Teofilovic Brothers: Songs Belong to Those Who Sing Them Better

Teofilovic Brothers: Songs Belong to Those Who Sing Them Better
Nenad Georgievski By

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The Teofilovic brothers (Radiša and Ratko) are two of the most popular performers of traditional songs from Serbia, as well as other parts of the Balkans. In their repertoire they always have wonderful traditional songs that time has forgotten, or that are not always widely known or present in other performers' repertoires. Their wide choices and unique approach are best represented on last year's collaboration with the renowned American/Serbian guitarist Miroslav Tadic, titled Vidarica (Nine Winds, 2012).

Tadic is best known for his duet with popular guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski and as a professor at CalArts university in Los Angeles. Vidaric , the title of which has a symbolic meaning, features songs from Serbia, Bosnia, Dalmatia (Croatia) and Macedonia, and the singers carry these songs into the new century. This album was promoted 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 with their intricate yet wonderful playing and singing.

All About Jazz: The album Vidarica, is a joint effort with guitarist Miroslav Tadic and although you both met Tadic 15 years ago and have played occasionally with him since then, why did it take so long for you to work together and release Vidarica?

Radiša Teofilovic: We met Tadic through Vlatko Stefanovski when they were promoting their album Krushevo (MA, 1998) in Belgrade. That was second of October, 1999. He suggested to Miroslav that it would be nice if they could invite two special guests for that occasion.. Even at the rehearsal we got on really well with them. That was the starting point and many years 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]. Eventually, we felt that the time was right for a record to be done.

Miroslav is very active in America. He performs with Frank Zappa's band (The Grandmothers), he did Treta Majka with Vlatko and made two records with Rade Šerbedžija. He is very neat and precise, works meticulously and doesn't mesh several projects at once. Because of that, he'd been waiting for a clear space in his schedule so he could devote himself completely to the music on this record. It was our dream to work with him. People had been complaining that we'd never collaborated with anyone, not knowing that we already knew who we were going to collaborate with. During his travels throughout Europe he regularly passed through Belgrade, where we'd get together a lot.

After recording this music we were enjoying each other's company even more, as we went to his house in Croatia. So it's fair to say that this music came out of beautiful surroundings and the beautiful friendship we share. I would even say that Miro is like an older brother to us. He is very aware of where we live and what our relationships are like here. He lives within a system that has a strict order while we literally have to fight to set certain values within ours. When he told his students in America that we earn a living by singing songs a cappella, he says only sighs of wonder could be heard in the class. Because of that, to him, our wish, enthusiasm, inner spirit and mood were his inspiration. That was the start of our collaboration with Miroslav that resulted in Vidarica.

AAJ: What is the meaning behind Vidarica?

Ratko Teofilovic: 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 legend, if you wash yourself during sunrise you will be healed. The liner notes on our CD were written by our older brother and he explains, rather poetically, what vidarica is. It is a health condition and a balance of the mind and spirit. 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 interplay between the voices and the guitar.

At our concert at Kolarac Hall, we were told that many of the people there were crying. I believe that they had certain emotions that came out to the surface during the concert. I think these days, although the music is moving forward technologically, that it stagnates emotionally. That discrepancy between what people think is not necessary and the actual occurrences, is precisely 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. There are people that also believe that music brings salvation. At our place, one of the colleges has a department for music therapy, which is fine, but the true contact between people should happen from the inside or intuitively.

That healing with music cannot be choreographed. I'm not someone that accepts setups, but I do accept what is happening in the given moment. Just like art, it is something that is created in the moment. That is how we choose the songs for our repertoire on this tour to promote this album. The three planned concerts all had three different repertoires. But what will remain among the three of us, and what people will feel is happening 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.

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