Festival Files: Balkan:Most 2023
(Veszprém, Hungary; Thursday 7th September to Saturday 9th September 2023)

Today, we have a sui generis entry for our Festival Files section as we introduce you to the first overseas festival in this series.

In a couple of days’ time, the charming city of Veszprém in Western Hungary comes alive with the vibrant artistry and spirit of the Balkans.

For three days and nights, from the 7th to the 9th of September, the historic city will host the captivating BALKAN:MOST Festival — an event that celebrates the rich diversity and cultural heritage of the region through the universal language of music.

This festival aims not only to entertain but also to educate attendees about the diversity and unique charm of the Balkan Peninsula and South-Eastern Europe. It offers a rare opportunity for music lovers to indulge in the region’s lesser-known musical genres, featuring a mix of traditional and contemporary sounds, all in one place. Through showcases, conferences, and workshops, the event goes beyond stereotypes to spotlight untapped talent, capturing the true essence of the Balkans’ musical and cultural heritage.

To introduce you to the kaleidoscopic BALKAN:MOST adventure, we have reached out to its Director, Balázs Weyer, and some members of the dedicated team organising it and asked a few questions to express the significance of this event considering the regional, continental, and global dimension of the festival.

Can you give us a brief history of BALKAN:MOST?

BALKAN:MOST Showcase and Conference in cooperation with WOMEX is the celebration of South East European culture in Veszprém, as one the most prominent event of Veszprém-Balaton 2023, European Capital of Culture.

The festival is the grand finale of our four-year project for Balkan music: MOST. The project was started in 2019 by Hangvető and 11 partners, co-funded by the European Union. By now the success of this support program is unprecedented, with multiple MOST-supported artists performing at prominent stages from Womex to Bozar, Budapest Ritmo and beyond. We are strategic partners of Veszprém’s big cultural year and it was obvious that we together are able to organise this special one-time festival.

How did you first become involved with BALKAN:MOST and what is it like to be a music programmer of such a large-scale event?

We have been planning and preparing to start the MOST project since 2016 and have put lot of effort into mapping the region – looking for the right partners, identifying the obstacles to tackle, the issues to be addressed, the artists to be supported. So it wasn’t so much the festival, rather the whole project that had demanded years of preparation. Having done that and with the wonderful alumni of years’ of MOST contributors, this festival is just a logical final consequence. Also, this is the most important event to show almost everything this project has achieved in these years, like a final exam. Except it already includes the celebration afterwards.

What really sets BALKAN:MOST apart from the other Balkan and European festivals?

This is the first ever endeavour of its kind. Of course you cannot represent a whole region, but the BALKAN:MOST lineup comes quite close, at the same time it is a hand-picked programme of 26 showcase acts from nine Balkan countries. I am speaking about the showcase acts, as these are the more representative parts of the Balkans strictly speaking, the headliners are more Balkan-inspired acts, which actually justifies the existence of the MOST project and BALKAN:MOST.

As many of our artists and industry professionals confirmed, the region is still not thoroughly accepted in the Western part of Europe. In short, it’s a festival with a mission, it combines quality with quantity. Although its location is not in the peninsula, we were very lucky with Veszprém: it offered its picturesque spots and completely owned the festival. Also, it helps that the city is European Capital of Culture with the extra visibility brings – that’s why we also partnered up with Novi Sad 2022 last year.

Can you describe the process of curating the different stages of the festival?

The curation has been in a big part done in the previous years, while selecting the artists who later participated in the program. This has been done by international experts with a good knowledge of the region like legendary world music expert Simon Broughton, Slovenian agent Rok Kosir, and director of Etnofest, Dejan Vujinovic. Apart from giving a chance to MOST related artists, we invited a handful of other artists, who are connected to the region one way or another and who are an inspiration for MOST artists to share the stage with.

Can you give us a little hint of what’s in store for this edition?

