Skopje artists pierce humdrum of confinement

Skopje (Republic of North Macedonia) (AFP) –


Before kicking off a recent rock show in Skopje, the leader of the band Funk Shui did something he had never done before: apologise for the noise the group was about to make.

That's because the musicians were jamming in an urban courtyard surrounded by apartment blocks, as part of a city initiative to entertain citizens -- and help struggling artists -- hemmed in by coronavirus curfews.

When concert halls, bars and clubs shuttered after North Macedonia went into lockdown in early March, performers were suddenly starting at blank calendars and empty wallets, while fans were robbed of their entertainment fix.

But the country's artists and cultural institutions have been quick to adapt.

With backing from city hall, they have launched the "Culture in the time of Corona" programme to save Skopje's entertainment scene.

During the nightly curfews and over several weekend-long lockdowns, some 200 artists have put on more than 40 open air shows on rooftops, parks and playgrounds around the capital, with something for everyone in genres ranging from pop, rock and jazz to alternative and electronic music.

The shows have reached some 50,000 people in their homes and also garnered more than 500,000 views online, said Nikola Naumoski from the mayor's officer.

And in addition to easing the boredom of the apartment-bound, unemployed artists are getting 235 euros -- the country's minimum wage -- to help them survive the dry spell, he said.

- Neighbourhood dance parties -

The small Balkan country, where some 90 people have died from COVID-19, has issued some of the tightest restrictions in the region to curb the virus spread, including one holiday weekend curfew that topped 80 hours of confinement.

On a recent Saturday when families were hunkered down around the clock, members of the alt-rock band Funk Shui hung up their face masks before letting loose for their outdoor show.

As their funky guitar riffs echoed around the neighbourhood, fans turned out on their balconies and windows to watch and dance along.

"It is a little bit strange, to have bands perform in a place like this, and I understand that there can be both complaints and joy. However, I hope that we brought some joy to the people in this neighbourhood," the group's singer and guitar player Luka Gorgievski, 26, told AFP.

Other Macedonian artists have also found creative ways to connect.

One high school group organised a three-day online festival of movies, exhibitions, interviews with artists and music performances.

And Jovan Petreski, who performs under the name DJ Babura Junior, has been giving live electronic music concerts from his home since the start of the confinement.

After confirming his neighbours didn't mind the noise, the popular 27-year-old DJ installed his speakers and other equipment on the balcony of his apartment, replete with a colourful strobe light.

At one recent session scores of apartments across the neighbourhood added to the strobe affect by flickering their lights on and off to his beats.

"My parties were accepted way beyond my expectations," the DJ told AFP.

"It was not easy at the beginning when I thought that as an artist I won’t be able to work as usual," he explained.

"That's how I got the idea to start parties from my studio and entertain people the same way I did before the crisis."