Svetlana Spajic Group
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Svetlana Spajic Group

Belgrade, Central Serbia, Serbia

Belgrade, Central Serbia, Serbia
Band World A Capella


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"Zegar zivi"

Text of feature on Žegar Živi in fRoots magazine, May 2008
This is the text of a piece written by Andrew Cronshaw that appeared in fRoots magazine, May 2008. (For the full piece including photos you'll have to look at the print mag!)

"And so we meet here, and we have finally done something, to show something to the world, for our people, for this rocky Bukovica, to preserve the old culture. That is my aim. I never wanted to make money or a career out of it; just to keep up the old traditions, to hand them over to the younger generation, thought it seems we don't stand much chance of that. Our good children are leaving and when they settle some place else they take up the new ways, forget the names of their grandfathers and where they are buried, forget the names of their grandmothers, and how they worked. They simply surrender to the new place and forget everything they learned here. What I have done is not much, but I believe that it will be appreciated some day in the future, when I go to the other world; somebody will remember me and the fight I have been fighting for twenty five years now."

Vojo Radmilovic is a Serb from the village of Žegar, which is in Dalmatia, the narrow strip that stretches south-eastward between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Adriatic in the south of the C-shaped state of Croatia. Barely forty kilometres from the holiday hotels of the coast, Žegar and its surrounding area of Bukovica is another world, up in the Dinaric hill-country, a landscape of sharp concrete-grey karst outcrops, wide green valleys, deep gorges and clear blue-green rivers. Except for the sounds of water, piping frogs and the calls of swallows and bee-eaters, it's a quiet place; in the 1990s this region, known as the Kninska Krajina, was the scene of appalling violence and the widespread destruction and looting of homes, and the majority of the population fled. Those few who have returned, few of them young, have an uphill struggle, rebuilding their houses or, like Vojo and his family, finding theirs too devastated to be rebuilt and so finding another they can make habitable, moving on if its original owners return.

The long fight Vojo speaks of isn't the physical one at the behest of governments or self-appointed warlords, it's a struggle to keep a place in the present day for the rich rural culture of his region, particularly its extraordinary vocal music. The war scattered the population and halted the living tradition, but it didn't kill it – it lives on in Vojo, his wife Milja, his godfather Dragomir "Lujo" Vukanac, his old friend Obre Milic and some of the others who have returned. Alongside finding and rebuilding a place to live, and subsisting by means of their flock of goats, Vojo and Milja sang with their children and friends including Lujo and Obre. As well as songs in the na bas ('over the bass') harmonising style, the region is the last outpost of a truly remarkable and distinctive older form of singing, known there as groktalica or sometimes orzalica, whose relatives in other parts of Dalmatia, in Lika and the Bosnian Krajina to the north, and in western Serbia, have died out. Using loud, edgy voices, a solo singer first sings the lyrics, a second singer repeats and sometimes adds to them, then the rest of the singers hold a powerful unison drone while a third lays over it groktenje, a wild, oscillating, almost yodelling line that beats against the drone with a thrilling, percussive effect. ..:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

In Serbian culture Orthodox monasteries are landmarks and gathering places, and each summer many exiles return to meet at Krka monastery to the south-east of Bukovica. There in 2005 the Žegar group met Svetlana Spajic. To my ears she's Serbia's most striking singer of traditional songs, born in Loznica in western Serbia and now living in Belgrade, whom seekers after Balkan music might have heard on the three excellent Srbija Sounds Global compilations on the B92 label, or guesting with traditional band Belo Platno. She'd been fascinated by Dalmatian singing since seeing in Belgrade, in the early 1990s, Dalmatian traditional singer Jandrija Baljak with his then group Jandrino Jato ('Jandrija's Flock'). In 2005 she went to the Krka gathering, and there encountered Vojo and Milja, who were singing there with two of their three children. She sang, with Dinarke, a group of young women from Dalmatia and Lika who'd come together in Belgrade, Žegar polje goji janje moje ('Žegar field feeds my lamb'). The Radmilovics heard it, and the result was several hours of singing and conversation, in the course of which she asked Vojo if he knew what had happened to Jandrija, who with his 'flock' had been a very popular singer in the region before the war; it had been said in Belgrade that he'd died. Not so, Vojo told her; Jandrija had returned from wartime exile in Bosnia and was living with his wife back at their old home in the villag - fRoots, May 2008

