By Folk Combo, Mar 21 2015 04:11PM
On how Folk Combo slipped downhill to Ohrid’s Lake, got enchanted by the Oliver’s Rumbacho from Bitola, became a resident band for a week at the Old Town Brewery in Skopje, learned all about the Macedonian folk with Velika and immersed themselves for two days in the snow of Pristina
After being released from the drug inspectors at the Albanian border and getting an easy way trough the Macedonian one, we drove the Villa downhill, still afraid of our lack of wheel chains. Macedonia welcomed us with a wet night in Ohrid, where we camped next to the big lake. The next day we were blessed with a sunny day and we seized the opportunity to do some busking and earn some 'denars' next to the statues of the brothers Cyril and Methodius, the guys responsible for the cyrilic (кирилица) alphabet, used in Macedonia, other countries of the Balkans and Russia.
From Ohrid we drove to Bitola. It was raining there too and we decided to keep on driving to Skopje. But before continuing our journey we wanted to recharge a bit so we had coffee and cake in the Art Caffe, where one more time destiny had something unexpected waiting for us. We met Oliver, the owner of the place, who sat down with us and heard us out about our adventures. He knew a place in Skopje for us to go and provided us with the contact of an old friend of his. Then more ideas came to his mind and he took us to the Porta Jazz, a notorious jazzclub in Bitola where we could perform. He was devoting all his attention on us and sometimes it is surprising to see how one person becomes involved in our dynamic. Oliver is another example of the kind hearted and interesting people that are so wiling to help us and stop whatever activites they are involved in and share whatever they have to offer. He would, in many ways, define our coming days in Macedonia. While waiting for Dado, the owner of the jazz club, Oliver took us out to a restaurant. He made us try delicious Macedonian food and rakijas and thought of some more ideas to take our project to other distant places. We went back to the jazzclub and got a deal to play there the following night. The night ended quite late with a nightcap back at the Art Caffe where we got to know his crew and enjoyed a glass of red wine while we played them a couple of our tunes; it was the first time Macedonian people listened to us playing our Macedonian songs and we got their blessings. The morning after we tried more of Oliver's homemade speciallities, Gijs's favourite: 'rumbacho'. The perfect balance between RUM, BAnana and CHOcolate...delicious! We both were very impressed by the amount of effort and creativity Oliver puts into his work. His place has a very relaxed atmosphere, good music, original recipes and a gallery for artists to exhibit paintings and art. He told us he was a painter too but due to the course of life, which sometimes goes against your dreams, he had to put his creativity into a different form. We were surprised to find out that if it was up to Oliver, he wouldn't be in this kind of business, reminding us that not everybody is free to shape the course of their lives. It was a beautiful day and we went for a busking session in Bitola before going to set up the show at the Porta Jazz. At the club, we were hosted by Vasko, one of the managers. He treated us as real artists and he took us out for lunch and arranged us accomodation for the night. The show went great and the place was busy with people. We got a lot of positive feedback and we were thrilled with being the focus of attention of so many listeners who seemed to like these two folkies.
We said goodbye to Bitola and its lovely people and went to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. This city is crowded with statues and buildings of grandeur. It has a strange beauty; on one hand this revival of prestiguous antiquity allows you to dream about the golden days, but on the other hand one could doubt what is beneath the surface, seeing a big contrast existing between the train station and the Alexander the Great Square. These social and political problems are on the tip of everybody's tongue. First we went to the library to hunt for folk music transcriptions. Macedonia has a special place in our musical interest since it is one of the most diverse; they don't call the mix of fruits a Macedonian salad for nothing. Although there was plenty of material, it took a lot of effort to get hold of it. We had to subscribe to a list of conditions with a letter to the director to emphasize the scientific and educational purposes of our humble project. Eventually we made friends with Eleni and her collegues, who also admitted being frustrated with the new laws about copyrights and the digitalization policies of the library. This clearly made their work a lot harder too. We made a nice selection of scores and we could pick them up after the weekend. Eleni also connected us to a friend of hers, Velika, an etnomusicologist who works at the Institute for Folklore, who we would meet later that week.
