One hell of a ride: thirty years of Lepa Brena

The biggest folk star in the Balkans turns fifty. You can’t say the ride was a dull one

What would you do if you were a beautiful, twenty-something Muslim blonde in 1980s Yugoslavia, having an incredible voice and even more incredible long legs? It’s a tough question, I know. For Fahreta Jahic, heroine of our story, the answer was very clear.

Thirty years and twenty million albums sold later, the answer is also pretty clear to every man, woman and child in all of the former Yugoslav republics – there is not a single person born in Yugoslavia in the last thirty years who hasn’t heard of her, under the name of Lepa Brena (Brena the beautiful).

This also includes some of the neighboring countries, like Romania and Bulgaria, where Brena is still a household name. Coming to perform in one of her concerts in Bulgaria in a helicopter is still being told as a legend, even though it’s a true story. This is the sort of thing big folk and rock stars did back then. Not so much nowadays.

Some would say that her great concert in isolated communist Romania was one of the key reasons why the dictator Ceaușescu was toppled only couple of years later, but this theory is yet to be proven.

Ask anyone over the age of twenty-five about their favorite singer when they were kids, chances are 90 percent of people will say Lepa Brena. Hell, my favorite singer when I was six or seven was Lepa Brena as well. I suppose she was the only non-boring thing on TV at the time, which is a lame excuse but it’s the only one I have.

Just how a true professional Lepa Brena really is, is perhaps best shown in this legendary clip where she manages to kick herself in the head (did I mention she has extremely long legs) and then continues with the show like nothing happened.

Lately, Brena doesn’t do much singing, and her albums are not sold in six digit figures as before. Instead she spends her time running the largest Balkan record label, spreading the folk genre throughout the region while making insane amount of money in the process. Which she spends mostly on plastic surgery and photo-shop effects.

Lepa Brena turns half a century on October 20th. It’s been a long way from the twenty-something blonde from the beginning of this article to present day media tycoon, but nobody can say that the ride was a dull one.