Guide to SKOPJE

Interview with Teofilovic brothers – Songs belong to those who can sing them better


Balkon3 interview with Teofilovic brothers.Teofilovic brothers (Radiša and Ratko) are one of the most popular performers of traditional songs from Serbia, including songs from other parts of the Balkans. In their repertoire they always had wonderful traditional songs that time forgot or are songs that are not always widely known or present in other performers’ repertoires. Their wider choices and unique approach are best presented on last year’s collaboration with the renowned American/Serbian guitarist Miroslav Tadic titled “Vidarica.” Tadic is bst known in Macedonia and the region for his duet with popular guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski. Vidarica, which title has a symbolic meaning, features songs Serbia, Bosnia, Dalmatia (Croatia) and Macedonia, and they carry these songs into the new century. This album has had its promotion in Zagreb, Croatia last year, but in January 2013, it had its first promotional tour in three cities in Serbia – Novi Sad, Čačak and finally at Kolarac concert hall in Belgrade where these three artists stirred the audience’s emotions who enjoyed their wonderful playing and singing. The interview was done at one of the restaurants in Skadarlija, the bohemian part of city of Belgrade.

The album “Vidarica,” which is a joint effort with guitarist Miroslav Tadic, consists of songs from the Serbia, Bosnia and mostly from Macedonia. Although you both met Tadic 15 years ago and have played occasionally with him, why did it take so long for you to work together and publish “Vidarica”?

Radiša: We met Tadic through Vlatko Stefanovski when they were promoting their album „Krushevo“ inBelgrade. That was 2nd of October 1999. He suggested Miroslav that for that occasion it would be nice if they could invite two special guests. Even at the rehersal we had a very good feling with both of them. That was the starting point and many yars have passed since then. In the meantime, we were guests at Rade Serbedžija’s concert, we played at the Guitar Art festival in Belgrade, and had two concerts in Niš and Podgorica (Montenegro). After awhile we saw that the time was right for a record to be done. Miroslav is very active inAmerica. He performs with Frank Zappa’s band (The Grandmothers), he did “Treta Majka” with Vlatko and two records with Rade Šerbedžija. He is very neat and precise, and when he works he does it right and thoroughly and does not mesh several projects at once. Because of that he was waiting for a clear space in his schedule and to devote himself completely to the music on this record. It was a our dream and a wish to work with him. People were objecting why weren’t we collaborating with anyone so far not knowing that we already knew with whom we were going to collaborate. During his travels throughout Europe he regularly passed through Belgrade where we were socializing a lot. After recording this music we were enjoying each other’s company even further as we went to his house in Croatia. Therefore, I can say that this music came out in a beautiful surrounding and a beautiful friendship that exists among us. I would even say that Miro is like an older brother. He is very aware where we live and what our relations are here. He lives within a system that has a strict order while we literally fight to set certain values within our system. When he told his students in America that we earn for a living by singing songs acapella, only sighs of wonderment could have been heard. Because of that, to him, our wish, enthusiasam, inner spirit and mood were his inspiration. That was th start of our collaboration with Miroslav that resulted in „Vidarica“.

What is the meaning behind “Vidarica”?

Ratko: On one hand, the title has a certain ethnological meaning. Vidarice are women that heal with herbs. They are healers. The title can also refer to healing springs where according to legends if you wash yourself during sunrise you will heal. The liner notes on our CD were written by our older brother and rather poetically he explain what Vidarica is. It is a health condition and balance of the spirit and the mind. When that balance is disrupted a sickness sets in. It’s then when people start looking for a cure or a vidarica. That balance is represented within the play between the voices and the guitar. At the concert we had at Kolarac hall we were told that many of the people in attendance were crying. I believe that they had certain emotions that came out to the surface during the concert. I think that these days, the music is moving forward technologically, but that it stagnates emotionally. That discrepancy, or what people think is not necessary and the actual, is actually what I think is necessary. It is something we see whenever we travel around the world. It is our sound expression that we transfer, the emotions that people recognize. That is how we choose the songs for our repertoire on this tour we are having to promote this album. The planned three concerts will have three different repertoires. But what will remain among the three of us, and what people will feel is happing is empathy. And the energy that comes back to us in those moments – I can only describe it as catharsis. When Miroslav hits a string, my voice is in a state of convulsion, and I feel I’m about to cry. In that moment, he is taking us into his own emotional world that you simultaneously transmit to your audiences. It is something I haven’t experienced very often. He is literally carrying us over and playing with our voices.

