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Ljubojna: The whole world grew out of folklore, even the craziest creations!


Interview with Vera Milosevska and Oli Josifovski of Ljubojna: The popular myth about Macedonia where “don’t dance or sing in Macedonia as you will be out sang or out danced” is no longer valid.

The music of Macedonian band Ljubojna is music of exploration. During the 15 years of its existence, the band has passed through several stages with several changes in the lineup, and that resulted in five stylistically different records. “This thirst for exploration caused a fierce turnover in our lives, when we were deciding, each for himself, and then together, that music is what we could live most sincerely and what we could witness most faithfully. The same feeling of love and exploration joined us into a successful team. Somehow there was this feeling of necessity for a group of people to join hands together and the result of that would be something that will be a creation of the new sounds of Macedonian music. By that I don’t refer to the so called “ethnic” music, but to the real Macedonian popular contemporary music scene. The music grew as our intentions grew. All of the band’s phases can be found on each of the releases. During that period Ljubojna did not made changes to its line up, but it built it, and that resulted into three line-ups: chalgia, acoustic-electric rock lineup and the brass fantasy. In that manner, Ljubojna grew into a musically powerful institution and its music is a bridge between younger and older generations, says Vera Milošeska of Ljubojna for Balkon3ljubojna2 za balkon3

What attracted you to folk music?

Vera: I think that the question belongs to the previous century, when people were still experimenting and there was still untouched and undiluted music worldwide. I don’t think it is appropriate to ask that question these days. I think that the whole world grew out of folklore, even the craziest creations. It is a legacy that breathes new life, and it can’t be separated for no reason only because the Macedonians relate to their own culture in the manner of newly arrived foreigners with phrases such as: “Wow, how lovely, how pure?!

The music that Ljubojna lives with this music transferred by old masters and it is natural for us to testify it. Ljubojna does not cultivate or create folk music, but it creates some sort of contemporary popular music with an orthodox glamour style. Macedonian music is the source from which we have gathered knowledge about music in general. The love for music does not come out because of someone’s national background but for the reason of personal necessity for self-realization. Just like it is not a privilege to be a Macedonian in order to play or love Macedonian music.

Apart from being bandleaders, you and Oliver are spouses, which resulted in several records, numerous concerts and music for theatre and films as well. What is it that makes things to function so well between you, both personally and professionally?

Vera: The answer lies in the great sacrifice that we promised ourselves when we started Ljubojna, and when we got married, of course, that was another sacrifice we promised ourselves.  We are not just the band leaders, but we are the PR team, which is exhausting. Unfortunately, we don’t have the privilege to take care of the music only, but then again, all is in our hands and the whole thing somehow is moving onward. It seems that we have learnt to live with that decision regarding that way of living, which on first glance resembles a family life, but it doesn’t even come close to any day to day family life, or the standard tempo of living. The Success formula is a very changeable category and a very individual one. Our formula is made of a good team: a good singer and good composer that also privately share the same idea about the music.

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When it comes to choices of songs from the pool of Macedonian folklore it is evident that emphasis is given to songs from Greekregion of Macedonia. What was it about these songs, which were relatively unknown compared to popular standard songs that attracted and inspired you to include them into your repertory?

Vera: Really, songs like “Tvoite oci Leno” (Your eyes Lena), and “Mori chupi Kosturcanki” (Hey you, maids from Kostur/Kastoria) are in a way a brand for Ljubojna from the very start. They carry a universal musical message within them, they are love hymns, or have traits of hidden eroticism, if you will, that the audiences is experiencing personally. On the other hand, from the vast repertoire of greater Macedonian regional songs that I interpret, most of them are from this region. I love the Mediterranean melodicism that they have and at the same time their strong Slavic emotions. That is music that for me presents weaven sun beams and meanders, orange gardens and golden earrings, for e.g.

Was the last year’s concert before New Year an end of the chapter with the brass orchestra?

Oliver: The words “ending” or “start” are too heavy to be defined. For me the answer relates to a musical phrase, musical style, direction and it is not evident entirely to me when something begins, matures or ends. All I know is, if I hear something that I like, something that struck me in the moment and my heart went wild, I know that somehow it will come out sometime when I make music. For e.g. one night at a parking in Skopje, we ran into a young boy with a cassette player (with a multitude of colors) on his shoulder, a ghetto blaster, and he asked us whether we would like to hear some music. We said sure. He asked whether we have heard of Jamail and we replied yes. Well then, please give me 50 denars and I’ll play his music for you. And so it happened that one night after midnight on some parking lot we were listening to Jamail on a cassette player with 6 lights where the music was incredibly lively, it was masterfully sang and performed, and its presenter Ali, played us this music with unusual enjoyment and passion, and told us stories about Jamail. Later, long in the night I found myself asking if I felt for music at least half of how Ali felt for the music. Sometimes, the music can spring out from totally unusually times and places. Now, do you know Jamail?

ljubojna4 za balkon3Your releases are published in times of degradation of values within this society when each its segment is degraded by kitsch, cheap and massive entertainment, and where true values are pushed into a marginalized and dark corners. Do you think that your music can retain people’s belief that not all things are lost?