"Transcription of ZZ CD review by Lucy Duran, Joe Boyd & Max Reinhardt"

Transcription of ZZ CD review by Lucy Duran, Joe Boyd & Max Reinhardt on BBC R3 "World Routes"
The Žegar Živi CD was reviewed on BBC Radio 3's "World Routes" programme, presented by Lucy Duran, on Saturday May 24th. It's available for streaming on demand at but only until 3pm on Saturday May 31st. So below is a transcript.

(This wasn't scripted, it was a spontaneous discussion, and is transcribed unedited with perceptions, factual information and opinions as they occurred to the speaker, and hasn't been tidied up or corrected; please don't take anything said here as 'ex cathedra' !)

Lucy Duran (host)(ethnomusicologist, record producer):

The music that we've heard so far has been by great professional Gypsy musicians. But I think it's much more difficult to find good recordings of ordinary songs that people sing in villages; and in fact the sleeve notes of Song of the Crooked Dance highlight the fact that rural village music was very often under-represented in the Bulgarian record industry. Obviously songs in villages are a really important part of local culture and identity, but often that's exactly the music that everyone takes for granted, and therefore nobody wants to listen to on disc. And so even though village songs can be really beautiful and fascinating, very often it's the first kind of music that goes. So here's a very special album of a unique song tradition that's beautifully recorded, against all the odds.

This is not music that you dance to, it's music that you listen to and you marvel at, for lots of reasons. It's from a village in Croatia called Žegar, and that's where the music was recorded, and the title of the album is Žegar Živi, which in Serbian means "Žegar Lives". And I've chosen a track from this album that's in a style of acapella singing that connects with the ancient styles of polyphony from eastern Europe and from the Mediterranean islands, and even as far as Georgia. So here's one astonishing example of that. This is Dalmatian village music for shepherdesses, from Žegar Živi:

(Plays track 3, Cetiri djevojacke pjesme (Four "maidens'" or "shepherdesses'" songs)

That song, the Serbian title of which I'm not going to try and pronounce, is translated as "Four maidens' or shepherdesses' songs". And it's sung by four people from the village of Žegar, and the fifth one is a singer who is also Serbian, she now lives in Belgrade; her name is Svetlana Spajic, and she's the inspiration, along with Andrew Cronshaw, for the recording of this fine album from Croatia, and it's actually on Andrew's label Cloud Valley.

While we were listening to it, Max, you were making some comments about village music…

Max Reinhardt (guest reviewer)(world music DJ, radio presenter):

Well, um, the first point I wanted to make is that although I love individual tracks, when you sit and listen to them all – and I think this is a kind of production point, 'cause it's brilliant that he, that you record stuff round a table, and if you're there in a small room with some fantastic singing or music going on in a small space, that's very overpowering and wonderful. But I'm very grateful that towards the end of the album he moves to a marble hall and you get a lot of reverb, real, natural reverb, on the voices, and for me it feels like a tremendous relief. Um, you, know, I love the whole thing…

Lucy interjects:

It gives it kind of a Mystère du Voix Bulgare sound, though, doesn't it? When you get that reverb. It's not meant to be…

Max interjects:

That's true, it does take the hard edge off it…

Lucy continues:

…it's not meant to sound like that…

Max continues:

… it does take the hard edge off it, but it's still very beautiful. But I'm not saying I prefer that, I'm just saying it was a relief, because… where do you listen to an album like this? Apart from odd tracks on the radio? If you said to someone "Look, I've bought you this for Christmas", when would they play it?

