy Gypsies; teaching some of the Gypsies how to tie shoe laces and wear neckties; and probably the most important for later ensembles, tutoring the ensemble in musicianship to ensure musical literacy.

The orchestra continued to play during World War II, but according to rumor, Aranicki encountered difficulties after the war. Since he had been a director at the radio station accused of having collaborated with the occupying Germans, he was stripped of his position and was forced to leave Beograd. He directed a tamburica orchestra at the radio station in Titograd before assuming the directorship of the Radio Novi Sad orchestra in 1949. He also directed a number of amateur orchestras in Novi Sad in the late 1940's and early 1950's, but retired early from public life to avoid war-time associations. After his departure, the orchestra was directed briefly by Maksa Popov (1911-1972), a primas from Pancevo who had joined the Radio Beograd orchestra in 1936.

The influence of the orchestra continued beyond its dissolution in 1948. Most of the musicians moved to the radio orchestra in Novi Sad, which guaranteed the ascendancy of the new orchestra and provided some stylistic continuity from the inter-war period. The Radio Novi Sad orchestra continues to be one of the strongest professional tamburica orchestras, although the last member of the Beograd orchestra retired in 1986. Many of the leading Gypsy players in Vojvodina through the 1970's and 1980's could trace their stylistic lineage to members of the Beograd orchestra, and many of the younger Slavic musicians, including orchestras such as "Ex-Panonija" in Zagreb, can trace elements of their style to the Beograd group. It is thus not an exaggeration to consider Aranicki and members of the Radio Beograd Tamburica Orchestra as founders of the modern tamburica style.

- Mark Forry