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This Balkan metal frontman put on a production of ‘Hair’ in a war zone

Almin Zrno
Kultur Shock frontman Gino Jevdjevic hails from Sarajevo, where he produced an antiwar musical in the middle of a war.


This story originally aired Oct. 13, 2018.  

In the early 1990s, Gino Jevdjevic was living the typical life of a Yugoslavian popstar.

He signed autographs and posed for pictures with fans. He wore his hair in a ponytail and crooned schmaltzy melodies.

These days, Gino has a shaved head, a multitude of tattoos and a long, grey-streaked beard. He lives in Seattle, and his music is closer to metal or “Gypsy Punk” than it is to pop.

To understand how he got from one version of Gino to Gino 2.0, you have to go back to 1992.

‘War Comes To Us’

At that time, Yugoslavia was busy tearing itself apart along religious and ethnic lines. Gino’s hometown of Sarajevo became a war zone. One day, he says, he left his mother’s house, and then a bridge closed down due to fighting. He would not be able to go home again for a very long time.

“I envy you, actually,” Gino said. “You guys go to war, and you come back from the war. We don’t go to war, war comes to us. Sitting at home, minding your own business … BOOM.”

Suddenly Gino and most of the people he knew were trapped in the city. Being stuck there with all these other artists and musicians gave Gino an idea -- an absurd idea.

“I gave the idea to do the musical Hair. I remember everybody saying, ‘Are you crazy, man? Antiwar musical in a war-torn country?’ Yeah, but let’s twist it up! Who cares, let’s play it for ourselves. We did the whole musical,” he said.

‘Selfishness Is Allowed’

They didn’t just perform the musical -- they performed it nearly every afternoon for three years. Just getting to the theater involved dodging literal bullets. Their sound man died during the first year. Gino’s co-writer was hit and had to have shrapnel removed from his head.

But to Gino, this was art worth risking his life for.

“Selfishness is allowed in art. Art might be [the] one and only activity of a human that can allow selfishness as a positive category. That means you're creating what comes to you, that the creation is a purpose to itself. That’s, I think, what was driving us,” he said.

At the performances, UN officials and American celebrities sat shoulder to shoulder with the trapped residents of Sarajevo. And the production happened to catch the attention of Phil Alden Robinson, the man who wrote and directed the movie Field of Dreams.

Robinson had the idea of making a movie about this unlikely theater troupe. He got visas for Gino and some of the other cast members of Hair, and brought them to the United States.

The movie idea would fall through, helping cement Gino’s divorce from pop music.

“It’s not sellable, I guess,” he said. “That kind of confirmed my stand about alternative music and alternative art, and never to go to the commercial world again.”

Time For Something Selfless

Meanwhile, Gino made his way to Seattle, which was in the midst of the grunge explosion. There he formed Kultur Shock, a metal-tinged “Gypsy Punk” band that still has a wide following across Europe.

And he also discovered a new pursuit: He began writing plays, and working with people with developmental disabilities to put on their own productions. These days, he’s working with the non-profit Sound (formerly Sound Mental Health), and directing a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

“It’s time for me to do something for somebody else,” Gino said. “I like supporting people in their achievements. I love it. I think that’s what I was missing in my life.”

“Art therapy, and however we call it, is something that just crowned my life.”

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.
Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.