Nikola Čelan Book Launch; Beginnings of TBF and Split in the 90’s

Total Croatia News

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Splitski Portal/Goran Leš

On the 2nd October 2017, Nikola Čelan, founder of TBF launched his book “Baština” at Paradox Wine Bar to a full house. It is a classic memoir but follows the beginnings of TBF and offers a unique and perhaps, rarely talked about, glimpse into Split in the 90’s – complete with drugs, violence and in this case, Hip Hop!

The beauty of Split is that even though it has a population of close to 200,000 (400,00 if you include surrounding areas), the old town can still feel small, like a community, which means you have the opportunity to meet people such as Nikola Čelan. I met Nikola close to a year ago, a true character of Split and one who has clearly lived many lives – with his role in TBF, Libar, DJ, and his strong presence in the journalism and music scene in general.

When I first met Čelan, he told me about the book he was writing so I was excited to be there for the launch and catch him beforehand to learn more about it – sometimes there is a benefit to not speaking Croatian so well, it means you get private interviews and are there when the books arrive!

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Nikola opening the first package of books!

About the Book

In November 2016, I spoke with Mate Prlić, the editor from Dalmatinski Portal about my contribution to the paper, he came up with the idea to write a series of articles about Split in the 90’s which could potentially be turned into a book. Matej was very much in the ‘Spit Scene’ in the 90’s – street, underground, music, subcultural movement… We actually first met when I was a journalist for “Heroina Nova”, the first Croatian Rock Magazine in the 90’s.

His idea stuck in my mind as I was always planning to write something about TBF. I founded TBF in Primary school, in the 7th grade, Mladen and Luka were in the 8th grade. We were into Hip Hop and found it by accident – a father of a friend in Rijeka was a sailor, travelling to and from America, so he was buying records, copying them onto cassettes and selling them around, we got a hold of some and got ‘infected’… I won’t say too much more on this otherwise you won’t need the book, but this was the beginnings of TBF so to speak.

So, there are three books in one and they follow through in chronological order.

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Part 1: follows the first four years in TBF, how we met Saša and how we met and performed with Dino Dvornik. He basically pulled us straight off the street, at the age of 13 and 14 years-old, we got on the big stage with Dino Dvornik – so our first gig was on stage with him during his promotion of the album “Priroda I Društvo”, one of the most important issues of Croatian Popular music. Again, the book reveals more details about this time.

Part 2, 1994 – 1997: when I began going out in the Peristyle; there was a strong music scene then, very alternative, that’s when I formed my second band “Rectum”. I had enough of Hip Hop and started listening to grunge, punk, industrial, anything hardcore… and by that time I was ‘living on the street’. The mid-90’s was the worst period in Split, there was a lot of drugs and violence. So, the second part of the book covers all of this and, then of course, how I broke away from all the negativity.

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A full house for the book launch!

Part 3, “The Art is Published Love”: I moved to Zagreb to go to University, then my return to Split coincided with coming back to the group. TBF put their first album out in 1997, so I came back but in a different way, I brought a film scenario to the mix; we did a theatre play and we were all involved in these multi-media projects. I also speak about TBF’s rise to popularity and that almost brings us to the end of the 90’s.

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What was your purpose in writing the book, what do you hope to share?

I tried to make the book as interesting and educational as possible, the most important thing I want people to know is that it is NOT a biography of TBF; the first chapter can be used as a sort of snapshot but actually, it is a classic memoir. This book is from the first person, it covers my own personal story and private life, drugs, violence, the Split scene in the 90’s, my own confessions… I tied this all into public events that are more widely known and of course it follows the historical markers of the war, everything walks side-by-side. So, I hope that I can show a side of Split that is not really talked about; while it is focused on my micro-world, it all coincides with bigger events, so I believe I have written something authentic and of substance.

I would like to think, that in the future, this book could be a marker for a darker and different period of Split’s history. Mate Prlić also said that maybe this will help put lyrics from Saša into context – the younger generation inherited TBF but they don’t actually know what’s behind it all. Maybe this will open their eyes a little (if they are interested).

I also want people to know that Split is more than just the sun and sea, it had a darker past, it may be a ‘punch in the face’ to some but it is a story that should be told.

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Credit: Nikola’s Facebook

What were your inspirations for TBF and writing this book?

“Straight Outta Compton” was definitely one of our inspirations for TBF and also why this book is called “Baština” (Legacy). I refer to our generation as the MTV generation, it was a very important part of our lives, we were formed by MTV – it was our channel to the world. And, in terms of an artistic reference for the book – I would say “Train Spotting”, I wrote the book in a way that makes fun of ourselves; yes, there was violence and drugs, we were stupid and dumb but we can laugh about it now. I have lived a lot of lives – fully and completely and for this I am happy.

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Celan back performing with TBF at San Sustipanske Noci, 2017.

Why do you think the music scene in Split boomed in the 90’s?

Music was a refuge from the war; we didn’t get hit by the war directly, a few bombs around but we got it in a second wave, the undertow – with guys coming back from the war and getting out of jail. It was like the Wild West, the Croatian Army was breaking into houses, they even broke into ours (even though we weren’t Serbs), we lived with another family for a while…

It was a terrible and shameful time, one which we shouldn’t be proud of. But no one talks about this.

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Libar performing at No Stress

What about Split now?

There is a very pessimistic view, from which I write about when I came back from Zagreb in 2002, everything we, as a generation were expecting to happen – for everything to get better, it got worse, especially for music. When you see the billboards now, they are all Serbian and Montenegrin turbofolk, they are throwing their bullshit here (even they don’t listen to it), especially in Kaštela. When people ask me where they can go for a real experience of Split culture, I don’t know what to say. We completely lost our thriving underground energy and for that I am sorry.

TBF seems to be the only thing that survived it all. In a way, that is our victory, we were fighting back and we survived. This is what the story is about.

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Nikola and Saša at San Sustipanske Noći

(W)rapping Up…

The promotion of the book itself was done in a manner befitting the tone of the book, Čelan was joined by members of TBF and their humorous accounts throughout were broken up by ‘blasts from the past’ from some of TBF’s hits in the 90’s, even a live rendition…

There were many from the music scene and elite Split crowd there to support Čelan; Marijana Puljak (President of the Pametno Party and Vice President of the City Council) said TBF is a ‘symbol of Split and the Split state of mind’ she remarked ‘I cannot wait to read this book and see how the legendary band was formed.’

Buy the book!

Now, I have given a rather hefty introduction to the book, you can go out and support Čelan and learn more about the different ‘colours’ of Split. Right now it is only available in Croatian but Čelan has possible plans to translate it to English.

The book can be bought in any Slobodna Dalmacija Kiosk for the next month, then, as of November 4th, it can be purchased in bookstores around Croatia.

Writing a book is a huge accomplishment, so from one writer to another, bravo Nikola! Looking forward to reading it, learning more about Split and my new favourite Split band – TBF!

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