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Boris Kovac is one of a handful of modern composers and performers from the region of Hungary, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia whose names reached Western Europe and America. Strongly influenced by folk music from that region (a fascination he shares with István Mártha and Ernö Király), minimalism, Bela Bartok, and the philosophy of Bela Hamvas (also influential on Hungarian composer Tibor Szemzö), Kovac's music takes multiple forms. His production can be split in three categories: the deeply spiritual cycles he writes for his ensemble Ritual Nova; more formal contemporary chamber music for dance and theater; and finally his LaDaABa Orchest, a party band for the end of the world.
Kovac was born in 1955 in the Vojvodina region, at the extreme northwest point of Yugoslavia. Bordered by Hungary, this region historically enjoyed an independent status until the Yugoslavian war of the early '90s when it was annexed by Slobodan Milosevic. Kovac's parents made him take accordion lessons when he was a child, but it only led him toward academic music and, besides one year of study on saxophone, he is self-taught on a wide array of instruments.
In 1977, Kovac formed the ECM-style jazz group Meta Sekcija, his first project. Things became serious with the formation of Ritual Nova in 1982, which included within its ranks keyboardist Stevan Kovacs Tickmayer. With this group Kovac would explore a highly original form of composition, blending ancient traditions and postmodern techniques to express spiritual ideals like brotherly love and peace; a reaction to the difficult times Yugoslavia would go through for the next decade and a half. Kovac released his first LP, Ritual Nova, in 1986 on the small Yugoslavian label Symposion. The English label Recommended picked it up for distribution and released its 1989 follow-up in its Eastern-European series Points East.
Political instability sent Kovac and his group into exile in 1991. For the next five years, Kovac lived in Italy, Austria, and Slovenia. During this period he worked mostly for the theater and began work on Anamnesis: Ecumenical Mysteries. This cycle (his most profoundly spiritual to date) became in 1996 the first of two albums for the Canadian label Victo. That year, Kovac resettled in his home town Novi Sad. In 1997, he participated in the Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville and toured the world with his ensemble. Meanwhile, he struggled to rebuild a creative music scene in his region. Prompted by the NATO bombardments in Kosovo and the enduring instability of the region, he formed La Danza Apocalyptica Balcanica (or LaDaABa Orchest) in 2001, a zany ballroom orchestra to exorcise the madness of war. The group released its first album, The Last Balkan Tango, later that year. ~ François Couture, Rovi