Joe Boyd (guest reviewer)(record producer, writer) interjects:

I would be very happy, myself!


Yes, I agree with Joe. I mean, I celebrate an album like this, because there are in fact so few recordings available of village music. Like the Georgian music that we recorded on World Routes some months ago; I mean, that is music that… OK, it's meant to be sung sitting around a table, with the table groaning with food, and you're drinking wine and toasting, and so on, but it's also a really really special, really beautiful music, that is threatened.


And I… I mean, I agree with Max that it's, in one sense, I think that if a music is beautiful it's worth recording as well as possible. So if you can get it into a good acoustic chamber that enhances the sound quality, great. But I'm very happy to sit down and listen to a record like this from beginning to end. And it's also… I'm speaking not as an ethnomusicol - BBC R3 "World Routes"

"CD review, Zegar zivi"

CD review, Songlines magazine
Žegar Živi

Cloud Valley CV3008

Full Price (45 min)

* * * *

Serbian village people

Once you've got past the infuriatingly confusing typography on the cover - actually the title in Cyrillic and Latin script - there's some extraordinary music here. Apart from Topic Records, there's nobody releasing good ethnographic recordings in the UK, so this rare voyage into Serbian village music in Dalmatia (Croatia) is a rarity. It was the voice of singer Svetlana Spajic that first convinced producer Andrew Cronshaw to make this disc, but this CD is very much the music of a community, not a soloist. The singers and musicians are Serbian residents of Žegar, near Obrovac in Croatia, who had fled during the Serbo-Croatian war, but who have now returned to their shattered village where these songs and instrumental pieces were recorded.

Svetlana Spajic is lead singer on several songs, while the village singers feature the full and throaty voices of Jandrija Baljak, Dragomir Vukanac, Vojislav Radmilovic and female singer Miljka Radmilovic in the local solo call-and-group-response style called groktalica, which uses a strongly trilled voice. The featured instrument is the loud diple (single-reed double pipes) played by Obrad Milic in different locations around the village. Other tracks include typical village sounds such as drinking toasts, the village goats (and goat herders), and the church bells, although these might have made a better opening than conclusion. This disc lets you eavesdrop on a little­-known village culture and ends (before the church bells) with the polyphonic song 'Zhegar Field Feeds My Lamb', a gloriously rich song about the abundance of the village in the reverberant acoustic of the school.

Simon Broughton
- Songlines magazine

"CD review, Zegar zivi"

CD review, fRoots magazine
Phil Wilson, fRoots, May 2008:

"How often do we see impulsive decisions resulting in good albums? Andrew Cronshaw went to Belgrade to meet the Serbian revival singer Svetlana Spajic and ended up rashly volunteering to go to Dalmatia to record this group of village singers. Not that much else about the recording was so simple and straightforward. Certainly not the singing – mainly in highly developed and little heard traditional styles. Nor the circumstances – a difficult trip to a war-damaged mountain village – nor even the geography.

The singers for a start are not actually Croats (though Dalmatia is the long finger of Croatia that runs down the Adriatic coast), but Dinaric Serbs, so-named after the mountains where they herd animals and from which they fled as refugees during the Balkan conflict. The singers seemingly have been among the first people to return to their war-damaged village and part of the aim of this project – the group's name and title translates as Žegar Lives! – is to encourage others to do the same and to rebuild what was once a thriving community. Included in this excellent six-strong group is the wonderfully-whiskered Jandrija Baljak (a famous traditional singer both before the war and during his exile in Bosnia) and Svetlana Spajic herself, who is central to the project and has spent much time travelling to the village to sing with and learn from the other members.