The artists mentioned above are Manu Chao, Dubioza Kolektiv, Barcelona Gypsy balKan Orchestra, Marina Satti, Daniele Sepe and La Caravane Passe. Besides them, 26 artists who have been supported by MOST in the past years will all perform. But not just perform – we invited around 200 potential buyers, festival organisers, venue programmers, promoters, agents, to see them and pick their favourites for their future endeavours.

Which acts have you been eager to book in the past and would like to see turn up in the future?

We are obviously too involved to afford to mention favourites. I personally worked as a mentor with Divanhana, Rodjenice and Dina e Mel. But I have seen all of them, and besides my mentees we already invited Alice in Wonderband, Koszika, Zarina Prvasevda, Corina Sirghi and her band, Lakiko, Naked, Oratnitza to one of our events. I wish I could list more, but we are just one company, every artist has got their chances at places. Actually, this the essence of MOST, to create chances.

How BALKAN:MOST has helped the music scenes in the Balkans region and to which extents?

BALKAN:MOST is a once-in-a-lifetime gathering in one place of the freshest Balkan world music, our MOSt supported emerging bands.At BALKAN:MOST Festival the audience and the more than 200 delegates can to get to know the true colours of the Balkans and see 30 acts. The event is supported by MOST and Veszprém-Balaton 2023, European Capital of Culture 2023 our longtime partners.

However, we haven’t only supported artists, but also people who want to work with them: managers, agents, promoters, labels, festivals, venues and urban creatives. We didn’t just focus on music but the whole ecosystem that surrounds it, because we understood that without that music can’t survive.

The goal of BALKAN:MOST is to show that the Balkan music stereotype doesn’t do justice to the region’s cultural riches. Contemporary music from the peninsula is smart, critical and just the right amount of crazy. Now it is also the place where bookers can book these new artists, new connections can be made, the bridge between the Southeast and West can be reconnected.

Could you discuss the role of BALKAN:MOST festival in providing a platform for lesser-known or underrepresented artists from the region, and how they contribute to the global recognition of these talents?

We facilitate direct matchmaking by inviting music professionals from major European festivals and venues to pitching events and showcase gigs during BALKAN:MOST, and let the music speak for itself. The bands had gone through several rounds of selection, so they are all worthy of attention in one way or another. People forget how important industry infrastructure is
in getting the music to wider audiences, and in this respect the Balkans is still fragmented. BALKAN:MOST is the culmination of a 4-year project MOST, an extensive undertaking of four professional pillars, aiming to right this wrong.

The bands you can see at the festival received training, feedback, mentoring, performing opportunities, and some went through rapid evolution, eg. Divanhana receiving the Songlines award or topping the World Music Charts Europe with their brilliant album Zavrzlama.

What are the common misconceptions about the Balkans and their music that you’d like to erase?

It’s not all brass and wedding music, although its catchyness is undeniable. The Balkans host a multitude of genres that are identifiable as ‘Balkan’ music, yet vary in intricate ways. Vocal traditions are as deep-rooted and diverse as the region’s topography, and the unifying tendency of popular music goes back to Ottoman times. Musical regions have been connected and influenced each other, and of course don’t correspond to state borders. Intense and direct emotions, highs and lows are almost always present though, regardless of genre, which makes it easy to relate to.

Can you delve into the economic and socio-political impact of BALKAN:MOST on the local communities where it’s held? How does the festival contribute to the local economy and cultural identity?

BALKAN:MOST is held in Veszprém, therefore it does not directly impact local communities. The MOST project, on the other hand, sure does. It gave recognition to national and minority identities (see for example the Arbërësh duo of Dina e Mel or Vladimir Mićković’s Sephardic repertoire), that gain expression through music. Many of the MOST artists supported by the project embrace a multi-ethnic Balkan identity, undermining the nationalistic narrative of the post-war homogeneous ethnicity. The Ottoman heritage, often shunned in the region’s cultural discourse, is also clearly evident through music.