The next day, we went to meet Pane Temov, an old friend of Oliver. This man, who once was a professional puppet artist, now runs two bars in Skopje together with his friend Fimka and they organize many cultural events in Macedonia. The Old Town Brewery is a place where the audience has the chance to listen to live music everyday, order food and drinks at any time of the late night and whose wide space lets one find a spot in the loud or in the quiet side of life. We introduced ourselves to Pane, trying to catch his attention with our stories for more than 5 minutes, which was quite a challenge due to his hyper character and the demands of the bussiness. Pane has had such an inspirational life that is difficult not to dream with half of the experiences he went though; he has travelled all around the world starting as a street puppet artist till getting offers to perform in big festivals, for important personalities (the Dutch queen) and for TV shows (Sesame Street). The Invisible Master is one the multiple faces of this man who is driven by a genuine life philosophy and has taken the busking art to a higher level, like creating the Buskerfest of Skopje. On the question about what is left of that bohemian life style reaching the fifty-something with children and so many employees under his eye, Pane replied: “I was happy doing my show then and I’m happy with the new challenges of today, guess it’s a matter of being satisficed with your choices”. After having the feeling to be in the right bohemian world Pane provided us with food and a place to stay for almost a week, what made us to forget about the hard time experienced during the last stormy week. We became one of the residential bands, starting the nights as the appetizers before the other artists.
Twice, we met with Velika Stojkova, dedicated ethnomusicologist at the Institute for Folklore of Macedonia. We were received at her office in an almost impossible place to be found. She looked young and modern, in character and in methods. We had clarifying conversations about the state of art of Macedonian folklore, her research and our little project. It was very insightful to let her draw us the picture of her country, not only concerning music culture. In the course of this trip we already learned that the Balkans are the meeting point between East and West, but now we understood that Macedonia is “the thermometer of stability of the Balkans due to the complex scenario regarding ethnicities, confessions and the geopolitical position” –said Velika. “ “One of our neighbors denies our name, the other our borders and another one our language”. The knowledge that Velika was unfolding in front of our eyes made clear to us how the beauty of the Macedonian music shapes a whole identity created by a real diversity, lived and breathed by the people we met there, singing, dancing and knowing it by heart. Hope to collaborate with you Velika in a near future, thanks for the lessons.
To complete the list of the former Yugoslavia we went to Pristina, capital of Kosovo. At the border, we were told that car insurance that wasn't covered by our 'Bosnia Green Card' and we had to buy an insurance. Getting a bit tired with all this border stuff we almost went back but eventually we gave in, knowing that we would regret it later if we wouldn't go.. It was snowing and freezing in Pristina. At first glance, Pristina looks like a quiet city, very international oriented with a considerable big amount of police (governmental and UN). Mainly populated by Albanians, the city shows statues with guns in honor of some heroes fallen during the war, some of them also were redecorated with the Albanian flag, which in any case shows the healing process that the whole country is inmersed in. By the hand of some people from Mitrovice (a city more to the north in the country) we heard that one extreme case of this process is happening in their city, divided by the river in two sides, where Serbians and Albanians never cross the bridge to meet each other.
Pane connected us with Alex and Etida who own a beer brewery called the Sebanja. They took us to a little coffee/bookshop, the Dit 'e Nat (day and night), where we met Bardh, who programmed us for a show that night. The listeners were very interested and when the music finished, the show developed into a sort of lecture about our trip. We, being the folklorist-musician-researchers, explained our goals, methods and findings, while the audience asked questions. One of the guys in the audience asked us: "But WHY do you play OUR music? It is not cool!" We really had to defend our position and show him that we didn't have any bad intentions. The way the night developed was great and afterwards we got to meet many of the people inside. They bought us drinks and the topic of our adventure continued to shape the conversations. Later that night, together with our new friends, we went to a reggae show in a basement bar. They definitely know how to party in Pristina and hours later, after dancing and drinking, we returned to the Villa happy and satisfied with the great day in snowy Pristina. At the National library, we met Schkumbin, a teacher and singer, who made sure that we got everything we wanted from their archives. He was very hepfull and lended us his office and scanner and really became part of our team for a little while, suggesting all kind of potentional sources and contacts, like the Radio Kosovo. There we met Selvete Ismaili, an award winning composer, who lost her manuscripts during the war, and Remzi, who provided us of nummeorus recordings of Kosovarian music. We said goodbye to Pristina and prepared to go to south of Romania. Such a week...