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Teofilovic Brothers: Songs Belong to Those Who Sing Them Better

By Published: February 26, 2013
AAJ: 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 Teofilovic: Miroslav knew some of the songs that we perform and asked us whether we knew 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 didn't aim to lighten the load for himself through the choice of songs but to fit himself into our harmonies. That's the essence of the approach here. Miroslav is a listener. For instance, we didn't know the song "Stojne, sine Stojane" before. That's a song that he did for Lulka (Cradle, Third Ear Music, 2002), the record with the singer Vanja Lazarova, and he sent us a version of that song from US, sung by a group The Singers from Ohrid. He suggested we listen to the song and we practiced that one exclusively for a month. You repeat the text over and over until you arrive at a point where you don't think about the next verse. Such is the nature of this profession. That is why we work every day.

There was a huge interaction between us, and trust, to listen to Miroslav's suggestions which songs are most appropriate. Also, he had a kind of a vision about the playlist. There was a song from Eastern Serbia that we changed our minds about, for some reason. And then we thought of "Mome Stoe." I remember we sang that song 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 2,500 people singing with us. When we sang that song to Miroslav, he reacted immediately. He began playing with us and working out the arrangement. "That's blues"—that's what he said. All of the proposals and suggestions were accepted. And regardless if he hadn't been listening to many Dalmatian songs, he knew, on the basis of his enormous musical experience and the time spent in Croatia, how to approach them. He also knew how we were going to approach those songs. All of that gave it its signature and a different dimension. For our part we had to sing in duet and to sound like a klapa.

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

Ratko Teofilovic: A song is really a trinity, consisting of rhythm, verse and melody. Each song has its own pulse. Each song has its own heartbeat. You have to pick a song that is decisive. We choose the songs mostly because of its lyrics. For example, the words and the melody of "Hey, you shepherd." The lyrics are the song's metaphysics, or "Mome Stoe." You cannot remain indifferent to those words. And when you hear the melody...Regardless if it is written somewhere how someone else has sung it, it's you who holds the keys or the heart of the song. It is always performed differently. That is also a moment. Each song is a moment, but how it will look in the end, also depends on the moment. That is why our feeling about the music in that moment is sincere, since we give as we feel about the song in that instance. A sound engineer who was working with us described it, saying, "They don't sing, they paint."

When you paint, each of us has a film in his head or an idea how something should look. 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 do beautiful ornamentations. Yes, but the female voice doesn't have the tones that male voices have.

Radiša Teofilovic: But when we are learning those songs, I strive to listen to female vocalists, I mean, I try to sing as women would have. That's what I try to accomplish. Women can do anything with their voices, they're virtuosos and can give a finest rendition of a song. That is the level we strive for, to transfer female singing into the male register.

AAJ: 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? You had some of those songs in your repertoire well before Vidarica.

Radiša: We listened to that music a lot. All kinds of anthologies by various singers. We literally bought everything that was released. 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 in Skopje, and later our mom found a job there at a local bank. The night before the earthquake in 1963 she decided to give birth to our older brother in Čačak (a city in central Serbia). Their plan was to give birth there and then to return soon afterwards. The day when they arrived in Čačak they heard about the earthquake that totally wiped out the city, and their house was completely destroyed. We even served the army there. We have many, many friends and Ratko's wife is Macedonian.

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