In terms of economic impact, several music export offices have begun to emerge due to the project’s penetration, meaning that the mutually beneficial connection of a cultural profile and tourism are increasingly recognized. The type of music we are dealing with: heritage inspired, yet speaking a modern language, is especially suitable for quality tourism. Also, earlier the most internationally successful artists from the region have made careers through Western European managements, thus their success not looping back to the region. That was unavoidable in the lack of local infrastructure. That’s why we are also focusing on developing the business side of music locally, so future generations will have opportunities to learn in place, companies to spend their internship years and start their careers.

The Balkans consist of a multitude of distinct cultures and languages. How does BALKAN:MOST navigate the challenge of catering to a diverse audience while preserving the authenticity of the performances?

The authenticity of acts is not something we deal with, it is up to the artists how they define their relationship to musical heritage. This is part of the attraction of the Balkans: it is wonderfully diverse, yet there are huge overlaps, and the musical language is spoken across the region. In other words, they treat authenticity in a much more relaxed way than some of the folk purists elsewhere. The heritage is living, diverse, and open to interpretation, at least in our experience of working with MOST artists.

Looking ahead, how do you see the future of Balkan music festivals? Are there emerging trends, new directions, or innovations that are likely to shape these festivals in the years to come?

We can see more festivals born in the last years and Balkan export offices opening since MOST started- which are positive trends.

Our focus is on supporting upcoming festivals and bigger events promoting emerging artists, we also have a separate panel on this subject: Boutique Festivals – small footprint, large impact. The European Music Council supports many initiatives, we have a session with them (represented by Katherina Weinert). I would strongly recommend Balkan industry players; artists, managers, and festivals to look in their direction. For both ‘Western’ and Balkan industries they need to broaden their scope, which primarily means a broadened reception in the West, and for the Balkans it means thinking comprehensively about music.

Speaking from Hangvető’s experience, education and community development can be rewarding areas to explore through music.
One trend I see is that ‘world music’ is not so much a restrictive category, it’s not a musical ghetto where world music festivals program world music acts and only that, and everybody else doesn’t. Walls between styles and genres are becoming buoyant and this is a good development. Hangvető also founded and coordinates UPBEAT, the European Showcase Platform for World Music supporting emerging artists through showcases – among them you can find Balkan players as well such as PIN Music Conference in Skopje, Méra in Romania, World Music Festival Bratislava and A to JazZ or the new So Alive Music in Sofia.

Outside of BALKAN:MOST what has been the best performance you have ever witnessed as a festivalgoer?

My favourite performances are usually spontaneous, intimate, unscripted moments of musicmaking. I could mention Manu Chao busking at a street corner of Rio de Janeiro’s Arco da Lapa, Norwegian accordeon player Gabriel Fliflet and his percussionist buddy Ole Hamre in a shed on the edge of Forde Festival in Norway, Monika Lakatos singing with her family in their home’s dinner table, an impromptu street showcase of Estonian Ruhnu Songs and Stories, fieldwork experiences in Ukraine, Guinea Bissau, and much more. Spontaneity cannot be planned of course, but at our events we usually try to create spaces and chances for such things to happen. It can’t always be done, but more times than not, magic happens.

Finally, in a few words how would you introduce BALKAN:MOST to a potential newcomer?

It is a showcase you have never seen before – 26 Balkan bands playing on this outdoor free festival in the lovely Veszprém Oldtown and Castle with headliners supporting them like the Dubioza Kolektiv, Manu Chao or Marina Satti. This is to prove that this region has so much to offer. The music is emotional, energetic and powerful, easy to recognise and easy to fell in love with. Get to know Macedonian dark folk, Serbian a cappella, Sevdah with jazz or Finnish-Bulgarian dark melodies.

Join us for three days of discovery and joy and dance!


- Even though it's starting soon, there's still time to join and enjoy Balkan:MOST. 
Just follow this LINK for all the info -





- You can read all the previous Festival Files HERE -