By Leah Willingham
BELGRADE, Christian Locke is used to answering the same question: what on earth is he doing in Serbia?
“I get that question almost every time I meet somebody new,” Locke said, laughing on a Saturday afternoon spent in Republic Square tuning his guitar. He wears a pair of light wash blue jeans, green boots and a blue bandana in an attempt to control his wild and graying shoulder-length hair.
Locke, 36, has now lived in Belgrade for about a year and a half. He first moved to the Balkans in 2012, when he quit his job as the marketing director of his father’s Texas insurance company to pursue a romance with a woman he met on Facebook.
But, that relationship quickly fell apart. And although Locke had come to the Balkans to chase one love, he stayed for another: Yugoslav rock ‘n’ roll.
Locke was traveling through Croatia when he first discovered bands like Ekatarina Velika and Atomsko Sklonište, which peaked in popularity a decade prior to the turbulent Balkan wars of the 90’s.
“I fell in love with it right away,” he recalled.
From there, he decided to move to Belgrade, the former capital of Yugoslavia where love for that music is still very much alive. He started writing the lyrics and chords for Serbian music in a notebook—now one of his most prized possessions—and invented a stage name “Kiki Brava.”
Music has been a powerful way for Locke to connect with local people. He was in a bar last year when he met Ivan Marinković, 31, an announcer at the national broadcasting company, Radio Belgrade. They discovered their mutual love for guitar and started playing together on a regular basis.
Marinković said he was stunned when he heard Locke playing Yugoslav songs. “He fell in love with the same music I love and play without even knowing what is it about,” he said.
Through his connections with local people, Locke has been able to set up gigs throughout the city. Since his arrival, Locke has performed in Ozi Bar & Hostel, Familija Bistro, and KC Grad in Savamala.
He says locals are always happy to hear him play. Most of the time, audiences do not even notice he is not from the area, and if they do, no one gives it a second thought.
“If anybody is singing that old music—no matter who it is—people are going to be singing along,” he said.
Locke leads a simple life in the Balkans. He lives in a small apartment within walking distance of Republic Square and makes the majority of his earnings teaching yoga, web design, meditation and English.
But maintaining this lifestyle is not an easy task. Some days, Locke says, he only has enough money to buy a bag of peanuts to eat. Still, that is not enough to dampen his spirits.
“Those are some of my best days,” Locke said.
But that carefree outlook is part of what makes Locke who he is. He does not want to be tied down to one thing in particular. He says he would rather be doing 10 sporadic jobs than one reliable position he hates.
Marinković said his friends call Locke the modern “Hippie of Belgrade,” for his laid back attitude.
“He was like an alien for me and my friends who met him, because we had never seen anyone who lives so freely and relaxed,” Marinković recalled.
Locke has made a unique life for himself in Belgrade, and he says he does not think he will be leaving the Balkans anytime soon.
Marinković remembered recently when they were walking through the city together, and Locke heard some people speaking English.
“He just smiled and said ‘stranci,’ which in Serbian means ‘foreigners,’ said Marinković. “Christian had become one of us, sensing the city of Belgrade like his true home.”