“Vidarica is a collection of songs from various regions of the Balkans and it is a meeting point for the musicians’ different tastes. How did you make the choice which songs to include here?

Radiša: Miroslav knew some of the songs that we perform and asked us whether we know something similar to that. He liked our suggestions. Even today we have a number of songs from Dalmatia, but Miroslav chose two songs that he had performed as instrumental variants. He suggested we listen and approach the songs in our own way. There weren’t any particular suggestions here. He did not aim to lighten the load for himself through the choice of songs but to fit himself into our harmonies. That’s th essence of the approach here. Miroslav is a listner. For eg., we didn’t know the song „Stojne, sine Stojane“ before. That is a song that he did  for „Lulka“ (Cradle), the record with singer Vanja Lazarova, and from America h sent us a version of that song sang by a group „The Singers from Ohrid“. He suggested we listen to the song and we practised that one exclusively for a month. You repeat the text on and on until you arrive on a level where you don’t think about th next verse. Such is the nature of this profession. That is why we work every day. There was a huge interaction between us, and trus, to listn to Miroslav’s suggestions which songs are most appropriate. Also, he had a vision about the playlist. There was a song from eastern Serbia that we changed our minds, for some rason. And then w remmbered „Mome Stoe“. I remember that song w sang for the first time in Ohrid at the Balcan Square festival. It was an incredible experience. That was the best concert we have ever had in our career. In that special surrounding, we had an audience of 2500 people that sang with us. When we sang that song to Miroslav, he reacted immediately. He began playing with us and workign out th arrangment. That is blues – that’s what he said.

How do you approach the songs you interpret? What is it that gives these songs your signature?

Ratko: A song is really a trinity consisting of rhythm, verse and melody. Each song has its own pulse. Each song has its own heart. You have to pick a song that is decisive. We choose the songs mostly because of its lyrics. For eg. The words and the melody of “Hey, you shepherd”. The lyrics is the song’s metaphysics, or ”Mome Stoe.” One cannot remain indifferent to those words. And when you hear the melody…Regardless if it is written somewhere how someone has sang that song, you hold the keys or the heart of the song. It is always performed differently. It is also a moment. Each song is a moment, but how it will look like in the end, it also depends on the moment. That is why our feel about the music in that moment is sincere as we give as we feel about the song in that moment. A sound engineer that was working with us has described it in his own words by saying “they don’t sing, they paint”. When you paint, each has a film in his head or an idea how something should look like. Once we asked a friend, who is a singing teacher, what is it about the male voice that makes it more interesting than the female voice? The female voice can achieve more as it has a wider range, it can manage incredible things and to do beautiful ornaments. Yes, but the female voice doesn’t have the tones that male voices have.

The major part of Vidarica consists of Macedonian folk songs. What is it that makes Macedonian music and songs so attractive for you to sing those songs? 

Radiša: We listened to that music a lot. All kinds of anthologies by various singers. We literally bought everything that was published. When you met people, they would recommend other songs. It is about an inner emotion that you recognize whenever you listen to Macedonian music. It is not accidental. Our parents studied economics inSkopje, and later our mom found a job there at a local bank there. The night before the earthquake in 1963 she decided to give a birth when she was pregnant with our older brother in Čačak. Their plan was to give birth there and then to return soon afterwards. The day when they arrived in Čačak they heard of the earthquake and their house was totally destroyed. We even served the army there. We have many, many friends and Ratko’s spouse is Macedonian.

Do you think there is an innovation when interpreting other people’s songs?

Ratko: That is a good question. Everything in this world is advancing and perfecting. In sports, people advance constantly and they do things faster and more efficient. In the same way, the singing also moves forward. There are ways in which one can surpass what other people have been doing and we are absolutely aware of that. That is why we do things differently in comparison to how certain singers used to sing their songs. These songs were never sung in duet. While inMacedonia, they had the courage to turn to their native instruments, we were always following Western types of orchestrations and putting things in a different context. That context is shallow and sweet. The question is if people were under different influences whether they would have sung differently. Each person is recognizable by his voice. The voice is a person. Each person is introducing himself with the voice he posseses.

Nenad Georgievski