Ljubojna: Radio Luboyna

Nenad Georgievski By

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For Macedonian world music group Luboyna, creating boundary-breaking music is a way of life. Over the course of 15 years, it has wilfully broken boundaries and conventions within its entertaining song structures. In doing so, Luboyna has been successfully navigating the musical opposites of composition and improvisation both in the studio and live and has expanded what is generally known as Balkan Music. While its heart and soul are deeply and firmly rooted in Macedonia and its music traditions, the band's musical worldview has always been evidently eclectic. Mac music is the foundation and Luboyna successfully brings a lot of various musics into that foundation. Influences from across the pop, jazz, improv, electronica, and soul realm abound, all held together with unbounded enthusiasm, addictive melodies, and hooks. The band's album Radio Luboyna which marks the Luboyna's 15th anniversary reflects all of that and much more.

Radio Luboyna is an ambitious and impressive amalgam of the band's previous leanings that blend Eastern and Western influences into its own mix. Led by composer and bassist Oliver Josifovski and singer Vera Josifovska Miloshevska, the heart and soul of the band, the album showcases Josifovski's formidable compositional prowess and arranging talent which makes this merging of Macedonian music culture with other sounds and cultures possible. Miloshevska has a one of a kind voice, at once powerful and delicate. Highly emotional, she sings with verve and passion. Her voice is at the heart of the record, but she leaves plenty of space for the band to shine.

Many of the songs on this record were road tested at various concerts in the last two years before they were recorded in the studio. Over several albums and numerous concerts, Luboyna has turned into a formidable, flexible outfit with a built-in chemistry and an audacious streak. The line-up has been changing over the years and Luboyna has been expanding gradually both as a recording unit and as a live band. On Radio Luboyna there is a remarkable cast of 30 musicians who have lent their talents into making these songs sound extraordinary. Many of them have been members of the band at various stages of its history or are musicians that have crossed paths with Josifovski at various projects outside of Luboyna. What bounded them together is woven through every song on Radio Luboyna.

If the band's previous outing Sherbet Luboyna (Bajro Zakon Korporejshn, 2015) was more standard take on chalgia music songs from the area of Bitola, this album allows Josifovski room to re-fertilize the sonic territory. The band takes Josifovski's meticulously constructed compositions and infuses them with intricate interplays, exhilarating solos, and plenty of energy on this lushly textured album. There is a remarkable equilibrium of folk, jazz, improv elements, electronica, and soul music. The pieces are full of innovative twists and turns, along with memorable melodic elements.

The album kicks off with "Kratovo via Brazil," a buoyant funk number with a punchy brass and keyboards. It is a take no prisoners offering that is paced by a funky drummer pulse and a labyrinth of difficult unison lines by trumpeter Cambo Agushev (of Agushevi Orchestra) and clarinetist Blagojche Trajkovski. Cambo and the brass orchestra truly shine on this samba meets Balkan Gypsy orchestral music spiced with jazz keyboards. Miloshevska propels the band forward with an irresistible force that her voice is. There is a nice solo by jazz keyboardist Vasil Hadžimanov, but the song is propelled to dizzying heights when Cambo takes his solo on the trumpet. Cambo never sounds less than fully engaged, playing at the top of his game with gruff muscularity and remarkable facility. The battle between the brass orchestra, the solo trumpet, and the keyboards makes for a joyful and upbeat finish.

Ballads like "Ogreala Mesechina" and "Mnogu mi go Falat Vaseto Devojce" exude careful craft and consideration. On "Ogreala Mesechina" Miloshevska's voice is like a summer breeze, warmly caressing the simple lyrics. She plays with the rhythm, singing before and behind the beat, taking the song home with a precise and elegant delivery. "Mnogu Mi go falat Babo" is a lament that builds with quiet intensity as the song progresses. It's almost an acapella song as the singing makes every sound of the instruments, like the piano and the flugelhorn, to stay in the background almost unnoticed. She sings with maximum conviction that showcases her impeccable phrasing on this song and her ability to convey an encyclopedia of emotion with every sung word.

But the album's showpiece is undoubtedly "Galichnik Via New York," another hybrid composition with a swaggering celebratory nature. This song is a spirited blending of soul music with an undeniably infectious melody that is based upon The Platters "My Girl" like riff, and Motown harmonies over which Miloshevska sings and is often interrupted by a punchy R&B-ish New Orleans horn riffs with a gypsy brass flavoring. "Bairo via Bebek" is full of Gypsy harmonies and flavors meshed with sounds of Turkish instruments like kanun over singer Ola Dioss' occasional rap chants that gets a dub treatment. It's an ode to a gypsy neighborhood Bairo in the city of Bitola.

Apart from these slow gems, the remaining songs are upbeat, dynamic and layered. Despite a reliance on traditional sounds and an obvious affection for them, Luboyna are far from ethnomusicological purists. This big band members seem born to play with one another, their instruments blending so seamlessly one often can't identify the lead. The mix of all these instruments produces sounds that are kind of familiar in their contours but on the other hand are unique in their details. Josifovski's noteworthy arrangements involve all the players imaginatively in solo and supportive roles. Further, he uses DJ Slave to weave his magic with his turntables and samples, adding a new dimension to some of the songs. Songs such as "Stani da ne Stanish" and "Mome Odi Za Voda" are bouncy and joyful gems with stellar moments abound. These songs are thick stews of funky percussion and drums with odd meters, simple yet intricate melodies with a trumpet or a clarinet that ride the mix exhilaratingly. "Mome Odi Za Voda" is embellished by Turkish clarinetist Husnu Senlendirici (best known as a member of Taksim Trio) whose characteristic soloings add a different flavor to this playful song that imaginatively combines traditional music with subtle electronic flavors and sounds around the percussion.

There are so many elements at work on this record. They mesh so well together that a serious listener can hear this as the culmination of Luboyna' life in music. The various elements of the band are so tastefully combined as to create something that at the same time is traditional and adventurously novel. Radio Luboyna is a modern Balkan music record that succeeds on all levels.

Track Listing: Kratovo via Brazil; Ogreala Mesechina; Galichnik via New york, Mnogu Mi go Falat Vasheto Devojche; Stani Da ne Stanish; Mome Odi Za Voda; Ohrid Via Dolmabahche

Personnel: Musician Name #1: instrument; Musician Name #2: instrument; Musician Name #3: instrument.

Title: Radio Luboyna | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Bajro Zakon Coorporation


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