Nenad Neno Belan, Croatian rock musician: For quality minority

“My songs are, above all, very emotional, and they hide that primordial, sincere emotion. It is precisely this sincerity of emotion that my audience recognizes, feels, and finds themselves in.”

He hasn’t performed in Belgrade for two years due to the pandemic and then, in late July, at a concert in the Botanical Garden, after he started playing his first chords, it seemed that time never stopped as he made up for the lost period. The concert was everything that we expected Belan to be. The audience sang along with him with his hits forming a bond between them while he was singing about things that we all find close to our hearts and need. 

Nenad Neno Belan

Nenad Neno Belan started his musical career with the band called Djavoli (The Devils), which he founded 35 years ago in Split, in the then Yugoslavia and today’s Croatia. His songs of the sea, romance and love resonated among the audiences throughout the country. Belan remained true to the music he played with Djavoli, even after going solo in the early 1990s, and then with the band called Fiumens, which he also founded.

“I have to admit that I enjoyed every second of the Belgrade performance. Big thumbs up for the concert at the Botanical Garden!

Lyrics brimming with emotions that are not pathetic and are radiating a very special kind of optimism and serenity of the Mediterranean, are a trademark of Belan’s career, starting with his 1980s hits like “Dugo Toplo Ljeto” or “Pričaj Mi o Ljubavi” which were sang by the entire region regardless of the then political barriers. Other hits included “Vino Noći” and “Sunčan Dan” all the way to the latest songs which he sang at the aforementioned concert in Belgrade. We should also mention that, last year, he composed the musical ‘Bambina’, staged at the Croatian National Theatre in Split, and that he recorded eleven of his songs in the Italian language, but also sang in English and Polish. Judging by all of this, last year, i.e. the year of the coronavirus pandemic, was very busy for Belan. 


You have not performed in Belgrade for two years, justifiably so, due to the pandemic. That is why your recent concert at the Botanical Garden was very meaningful for the audience – it was an encounter with the music they love and a prelude to the return to normalcy, namely to a life that does not depend on the coronavirus. How was it for you?


I had an identical experience as my audience, because, during the ongoing pandemic, I was given a rare opportunity to do what I love the most, that is to perform my music live together with my faithful band Fiumens. I have to admit that I enjoyed every second of that performance. As for the prelude to the return to normalcy, we are all optimistic and hope that it is happening, but instructed by past experience, we are cautious in assessing the situation and reaching final conclusions. Anyway, big thumbs up for the concert at the Botanical Garden!


You performed your old hits and Djavoli’s hits as well, and the audience sang them along with you in unison. This is a sure sign of your popularity in Serbia, but could it also speak of nostalgia for the days before the 1990s, for romantic vacations and the beauty of youth? Do you agree?


In fact, I played ‘the best of’ or a cross-section of my entire, now 35-year-long professional career; from my own original songs that I composed during my time with Djavoli, back in the 1980s, through those that I did during my solo career, ten or twenty years later, all the way to my latest song, called “Zvijezde”, which I released two months ago. Considering that the concert was attended by different generations, i.e. from the ages of 7 to 77, I can only partially agree with the notion of nostalgia. That may be applicable only to those people in the audience that were over the age of 50 who came to the concert in great numbers. They simply came to ‘collect’ their dose of good, quality, emotional music.


You have been performing in all parts of the ex-Yugoslavia. When scheduling concerts, do you take into account the current relations between Croatia and the country in which you plan to play, or not? What is your experience in practice? Is the saying that that music knows no boundaries true?


If Croatia and any country I perform in have normal economic relations, i.e. if trade between Croatia and that country is functioning normally at all levels, if travel, therefore the border system, is functioning normally, if cultural exchange in the form of movies, music, exhibitions, theatres, etc., is also as usual, then I don’t see any reason why the concert exchange between those countries cannot function normally. And it does! My personal experiences are pretty normal. I play everywhere in the most normal and relaxed manner.


Have you ever had an unpleasant experience during your performances because of politics?


Fortunately, I have not, because I think that my art and my audience have nothing to do with politics. Consequently, there have never been any problems, and I believe that there will be none in the future.


People say consistency with who you are and your musical style is your trademark. You have never followed trends. I have to ask you about the risk related to that. What if your approach to music doesn’t bring you new and younger audiences? Who did you dedicate your music to?


My approach quite likely repels most of the new generations, but there is a quality minority among these new kids who understands, appreciates and respects my music and that’s enough for me. It’s better to be a part of a quality minority than a poor quality majority. It is this quality minority that I dedicate my music to. 


Nenad Neno Belan


If it weren’t for the coronavirus, you would have celebrated the 35th anniversary of Djavoli last spring, that is, 35 years of your successful career. How did you make it last so long? Was it because of your love for music?


Absolutely! I did everything with love – a love for music and dedicating my life to it. Of course, in addition to love and talent, which are the basic prerequisites for longevity, there is also a lot of work, effort, sacrifice, perseverance, faith, and sometimes a dose of happiness involved.


I meant to ask you something for a long time and I apologize in advance if I sound rude. Are your songs, that made so many generations of people fall in love, based on true stories?


My songs are, above all, very emotional, and they hide that primordial, sincere emotion. It is precisely this sincerity of emotion that my audience recognizes, feels, and finds themselves in. Whether that emotion arose as a product of a true story or is artistic fiction, and in my case, both are true, is less important.

By Sonja Ćirić

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *