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Vlatko Stefanovski: Until I Satisfy My Artistic Appetite

Nenad Georgievski By

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AAJ: What are some of the unique aspects of Leb i Sol?

VS: That band, with some of its songs, has set a manifesto for how, what today is known as ethnic music should be done. Leb i Sol was a band that at the time was superior when it came to its playing capabilities. We laid the foundations for what in the Balkans is known as ethnic or world music. We approached the folklore in a very spontaneous and brave manner, while retaining our image of a rock'n'roll band. Although we had an image like that still the music was totally different, authentic and pure.

AAJ:Where did the idea and the inspiration for covering folk tunes with Leb i Sol come from?

VS: Intuitively, it was a totally unconscious decision and we had no idea that it will be given such enormous importance. I think that's a healthy approach towards the tradition i.e. one must not be entrapped by it nor one should be afraid of it. One has to use what is given to him, without any stress or fear that he might make a mistake. Off course, the responsibility is enormous when it comes to dealing with Macedonian folklore as it is very rich, colorful and precise and one should not play too much with it. I have a very laid back approach towards that folklore. I know it as much as I know it and i don't know it as much as i don't. I hope to get to know it more every day.

For St. Nicholas (their family saint), we had a family reunion and believe me for 3 hours people sang songs that I never heard before. I just stood there listening to songs that are archaic and totally forgotten. But some of my relatives knew these songs. That's incredible, and all of this is passed on to our children.

AAJ: The last thing that Leb i Sol ever published was Anthology. Do you think a compilation such as this will give a right presentation of the band's work during the twenty years of their existence?

VS:Well, we worked together a lot and twenty years is not a short period of time. That period was very fruitful. It is a difficult and daunting task to make a selection of what is good and what is not. But some things you know, as things have cleared out and you can tell which songs are anthological and which are not.

AAJ: Twenty years of hard work with this band carries a lot of luggage and expectations. How do you deal with those things?

VS: I can't meet everyone's expectations. There is a thing called memorabilia, i.e. collecting relics from the past and i don't want to do that. Recently, I even find it difficult to have my photograph taken with fans. It seems that everyone these days has a digital camera. I have to admit that I really hate those flash lights as I think my eyeballs will explode. How important are those photographies if you haven't spoken at least 3 words with that person. That's it; I cannot meet everyone's expectations. I can't publish that kind of releases that people think I should do. I can only do what I think it should be done.

AAJ: People remember Leb i Sol as a concert/live attraction, just as much as the band you are now playing with. Why are there so little official live recordings by this band? Why not publishing something from the archives?

VS: The reason for that is because Leb i Sol never had real management and no one to initiate those things. All the record companies that we worked with took the liberty to re-release some of our albums and to make their own compilations without asking us, since they have the right to do that. These are ungrateful and nasty things that I really despise.

AAJ: Your music is an inspiration to many but what were some of your influences when you first started?

VS: When I was a kid my biggest inspiration were the Beatles. It was my brother who listened to them and with him i started listening to them too. They started a revolution in my world and they left their imprint on me. For eg., the first time i listened to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club band I thought what sort of magical world is this? Beside the Beatles i began to mess with my brother's LP's and I got hooked on the music he listened at the time. I was lucky to have an older brother who listened the right music at the right time: John Mayall, Cream, Free, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Dylan, everything that was related to the Woodstock generation, Joni Mitchell, Ten Years After, Santana, etc.

I must point Joni Mitchell as an enormous inspiration. She is a sort of a renaissance artist. You can't tell what she does best, whether she is a better singer, a better painter or a poet. She is a genius and she had a huge influence on me. I think if I was influenced by someone else but Joni Mitchell I think i might have been a more commercial author. I'm always looking for oblique strategies or different roads to thread which often leads me through thorny roads. I don't follow what is happening in the mainstream i.e. I'm not like a bulldozer that knows only to move in one direction. I can easily compare my music to watercolor paintings and insofar as i'm always searching for new colors, shades and landscapes that haven't been painted yet. Joni Mitchell is also an inspiration because of her taste relation to Van Gogh, who is also a great inspiration when it comes to painting. I had an opportunity to see an exhibition of his paintings in Amsterdam. Since I was a kid he was an inspiration to me.

