From Chemnitz to the world of Balkan music


Vladičin Han is a small town in southern Serbia that somehow produces a lot of famous musicians, as Tino Grasselt tells me. Grasselt, who runs the music agency Tomato Production in Leipzig, recently visited the Balkan town to record part of an album with a band from there, Bojan Krstic Orkestar.

The band has repeatedly won awards at the prestigious Guca Trumpet Festival, and proudly sports the accolades on its drum set during travels.

“If you go to Vladičin Han, you’re for sure going to hear trumpet music,” says Grasselt, who manages another band, the Berlin-based MR ZARKO. The two bands collaborated on the upcoming album, and recorded together in Vladičin Han.

Recordings with MR ZARKO and Bojan Krstic Orkestar. (Photo: Tino Grasselt)
Recordings with MR ZARKO and Bojan Krstic Orkestar. (Photo: Tino Grasselt)

Grasselt recounts that the members of Bojan Krstic Orkestar have been playing since they were kids, which is the story of many who grow up in those parts. The children learn to play music by ear, encouraged by their parents to do so as a way to make money amid economically meager prospects.

On 6 October, the Bojan Krstic guys are bringing their sound – born, bred and microbrewed in Serbia – to the next Baikaltrain Disco in Leipzig, featuring also MR ZARKO. Grasselt co-founded and has co-organized these Balkan music evenings for 11 years at UT Connewitz.

Growing up in Chemnitz, Grasselt also began to play Balkan music early in his life.

Grasselt played the accordion during his high school years; but while he liked the instrument, he wanted to diversify from the classical tunes he had to play. So he hit the music stores looking for exciting CDs, and took his accordion to the streets.

“I started busking together with this Klezmer group,” he wrote me in an e-mail. “The Klezmer group was accordion + clarinet + double bass + trumpet/vocals and I was the one doing the arrangements of the songs.”

When he moved to Leipzig to attend university, Balkan music followed him. He started throwing parties in his apartment and playing his CDs. People liked it so much, that they invited him to deejay at their parties.

Tino Grasselt and Peter Lau, the founders of Baikaltrain Disco, Balkan music evenings in Leipzig. (Photo: Andreas Lamm)
Tino Grasselt and Peter Lau, the founders of Baikaltrain Disco, Balkan music evenings in Leipzig. (Photo: Andreas Lamm)

Meeting like-minded fellow German Peter Lau in Romania, and then taking a train through the Carpathian Mountains, gave the inspirational push he needed to go bigger with his Balkan passion. The two kicked off Baikaltrain Disco, having to do a lot of searching at first for bands to participate. Now, Grasselt says, the bands often come to them.

Grasselt found himself having to find additional places for the bands to play in order to make their long journey to Leipzig worth their while. Gradually, he made that into his own business through Tomato Production, and now serves as agent booking gigs for music groups from Europe and beyond.

Grasselt’s involvement runs deeper with MR ZARKO.

Some years ago, he found their CD Electric Gypsy Disco Noise and liked it. They then came and played at Baikaltrain Disco, formed a connection with Grasselt, and he decided he wanted to become their manager.

“They’re all living in Berlin with an immigrant background and bring their personal style into the music,” Grasselt says of MR ZARKO, whose songs are in English and penned by their frontman. He adds that he is impressed with the diversity and originality of their songs, and has already witnessed their great appeal for different concert audiences.

Their new album, Balkan Herbal Clinic, is set to come out in autumn 2017 through the Leipzig-based label Kick the Flame. Grasselt says the message of the title track is something like, if you have any problems, you can come to my clinic and I’ll give you some Balkan herbs to cure them. The band often writes and plays humorous songs about daily life.

This next Baikaltrain Disco will be a big occasion for Grasselt, because it’s the first time he’ll be “involved in everything:” as DJ, manager, agent and producer.

He’s very much looking forward to hosting both MR ZARKO and Bojan Krstic Orkestar at the Leipzig hub.

It won’t be the first time Vladičin Han musicians make an appearance at Baikaltrain Disco, though. When I asked him to recall a great moment from these evenings, it was precisely a Vladičin Han native that came to his mind: legendary trumpet player Boban Marković.

In 2007, Boban i Marko Marković Orkestar (of father, son and others) came to the UT Connewitz gig and rocked the crowd. When everyone thought the concert was over, Boban Marković spontaneously got up on the balcony and started playing his trumpet. It was a magical moment, with the spotlight being shone on him, everyone looking up at him, and the band suddenly joining in on stage. The wild encore lasted about 15 minutes.

When Grasselt and the bands were recording the new album in Vladičin Han, Boban Marković met them for a coffee. And getting wind of what they were up to, town locals wanted to take pictures with them. And so the Balkan train goes ’round and ’round and ever farther afield…

Grasselt says of his expanding music business: “It’s a niche market, not to get rich. I’m happy to make it happen to live from it. My goal is to make this society more colorful. It’s a kind of exchange from both directions,” by bringing into Germany good, diverse sounds from musicians coming from a variety of countries, and having them get to know the German scene.

If you’d like to win two tickets for the next Baikaltrain Disco, UT Connewitz, 6 October @ 9 pm, answer the following question: “What’s Balkan music for you?” To enter the raffle, e-mail your answer to by 11:59 pm on Monday, 2 October.

Ticket pre-sale (better bet than trying to get them at the door)…

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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