Many musicians would be content with only a fragment of Goran Bregović's success. Contemporary composer, traditional musician, or celebrated rock star, he encompasses them all, combining such varying interests to create music that is both universal and unmistakably his own.
Bregović's artistic adventures began in the 1960s at a music college in Sarajevo, where he learned to play the violin and became acquainted with counterpoint and harmony. But rock 'n' roll was everywhere. While continuing his studies in philosophy and sociology, he formed the rock group Bijelo Dugme (White Button). Their first album was an immediate success, igniting a career that lasted 14 years and producing 12 albums.
At the end of the '80s, filmmaker Emir Kusturica--a fan of Bregović's work--convinced him to take part in his next project. Writing music for Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies allowed Bregović to sharpen his sense of musical dramaturgy, working with the Gypsy music that fascinated him. For Arizona Dream, the pair traveled to the US, where Kusturica filmed Faye Dunaway, Jerry Lewis, and Johnny Depp, and Bregović wrote for Iggy Pop.
In Patrice Chéreau's La Reine Margot (1994), Bregović's music lit a sparkle in the eye of French actress Isabelle Adjani by way of the voice of Israeli singer Ofra Haza. The following year, while war ravaged their country, Bregović and Kusturica collaborated one last time on Underground, winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Festival. For this film, Bregović called on Šaban Bajramović, known as "The Gypsy Sinatra," and Cape Verdean diva Cesária Évora.
After writing for films, Bregović returned to live performance. His Wedding and Funeral Band mixes Gypsy musicians on wind instruments with percussionists and Bulgarian polyphony. Dressed in white, seated between his amplifier and computer, an electric guitar in his hand, he conducts this motley group that varies in size according to the occasion. For nearly 20 years, they have been roaming the world on an unending tour that so far totals some 1,500 shows.
When he is not on stage, Bregović composes pieces that have become part of the contemporary music scene: My Heart Has Become Tolerant, an oratorio about the three monotheistic religions; Goran Bregović's Karmen with a Happy End, a Gypsy opera (with a wink and a nod to Bizet); Margot, Diary of an Unhappy Queen, a monologue for an actress and big band; and his symphony, Three Letters from Sarajevo. His capacity to understand and assimilate vastly varied musical styles allows him to incorporate traditional Corsican, Georgian, or Bulgarian chants into his music, as well as elements of techno culture.
In 2015, Goran Bregović was named a Chevalier of France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His boundless talent continues to attract first-class artists from around the globe, including George Dalaras, Kayah, Sezen Aksu, Scott Walker, and the Gypsy Kings.