I remember at our house we had all kinds of art books that I went through with great interest. During that period i was really delighted by Leonardo Da Vinci both as a scientist, painter, physician, philosopher i.e. a man with a renaissance spirit. Joni Mitchell has a technique that pretty much resembles Van Gogh's. Actually, she paints exactly like him i.e. she has the same movements, technique, lights. Because of that, i can relate to her quite well. One of my unfulfilled desires is to play a guitar on any of her songs. She played with some of the greatest—Pat Metheny, Jaco Pastorious, Mingus, Wayne Shorter. The woman is a genius. The album Hejira had an enormous impact on me. Jaco also plays bass there and to me that record is perfect for traveling. Actually, that record is some sort of inner pilgrimage for her.

Later, when my playing affinities started to surface, i got interested in other types of music. It's then that i discovered Yes, Focus, ELP, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chic Corea and i began listening to fusion and sympho-rock stuff that is attractive to players. I was lucky to see performances by John McLaughlin and Shakti, Weather Report, Billy Cobham Band and all kinds of bands. My greatest role models among the guitarists were Allan Holdsworth and Jan Akerman who played fast and I myself went into that direction.

AAJ: You even announced Allan Holdsworth before his performance at the Skopje's Jazz Festival in 1997.

VS:I did that with the utmost pleasure! Still, i find inspiration in anything, i.e. a bit of everything. Reading, listening to music, going to concerts. That can be a great inspiration especially when I see that someone is really good in what he is doing and that can be very fulfilling. I find inspiration in everything and all of the things that are happening around me, starting from reading newspapers, watching TV, talking with people and the greatest inspiration and the best school can be the direct communication with people.

To have a cup of coffee with a great artist means much more than four years spent at college. I was lucky to have an opportunity to have a cup of coffee with Blaze Konevski, Dushan Vukotic (an Oscar winner for an animated feature) or to have an opportunity to hang out with actors such as Miki Manojlovich, Rade Sherbedzhija, Mira Furlan. I was lucky enough to meet directors such as Slobodan Unkovski, Ljubisa Ristic, Rajko Grlic, Stole Popov, Jeshim Nostaugu. One learns most by communicating with top artists. It's very important to have good associates and to be lucky to meet extraordinary people.

AAJ: Quite early in your career, you had the opportunity to perform in front of 100,000 people at Hajduchka Chesma. What's the difference between performing in front of an audience such as the one at Hajduchka Chesma and club performances?

VS: I find it easier to play in front of big audiences as I can easily abstract them and see them as a group. Because of that there is no need to feel afraid or to have stage fright. As for club performances just by seeing a pair of evil eyes would be enough for you to feel uncomfortable. But then again there aren't any specific rules about it. One must not allow his concentration to wander around nor to allow losing the thrill of the performance.

If you loose control just for a second you'll be in a lot of trouble. In any case, one should gather enough strength and concentration so he can function in front of an audience as big as that one. In those circumstances your music must not reach a distance of 3 meters in front of your amplifiers but much further. It's a special technique that cannot be described with words. You have to meet the demands of 100.000 people or to generate energy for 100.000 people, if you want to go home happy and satisfied.

AAJ: During your solo career despite the numerous concerts you have done you have only one live album (Live in Belgrade with Miroslav Tadic). Do you plan to release a live recording with your current band in near future?

VS: We plan to do that. I already have a nice collection of live recordings from performances in Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Germany and other places. I have to go through those recordings since i often tape my performances. What matters is that the performance must be good and the quality of the recording should also be technically good. I think there might be a live recording coming out soon.

AAJ: What is the relationship with your audiences like? What sort of emotions or reaction do you hope is provoked in your listeners?

VS: You can say that I delve for them through emotions and I delve deep. When I play something i know exactly what i'm doing. I'm doing that for them. I have taken that task to entertain them but a bit differently compared to those who play different type of music. I strive to touch their hearts and to give them emotions that they already have and which they are ready to receive. The music I make comes from my deepest feelings. Each of us has those feelings. Someone has locked those feelings in a safe box or has fenced his feelings with a Chinese wall. There are different types of people, but still, more or less, we are all much the same. With my music I'm trying to help them to reach out to themselves. Or as Rambo Amadeus (Montenegrin avant-garde musician) has said that this is a mass psycho therapy. All those big concerts are just mass psycho therapies, i.e one big moment of discharging and cleansing. On the other hand, I'll be glad if I can show to younger generations that you can work for a living by playing music.
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