Blesok no. 24, January-February, 2002
Interview with Synthesis
Our task is to protect the traditional music
Synthesis, the most significant Macedonian musical exporting product, the band that successfully combines the very roots of the Macedonian traditional music with the modern musical arrangements and trends, finished its concert circle (after Thessaloniki – Greece, Arizona and New York – USA, Milan – Italy, Lisbon – Portugal, Hueska – Spain, Bosho – Belgium, Krakow – Poland and Sidney, Melbourne and Pert – Australia) in front of the Skopje audience. So, Synthesis finished the year of 2001 in the best way, the year in which the grand concerts that this band made along with the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra did come true in their native country – in the Universal Hall in Skopje. The interview that follows here is made in the period before the planned new enterprises of this band all throughout the world. By the way, according the words of their executive producer Oliver Belopeta for the first half of 2002, the forced efforts are made for undertaking the serial of concerts along the Balkan countries – that understands: Slovenia, Croatia, FR Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey… Above that, he adds that it won’t be any surprise to do some concerts across the Atlantic again.
About Synthesis and its work and traces in time, here speaks Radoslav Šutevski (drums, percussion…), Marian Jovanovski (tambourines) and Goce Uzunski (drum, tarabuka, dajre). And, at the very beginning:
– Šutevski: Those two concerts we did with the Philharmonics, we consider them as the spectacles made only in one breath and no other way, because at the stage, at that time, there were over 100 people. A big, robust, but beautiful project… If you achieve your goals and fulfill the expectations, of course…
From the other point of view, the last year’s New Year Concert was an event when for the first time in front of the Skopje audience, we did come out as a band with a concept. So, we offered to the public the material from the album Swinging Macedonia with a different sound “picture” that was freed of any pomposity, but I think it was strong, energetic and direct. We were already heard with that music numbers in Ohrid, Bitola, Krushevo, and Kumanovo… but not in Skopje until this event. Finally, it was a really successful year, crowned with this grandiose concert, worthy of the band of our caliber. The audience was more than satisfied, which is more than enough for us.
– Šutevski: Absolutely. The material is already recorded, but now begins all of the work that should give a birth to this concert album. W e were impatient and we already did listen to the recordings and we confirmed our notion that we are in the right playing and musical form and mood, something you gain with all of that numerous rehearsals and concerts, but… It’s truly too soon to claim what should this album contain and what should be rejected, what to accent and what not… And, we can also add the information that most probably, the postproduction for this live-edition to be made in the studio of the great master of music Rabbi Abu Kalil in Germany instead in Ljubljana.
– Jovanovski: We know that the new songs are played very solid and well, namely – the material that wasn’t documented till now, so it’s logical to put in the album some of those new songs… As much as we need to claim the way we walk in music, what is that what we work on now, what provokes us… Simply, we wanted to see how will audience react on that kind of stuff, how much of it will accept, how much of that what we plan to work in future, and – the effort was worth of making it. Our opinion is that the audience largely approves our choice of way in music, and that should be documented. Also, there were five songs we didn’t perform before in front of the domestic audience, and that’s something. Now it comes out that with this concert album we almost have a new, unplanned album! Anyway, we’ll leave that to the time to show.
* When you say that you would like to see how will audience react on the new material, does that mean that Synthesis is in a dilemma to change something in its recognizable sound?
– Jovanovski: No, that’s not an issue here. We maintain our sound further, but we wouldn’t like to stagnate. Therefore, we intent to go deeper into the traditional sources, and process that what we find through this “instrumentarium” of ours.
– Uzunski: At the concert, I believe that you noticed on e really “explosive” music number with only zurla and drum we played with Goce Dimovski. It’s a real concert favorite, as for the audience’s reaction tells us… At the first listening, it seems that it is pure traditional, untouched… but when one listens to it carefully, one can notice that it’s quite different and much rearranged. We want to walk the way of giving the old, traditional music – the needed contemporary glow…
– Jovanovski: There is, also, another instrumental song with very complex rhythm. The title of this song is, naturally, Macedonian rhythmic, and it will, absolutely, find its place in our third studio album. Also, there is one vocally instrumental theme with a title Oj, javore! (Oh, sycamore), which is, probably, yet to get its final form, but we expect it to be a true surprise for the audience. All together, it is our common quest for the less known things from our national ethno and folklore “music treasury”. We do endure, consistently and persistently, every day, and day by day.
* Knowing that with the mentioned above concerts you closed the cycle of your Grand World Tour, how do you see the spectacle you did in May 2001 with the Philharmonics? Was it too ambitious project?
– Šutevski: We are overwhelmed by the concerts with the Philharmonics and the Grand Choir – and literally enchanted with all that happened in the Universal Hall in Skopje. We think that we did a historical spectacle, which will be long remembered. But, I also want to say the next: if we would repeat ourselves, we certainly would rehearse more intensive. Namely, because of our schedule at that time, we had a very little time to rehearse for such an event.
