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Vlatko Stefanovski: Until I Satisfy My Artistic Appetite

Nenad Georgievski By

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AAJ: How did Teodosii Spasov took part in this story? He already played with you two at the Sava Centar, Belgrade, and before that you performed with him as part of the Balkan Horses Band.

VS: In the meantime, I happened to meet Teodosii Spasov with whom we became good friends. It was logical for us to bring him on as a guest, if you take into account our friendship and all those performances we had together. He is one of my dearest friends from the Balkan Horses project. He is truly one of the top musicians from the Balkans.

AAJ: In relation to the previous question about Teodosii and the Balkan Horses, can you tell me where did the idea to make a band consisting of musicians from the Balkans come from?

VS: The idea emerged sometime around 2000, when we had a joint concert at the Skopje Fair with the Trio and the band Anastasia. For that occasion we invited a few managers from several Balkan countries among which there was a guy from Sofia, by the name of Krasi Zeljaskov. A day before the concert, during lunch with my former manager (Yvo Yankovski) we suggested that if we want to do something that will have a wider impact beyond this region, we should join our forces and do something that will promote all of us in one package and that way we could present ourselves to the western music industry. That way we could show that there is something happening here. Let's not only import music but also let's try to export it a bit. After 6 or 7 months, we received the first initiative from Sofia (Bulgaria), to create a band with musicians from several countries from the Balkans and to try and do a project. In the beginning we played concerts with this band and only afterwards we started thinking about how our first record should look like.

I think we should have done a studio record first and then went out on tour. But, we didn't have much time to gather all those people in one place and cut a record, so we agreed for each of us to suggest two songs that we are going to perform at concerts. Some interesting musical moments did happen here but we never got to realise entirely our initial ideas. All that Balkan Horses has ever done is a live DVD and a record from our performance at the antic theater in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and a second record from our concert in Sofia. It's a beautiful recording but those are songs that I have done on other projects and the others have done them in their own projects as well. There wasn't any chemical reaction i.e. there wasn't any joint effort which would result in new music, but it only looked like sampled Balkan musicians. As long as the idea to work together and establish cross-cultural communication is sincere, this will function without any problems. But, as soon as the managers got their fingers into it, it was then when things began to dismantle. You have problems with sponsors, and having 7 musicians from 7 different countries traveling and working together is technically complicated. Because of that, the idea never managed to fully come alive.

AAJ: Tell me about your last solo recording, Tower Of Cards. There are performances by many top musicians from around the globe. Please tell me who participated here and what sort of emotions and ideas went into making it.

VS: On this record there is a plethora of interesting musicians and there are plenty of interesting songs, which I think are going to have a long life and are yet to be really discovered. One of the world's leading drummers Manu Katche plays here, I also had a mega popular singer sing two or three verses, and that's Gibonni from Croatia, then the legendary keyboard player from Serbia—Kornelije Kovach (Korni Group), a programmer from Skopje, Vasko Serafimov. There is a guest appearance by the late great trumpet player Goce Dimitrovski (known as the trumpet player on the "Otpisani" TV series theme), the brilliant violinist Gazmend BeriÅ¡a (Project Žlust), Nora Poloska sang backing vocals, and some keyboard parts were played by an old friend of mine Valentino Skenderovski (one time keyboard player of Leb i Sol and a renowed producer).

This record is truly a diverse one as it took me almost a year to finish it, and I had enough time to invite people or to pay them a visit to do some recordings. It was a slow production process and during that period the songs took different shapes, and some of them were made even 3-4 years prior to the album's release.

Tower Of Cards is a collection of my impressions i.e. it is a collection of my songs and impressions during the last 5-6 years. I had to write and sing about all those things that have haunted, frightened, delighted me and warmed my soul in the meant time. I had to tell about all those things that preoccupied me and I guess not just myself, but also the people from my generation. Of course, what I just said refers not only to people of my age, but even to people older or younger than me.

I was born in the middle of the previous century and we went through many things, as we saw two or three political systems changing. My generation is quite interesting since we were born in one era, grew in another, while we are raising our families and living our lives in totally different era. One day should I decide to write a book I'll put into words my thoughts on this issue. Not only that this period is interesting, but we are living in a very interesting part of the world. This is a period when one political system hasn't entirely gone while the other one still hasn't arrived. We are living in a period of an endless transition.

