Slobodan Trkulja, musician: When the old meets the modern

We have created a new sound movement which is based on tradition, but also branches out into various sound segments while provoking a unique energetic experience.

The multi-instrumentalist and singer Slobodan Trkulja, who world music critics call ‘a Serbian national treasure’, will celebrate the 20th anniversary of Balkanopolis 2.0 with a spectacular concert called BALKANOPOLIS 2.0 in Sava Center on 25th November.

In the late 1990s, the contemporary world and ethno music reached their peak. What is the situation like today?

Balkanopolis is a promoter of modern tradition, a musical genre that emerged with the view of reviving our traditional music. I think that the real peak is happening now. Our music has become a part of the musical culture of our nation. Our audiences are people who love traditional music, classical music fans, fans of rock and roll, and even people who listen to techno music come to our concerts. Balkanpolis is in a very developed creative stage, its sound is homogenous and cohorent, and everything kind of sublimated to become a huge sound energy. Modern tradition has never been more stronger and more alive. We are playing all over the world, and, for 20 years now, we have been living for this sound. Often, our success surpasses that of mainstream bands.

How satisfying is to present our national treasure to the world?

It is hugely satisfying particularly when you present it in a modern day and form. I love seeing young people from all over the world enjoying in the modern sounds of Balkanopolis. The tradition contained within our sound completely fascinates them when they hear it for the first time. Owing to Balkanopolis, they are getting to know our ancient tradition, archaic singing, bagpipes, fife, kaval, Byzantine cantillation and the spirit of our people. There is a huge segment of our tradition that is yet to be heard by the rest of the world, and we are here to showcase this sound to everyone.

How does the worldwide audience react to your performances?

There are tears and emotions that only music can instigate in people. There is also a great excitement and even screaming like in a rock concert. In China, we gave autographs an hour after concerts. I should mention a Chinese boy from Shanghai who came to Balkanopolis’ concerts four nights in a row, totally mesmerized by our sound. In Russia, we received a standing ovation, both im Moscow and St. Petersburg. At a Scottish festival we had several encores. In Japan, where the audience is traditionally reserved and sometimes wait for a few seconds until they start applauding, we sometimes got an applause in the middle of a song because they just felt a need to do so.

What are your favourite songs to perform?

I like my path and creating music in front of audiences; you know, that moment when time and space stop existing and when only energy remains, floating in the air. I love singing several songs joined into one because that gets me into that special state that I described. Every song has its own nuance, different tempo and instruments, but they are all a part of the same energy. I pick very carefully the songs I am going to sing at a concert, because there is so much we would love to play, and then there are songs that the audience favours. I think that bagpipes slightly dominate over the other music instruments that we use both in our old and new songs.

Who was your biggest influence?

There are so many people whose love made me into what I am today. My father Nikola taught me how to have a positive outlook and joy in life, mother Mirjana how to use logic in making decisions, while my brother Mladen fed me with his brotherly love. My teacher Amalija Kučmaš was the first person to direct me towards music, Milorad Lonić and Ivan Szabo have kindled in me the love towards tradition that burns bright to this day, and the Kovilj monastery embraced me with their brotherly Christian love. Professor Ben from the Netherlands welcomed by uncoventionality and found a way to teach me music techniques while remaining true to myself. Love is demonstrated through people and now it is up to me to share the love, that I was showered with, with the whole world through music and songs that I create and perform.


What are your future plans?

All my attention is focused on celebrating our 20th anniversary and on our concert. I am happy to say that we are going to welcome to the stage musicians that used to play in Balkanopolis in the past. After that, we are embarking on a 12-date-tour in China. As a part of our 20th anniversary, we are going to release a video clip from the concert that we had in Kombank Arena in Belgrade. Early next year, we are going to release a maxi single called “Petrion” which was recorded with Mariza, Yiorgos Dalaras, Pelageya and Mayssa Karaa from Lebanon, all accompanied by the Metropol Orchestra from the Netherlands. In the early 2018, we are going to record new songs that we I have been working on for quite some time now. We remain true to the archaic and traditional sound and the energy that defines us. We are also willing to push our boundaries and progress with Balkanopolis’ sound map. A very exciting period is ahead of us.

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