Announcing “Playing it Dangerously”

“The tambura bands that play dangerously across the pages of Ian MacMillen’s compelling book rechart the discursive landscapes of race and nationalism today, opening spaces for witnessing music’s intimate affect in critical new ways. ” —Philip V. Bohlman, author of Music, Nationalism, and the Making of the New Europe

Tambura is a genre-crossing performance practice centered on an eponymous stringed instrument, part of the mandolin family, that Roma, Croats, and Serbs adopted from Ottoman forces. The acclamation that one is a “dangerous player” connotes exceptional virtuosic improvisation and rapid finger technique and, as the highest praise that a musician can receive from his peers. Tambura has served as a site of both contestation and reconciliation since its propagation as Croatia’s national instrument during the 1990s Yugoslav wars. New sensibilities of ‘danger’ and of race (for instance, ‘Gypsiness’) arose as Croatian bands reterritorialized musical milieus through the new state, reestablishing transnational performance networks with Croats abroad, and reclaiming demilitarized zones and churches as sites of patriotic performance after years of ‘Yugoslavian control.’

Playing It Dangerously: Tambura Bands, Race, and Affective Block in Croatia and Its Intimages questions what happens when feelings attached to popular music conflict with expressions of the dominant socio-cultural order, and how this tension enters into the politics of popular culture at various levels of human interaction. This study combines ethnographic fieldwork with archival research and music analysis to expound affective block: a theory of the dialectical dynamics between affective and discursive responses to differences in playing styles. A corrective to the scholarly stress on music scenes saturated with feeling, the book argues for affect’s social regulation, showing how the blocking of dangerous intensities ultimately privileges constructions of tambura players as heroic male Croats, even as the music engenders diverse racial and gendered becomings.

IAN MACMILLEN holds a Ph.D. in the anthropology of music from the University of Pennsylvania and has taught widely in ethnomusicology and slavic studies programs. He currently directs the Center for Russian, East European & Central Asian Studies at Oberlin College & Conservatory.