Vera: For all these years Ljubojna devoted itself to the idea of creating music with one good vocal, that can have several faces, but to have one Macedonian soul. All our releases have different sounds, but it is still one music coming out of the same creative idea. At the moment Ljubojna is an institution with personnel that resembles the Israeli philharmonic orchestra. It works as an acoustic chalgia orchestra, an electro-acoustic band and as a brass band, and all these elements are fully functional. It has both original and traditional material in its repertoire. Can you imagine that functioning only within local framework? Except for the romantic guerilla approach, I don’t know how otherwise that would be successful in today’s circumstances. The Macedonians can’t believe that Ljubojna has sold out concerts because of its music, they love when someone loves them from the bandstand, they want to feel alive and to be happy.

To your opinion, is there space for creativity and the messages it promotes, in a hostile surrounding such as this?

Vera: That surrounding is a result mostly by our own doings, so we really shouldn’t complain that much. For years the Macedonians lived in shame of its own music, wandering in the hallways of the world’s music, and that is a complex that has remained with the legacy of SFRY. When the time came to face ourselves both individually and globally, regarding the culture or brands that we have built for ourselves during the passing years of independence, we found ourselves as empty as an empty basket. In that situation, all kinds of brands began to be made in the most guerilla of ways. As a consequence it forced the whole culture into a cacophonic dead end and where we still are. In today’s terms adaptability is creativity. In a non-critical surrounding anything can be sold as creativity and finally the message is: creativity doesn’t pay off. On top of that is the closed political direction that is suffocating, an instant way of living that is pressuring, and here is its child – turbo folk music. That is why it is great when the good music is making a musical product that you can’t shut your eyes from it.

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The sameness of what the mainstream media has to offer regarding music or culture, both worldwide and domestic ones, due to globalization, is very evident. How do you look at the future of Macedonian music in the 21 Century?

Vera:  The globalization swallowed the whole world, let alone Macedonia. But our music scene cannot be compared to any other scene out there simply because it doesn’t think globally and everything is meant and packed for a minor market. The tendencies are not always like that, but it is exceptionally difficult to think worldwide without any support. That will draw a number of decisive factors about the looks of the final product. Unfortunately, the greatest financial stake is the music itself that is awfully local and cannot be a hit beyond the neighboring Serbia. The population is held inside four walls exclusively for profit. Such is the situation with the mainstream called estrade, especially with turbo folk music that momentarily has the best audio and video production behind. But the tide is so strong because of which no opponent can stand against. And people forget that. Where do we go by returning old hits and relieving old quasi festival music in the manner of San Remo festival? Is that all we could do? I think people can’t conceive that threat seriously, that has already eaten the whole cultural ambitus. On the other hand, this piece of land has so much musical legacy to offer and so much to do. The exit is in front of you and you continually digging a side tunnel. Let’s not talk falsely now, but without giving any chance and without any strategy, for the ones that have ideas for new and fresh grooves that can be offered to the world, we shall sink without a trace.

Can a composer mind his own business that he knows best and earn for a living by doing that in this country?

Oliver: We are having a conversation and that means we have survived (laughs). I have no intention of choosing any other profession than music. This is my occupation that I love dearly. Sometimes I wish I was living in another country but that would mean if it was meant for me to live in another country I would have been born there. I think if everyone did their job the best they could Macedonia will be a wonderful place for living. For now, I try to do my best, and I think that music making is the best job there is, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone (laughs).

With Ljubojna you perform often outside of Macedonia. What is necessary for a band to rise above its own immediate surroundings and be accepted beyond its confines?

Oliver: All of us have plenty of work ahead in order to rise above and promote our music worldwide. The popular myth about Macedonia where “don’t dance or sing in Macedonia as you will be out sang or out danced” is no longer valid. On the other hand, I’m very satisfied with the work we do with Ljubojna and of course there is a tendency to expand and perform outside Macedonia. I’m talking about a longstanding accumulated exploratory energy. The goals we set for each other for the forthcoming period includes recording new material as much as we can that we will promote more abroad.

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Can you choose a certain audience that has received you most enthusiastically?

Vera: Both Macedonian and foreign audiences have surprised me many times. It is hard for me to remember where certain things have happened. Once in Rome I was greeted by a group of women that were all in tears and were thanking me. Sometimes after a club date people approach with concepts and ideas about Ljubojna’s music because of which I’m really sorry that we don’t have any music critics back home.

What touches audiences most, regardless wherever you perform?

Vera: The manner in which you address them. The audiences love to feel elated, to be given a hand and to be said come with me. It is not easy to do that, especially these days when the audiences behave like a sleepy consummates. The audiences trust you if you direct your interpretative emotion to every single one in the attendance, if you don’t manipulate their emotions. The audience will reward you double at the next concert and that is a circle that is increasing constantly.

If you were given a task to make a compilation of most distinguished representatives of Balkan music, who would you include?

Oliver: That would be a too difficult task for me as I will surely miss someone. I think that every small place has its own most distinguished representatives and who deserves to be a part of a compilation of any kind. A bag full of music would be gained. I also think that that way people will know that this place has regions rich with music that equal to an uncharted space that waits to be discovered.

Nenad Georgievski