Profile | Wiener Tschuschenkapelle Musician Slavko Ninić

Growing up with a diverse cultural background can be a challenge, but also a gift. These four people have made diversity their ally

You’re an outsider no matter where you come from, where you are, or what time you live in.

Slavko Ninić, 63, knows what it’s like to be an outsider. But he’s quick to point out that everyone is an “outsider.” In that sense, we’re all the same.

His family emigrated from what was at the time the Croatian part of former Yugoslavia to the Bosnian part. “Even though we had the same religion and the same nationality, we were still treated like outsiders,” he recalled.

But even then, what everyone had in common was music. “Everyone sang, at work, taking a walk, wherever. Now, if you sing on the street, people assume you’re drunk or crazy,” he mused wryly.

When Ninić first came to Vienna, he was immediately conscious of the rich diversity of the city. “When the Austro-Hungarian Empire was reduced to just Austria, there were still half a million Czechs and Hungarians, not to mention Croatians, Italians, all sorts of nationalities. A proper Wiener Melange,” he said.

It didn’t take long for Ninić to rediscover his affinity for music. He and a few friends formed the band, Wiener Tschuschenkapelle, with the unique approach of playing various ethnic styles of music.

The Viennese were captivated not only by the mongrel band’s novelty, but also by its controversial name. Tschusch is a kind of all-encompassing, distinctly Austrian, derogatory term for foreigner, used particularly for those from former Yugoslavia. For Ninić, “stealing” it back for the band was a cheeky stab at irony. And it did the trick. Their concerts were selling out in no time.

Their music is not a “boring, superficial multicultural crossover,” as Ninić makes very clear. The influences they draw upon are very judiciously referenced.

“If one plays Greek music, one should smell the ocean. It shouldn’t just be random, the core of the subtext should be retained,” he said. “If any change is made, then it should be better than what it was.”

So what’s next after a lifetime of musical ambassadorship?

“We are making our first exclusively ‘Austrian’ album,” he laughed. What does that even mean? “Austrian music is the result of centuries of influences from a whole range of cultures – Balkan, Hungarian, Slavic, and much more…” And with that, he waved goodbye and headed off to the studio.

Most likely, he won’t be needing to change the name of the band anytime soon.

Janima Nam
Janima Nam
Janima Nam is a freelance journalist, translator, and editor living in Vienna. She has a BFA in film from New York University and a Masters degree (MA) from the London Consortium in Interdisciplinary Studies.

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