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Gino Jevdjevic Talks About His Career, War, and Why He No Longer Makes Pop Music

Gino Jevdjevic Talks About His Career, War, and Why He No Longer Makes Pop Music

We sat down with Gino Jevdjevic, composer from the 2022 Engaged Theatre workshop of THE PERICLES PROJECT, to learn a little about who he is, his creative process, and the role of art in society.


When did I start making music? When I was 9 years old.

I’ve had a few lives–one before the war, one during the war, and one after the war, where I stopped doing commercial music after that. 

I’m a member of the project Kultur Shock: it’s world music/metal/extreme sounds/basically every single sound except pop music. It’s a 25 year project…1500 shows, 12 albums.

I came to the United States as a writer. I worked at the National Theatre in Sarajevo before the war. I directed the musical “Hair” during the war in Sarajevo, so that’s how I came here, to the United States. I came to LA to make a movie of it, but they weren’t able to get funding for the movie. 

I do at least a couple of theatre plays every year as a composer–I write some of them, too. I’m writing an opera right now. I have a law degree. I have a master’s in psychology. I’m a member of Sound Health–during the pandemic I became a crisis stabilization team counselor. 

I have my own theatre–Instinct Theatre Group–that does theatre with people with developmental disabilities. We produced “The Little Prince”–a theatre adaptation of the book. We’re working on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” right now. My theory is that IQ and talent have nothing in common, therefore I love working with people with disabilities. The challenge is: how to get the typical population to accept them, and not have this condescending and patronizing response to them. 

I just came back from a tour. That’s where my main income comes from, from touring in Europe with Kultur Shock. But I also get paid for everything I do, so I have a lot of little incomes that are making me happy. Mainly I do what I like in my life. 

I’ve composed music at freehold since 2001.

When it comes to the process, it’s beyond the music–which sounds like a TV show. Robin [Freehold Artistic Director Robin Lynn Smith] usually calls me, and asks me to meet for coffee, and we sit down for two hours, talking. You’d have to ask Robin, but I might be the first person she talks to about putting on a play in a certain time period: When? Where? Future? Past? Country? Mentality? Culture? There are usually group issues in Shakespeare’s plays–one group is like this and one group is like that. We try to identify them, analyze and reanalyze them as much as possible. And you might wonder “But you’re making music,” and yes, I am, but I really want to have my fingers in everything. For instance–we did “The Winter’s Tale”. And regarding Leontes, the king, I suggested to Robin: “He’s crazy!  Nobody normal would do that, so there must be some entity, some internal stimulant.” 

I’m trying to symbiotically combine my worlds. There I combined mental health and schizophrenia, with Leontes, and that inspired a whole different interpretation of the character.

Sad scenes don’t have to have sad music, and the other way around. I remember when we did Caesar: the death was complete silence. There was music before, music after, but the murder was complete silence, in slow motion, which is the creepiest thing you can ever have. That’s the stuff that I like to play with. 

In order to be old and wise, you first must be young and stupid, and that’s how my life went. I was first a pop musician and I played what everybody else liked until I realized, when I was facing death, that life’s too short to do that. And that was the moment that I became selfish. I think art is one of the rare categories in human activities where selfishness is not just allowed, but also preferred, because if you like what you do, everybody will. 

Before the war, we were normal people–like you guys (although war might be coming to you too). When war comes, things change. Electricity goes away, TV goes away, running water goes away, and everything else goes away. And you still live. We’re pretty durable animals, and if TV’s gone, we’re still going to be living. But the art still stays. Art came first. We know, historically, that art came first, and then a man circled a piece of land and said “This is mine, that’s mine, and this is mine.” Then it became a tribe, and then it became the state.

I’m looking at the war in Sarajevo as something that can happen in every other country. It can happen in a second. You think your friends are not going to shoot at you? Wait a while. They will. Not really at you, but from the other side. When that happens, that’s the end of the civilization…it can happen in a couple of days. 

When civilization disappears, it goes the other way around. First, technology disappears. Technology was the last thing that we inherited. After that, food sources. And then we’re left with art. Then we come back to the caves. 

We performed “Hair” In Sarajevo during the war. Our art did have the power to change the world–and we did. First, it helped us stay normal, selfishly. That’s actually why I listed selfishness as a positive category. I didn’t do art just to help my fellow Sarajevans, I did it to stay sane, myself. 

But that show became a symbol of the town and a symbol of the survival of life. It’s bigger than us. I’m fortunate that I do things that are bigger than me. I feel like I’m a vessel, like an energy. We’re taught that energy cannot be destroyed, cannot be made, can only be transported. I’m a vessel for the energy to come through. I accepted that, and never looked back after that. I like my life very much.