AAJ: One of the bands that you perform with regularly is the Trio. Not long ago it grew into a Quartet. The first time I heard about it, to be honest, was at an open-air festival in Å tip [a city in mid-Macedonia], in the mid 90's. What made you decide to form a Trio? For a time there, even Leb i Sol functioned as a trio.

VS: The Trio is like a tripod and it can be very steady and at same time very unsteady. The electric trios are also known as power trios, and it should be that way in order to function properly. In 1996, I received an invitation from a friend of mine from Stip, who happened to be organising an open-air festival there. He invited me to perform on that festival, but at the time I didn't have a band to perform with. But he gave a suggestion to form a band for that occasion. Then I invited MiÅ¡ko (Mihail ParuÅ¡hev) and Aček (Aleksandar Pop Hristov) whom I've known from the Skopje's club scene. We had 2-3 rehearsals, we played there on that festival and in retrospective I think we gave an excellent performance although it was our first. I like playing with the Trio as I've been endlessly inspired by Jimi Hendrix's Trio—Jimi Hendrix Experience (as well as by another band of his, the Band of Gypsies), for which I think is one of the best trios of all time. Cream was also a very powerful rock trio.

The Trio has room for everyone i.e. it gives enough space for everyone to express themselves and to use their instrument to the best of their abilities, both as a rhythmic and melodic instrument. There is enough space i.e. tapestry for improvising as much as you need. As formation, the trio is very slippery because if the groove isn't right and if the music isn't as it should be then the music will stop, i.e. the machinery itself will stop.

I really love playing with the Trio, but recently we welcomed another member, Damir Imeri on keyboards, who is a real revelation for me since he is truly a talented musician and is someone who is not really affirmed as a player. He does arrangements for all kinds of singers, but that's not his true affinity. His true affinity is jazz and jazz-fusion and I think he jelled fine with the existing trio where in the meantime the personnel changed.

Now, I play with Djoko Maksimovski—Djole on bass and Dean Milosavljevi'—Dino on drums. I've been working with this personnel for the last 4 years. The musicians from Macedonia know certain things by default i.e. you don't need to explain much when it comes to uneven rhythms. If someone doesn't know them you cannot explain them to him in plain words. To a musician from France or Sweden you can count those rhythms but you won't be able to make him play them. Even less of a chance to get him to play them properly. The musicians from here know what they are all about and without much fuss we just agree on the rhythm and onward we go.

AAJ:Tell me about the album Vlatko Stefanovski Trio.

VS: The album was recorded in 1998 and for the first time we recorded something more serious in my own studio (Esoteria). There were some tunes with vocals and some traditional reels. There is a tune called "Vlatkovo Oro" (Vlatko's Reel) which was called that as a joke. I feel very emotional about it. There were some interesting tracks like "UFO," which looks like heavy metal but actually it is an imaginative instrumental track.

The inspiration for the title was taken from a newspaper article "UFO nad Å tip" (UFO over Å tip). I served the army there and all those UFO sightseeing got me interested. Those UFO's are an inspiration to many. I think there was a band under the same name. All that is intriguing and is on the edge of common knowledge is always inspiring. Musicians always delve into territories that common people rarely go into.

AAJ: Beside this, you have extended this band into a nonet. What is the difference between playing with a group as this one compared to the trio or duo?

VS: It is a great pleasure to be performing with a big band. Those people took part in a group that played the music from the Kino Kultura album i.e. the soundtrack music I've been doing. It is difficult to organise them all and to have those people for a certain date since they all have their own obligations and arrangements. It is a great privilege to gather all those musicians at one place, especially these that I work with, since they perform regularly abroad, at weddings or are working somewhere else.

I cannot lead them and I cannot look after them as a band but I can only invite them as guests for a concert. With Kino Kultura we had two concerts (one at Sava Centar, Belgrade and the other at Univerzalna Sala, Skopje). It's a demanding work but the pleasure of playing with a band, where you are making music with other 8 musicians, is great. The pleasure is truly great and the musical matrix that these people are making, i.e. the background or the tapestry that they are capable of creating is really fantastic. It's a real enjoyment.
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