– Jovanovski: I can also say this: There were some announcements from some relevant people that this concert should be seen by the audience in Belgrade, Sofia, Ljubljana, Budapest… in all of the capitols of all Balkan states… It really wouldn’t be easy regarding the fact that in every different country we would probably have to engage their domestic Philharmonics. It requires huge engagements from us also, but…
– Šutevski: Here, I’ll reveal some other thing, something that isn’t widely known, even in the band. There is an offer for merge of the Bosnian and Macedonian Philharmonic musicians in order to do a concert in Sarajevo with us.
* And, can you tell me how much your next studio album will differ from your previous ones? If in the first of yours albums the synthesis was done through a mild and a little naïve electronic arrangements, and if in the second album Swinging Macedonia you emphasized the merge of the classical instruments with the traditional ones giving to the material wide epic dimension, what should be next from you?
– Šutevski: The basics are: one shouldn’t rush. It doesn’t mean that we hide something now, but it means that we would like to let the things rest for a little while, and then to begin with work. And, you see, it doesn’t matter how much you struggle to make a new step-aside here, especially in traditional and ethno music – you’re there again anyway, it’s the same space, the same area. We only seek new modalities to give our music a new, little different light. Some of that already happened at our World Tour, but that isn’t even close to what we intent to do further. These are the beginning steps, the first sparkles, the introductory contours of our next music phase.
– Jovanovski: We plan not only to offer the music compositions that are born in the our playing game as musicians, but we intent to dig out to open some of the very old music that our ancestors were playing, singing and listening, long time ago. It’s the case of the song Oj, javore (Oh, sycamore), that the Macedonian public, mainly, didn’t have the opportunity to hear. We’ll try to “revive” it as we did with the song Vo nashe selo (In our village), Me fatije, mila mamo… (I was caught, dear mother…) Some old, almost forgotten songs, we want to renew them and to revive them, in order to bring them back to the people.
– Šutevski: We have already chosen to stick to the Macedonian tradition and we do not wish to escape from that. We don’t need drastically different sound, or, God forbid that, somebody else’s music and tradition. Although Macedonia was always, not only a Balkan, but Mediterranean and even Euro-Asian crossroad the people and cultures mixed, it’s of great importance for us not to allow any kind of influence of elements that can jeopardize our musical form and the rich Macedonian music language.
– Jovanovski: It’s a thin line between the “pulp” and the art. We are being so much careful at that issue, that there is almost no danger for that sacrilege to happen with us, and within our band. In contrary, our task is to protect the traditional music and to emphasize its universal values.
– Šutevski: When we see that something is wrong with that what we play, we’ll be the first who will say – stop, that’s it, no more! If we sense that the audience is fed with us, then we’ll also quit, or we’ll continue to look for some new modality to overcome that state. We’ll never force it, or “rape” it, as we say…
– Uzunski: Anyway, we try to give as much contrast to our Macedonian music, as we can. If we offer the folklore in its source form, in its basics, then we open ourselves to be misunderstood and accepted only as some exotic band with exotic music and nothing more than that. Like this – something else happens. Our concerts are honored with special attention all throughout the world. East or West, it doesn’t make difference. It’s the same. We were delighted by the reactions of the Portuguese audience. There, we were treated as some great commercial stars, what we are not – de facto. It really (pleasantly) surprised us.
* And, when we speak of the audience and its reactions, now, when you’re concert year is over, how do you see the audience’s reception worldwide, and some particularities from your performances? How much difference is between the audience in New York avant-garde club Knitting Factory and the audience of the Sphinx Festival in Belgium, or maybe in Lisbon in Portugal? And how was the reception of the Macedonians in Australia?
– Uzunski: Mainly, the reactions of the audience are identical everywhere where we played. We can’t say is it such because of our Macedonian rhythms, the instrument’s treatment, the sound “color” of the kaval, the bagpipe, the zurla, the strength of the drum… or the vocal performances of the girls, the merger we made between the old and the new, we really don’t know, but the reaction is always a storm of enchantment and delight, with no matter – whatsoever – where we play…
* Are such reactions just because you sound exotic to them or…
– Šutevski: No, that’s not an issue here. They would look upon us exotica if we would play raw, from the source, unchanged. I think that the merger we do does the trick, because a lot approach us and say that it sounds pretty modern to them. Often they ask us why our music is so sad, and so powerful at the same time. Anywhere we played, the audience always did recognize the emotions. We never had a concert where we weren’t called back on stage for additional play. It speaks enough about everything, I believe.
* It’s noticeable that even in spite of that success you have no status of music stars, and I may notice that the present situation suits you.
– Jovanovski: It doesn’t mean anything to us to be, well – popular. I have an impression that this way we are better. I thing that I would even hate to be recognized in the street by the people with their comments like: here, this is the guy from Synthesis.
– Uzunski: We feel more comfortable this way.
– Šutevski: None of us suffers from the wish to be a star. Even if we put aside Mirjana, Aneta and Biljana who in certain moment are “in the heat” at the scene, Look at all of us others. And, to whom does it suits to be popular, anyway? What’s important is that Synthesis now functions as a little community, where everyone gives his part with his own ideas; we all approach with respect to every idea within the group members. In our work, sometimes we oppose to each other, and sometimes we even quarrel, but it’s always in the frames of the work, and it’s – always – for the benefit and for the best of our work, and for the whole musical concept of ours.
Translated by: Petar Volnarovski