Apart from a few virtuoso turns in the diple (a double-reed pipe like a bagpipe chanter) by Obrad Milic, the material largely consists of powerful vocal performances by the group. One of the singers usually takes the lead against a complex and rich harmony from the other members. Listen in particular for tow quite fascinating styles. Na bas (over the bass) is a Serbian style of rich two-part harmony that delivers two of the album's finest moments. The opening piece (whose title translates as 'I was born in Žegar') goes straight to the heart of both the theme and the music, but even this is surpassed by a final song that catches the cathedral-like tone of the local school hall. The other important style (groktalica) is considered the most 'developed' of Serbian vocal forms and is now rare outside Dalmatia. It's notable for an unusual quavering style of ornamentation; a similar technique was referred to as "shaking singing" in Bosnian Krajina. Not all of the tracks are so rarefied. There's a nice suite of shepherdess songs (led by Miljka Radmilovic), drinking toasts and even the ambient sounds of the flock and the village church bells.

This is not singing that the uninitiated might take to on a casual hearing - the richness and power of Georgian singing comes more readily to mind as a quick comparison than some better-known Balkan styles - but it'll grow on you. One suspects it could turn out to be a ground-breaking venture and although 400 goats may curtail any touring plans, this project deserves to bring the singers, the area and even Svetlana Spajic to much wider notice."

- fRoots, May 2008

"CD review, Zegar zivi"

CD review - The Guardian, UK
John L. Walters, The Guardian, 18th April 2008:

"This exuberant, mainly vocal album, co-produced by the British musician Andrew Cronshaw and the Serbian singer Svetlana Spajic, may put Serbian village music on the world-music map. Cronshaw travelled to Zegar, a war-scarred but recovering village in Croatia, to record this strange, powerful music on a laptop. The title track (translated as Zegar Lives) thanks God for "the fact that the village and the tradition are still alive ... in the hope that people will come back to their birthplaces". It was written by the legendary local folk singer Jandrija Baljak, once exiled in Bosnia, who sports a splendidly grizzled moustache. The opening U Zegaru Rodila Me Nana (I Was Born in Zegar) is a new song in traditional style led by the wonderful Spajic; Obrad Milic blows some hair-raising instrumentals on the diple, a chanter-like wind instrument. It can seem otherworldly, but it's also earthy and uncompromising." - The Guardian, April 2008


-Moba - Prioni mobo/Come On Harvest Helpers, BILJEG, 1994.
-Drina: Traditional Serbian Singing – Živa voda, Promezzia, Svetigora, 2000.
-Extended Europe, live in Vienna, SALON ELISE - VIENNA, 2002.
-Pesme iznad Istoka i Zapada/The Songs Above East and West, compilation, PGP RTS 2000.
-Srbija Sounds Global vol. 1, B92 2000.
-Srbija Sounds Global vol. 2, B92, 2002.
-Srbija Sounds Global vol. 3, B92, 2004.
-Srbija Sounds Global vol 4, B92, 2008.
-Kosovo and Metohija, The Image of Europe, Tipon, Janus, 2005.
-Zegar Zivi , Zegar Zivi, Cloudvalley, London, 2008.
- Svetlana Spajic Group, label unsigned, 2010.



For twenty years Svetlana Spajic has been researching the ancient, orally transmitted vocal traditions of Serbian and Balkan non-tempered a capella singing and its unique vocal techniques and ornamentation. She learned from the best village local singers and in the meantime collaborated with the likes of Yanka Rupkina, Domna Samiou, Stella Chiweshe, Boris Kovac, Balkan Beat Box and conceptual artist Marina Abramovic.

Svetlana Spajic Group is her new a cappela project with three young singers from Belgrade. Svetlana forms broad and challenging repertoire of the oldest Serbian songs with genuine vocal techniques and ornaments such as "cutting" singing from Bosnia, mountain shaking songs, groktalica, ganga or tender old ballads from Eastern Serbia. Svetlana Spajic Group is a powerful expressive re-discovery of ancient vocal idioms, Dinaric second interval strikes, unexpected harmonies, forgotten languages with Svetlana' s recognizable stage dramaturgy and great emotional and physical impact.

Charismatic singer.
‘The Scotsman’

You'd have to be a lifetime steeped in the tradition to sound like that.
Max Reinhardt, reviewer

Wonderful voice and great presence.
Lucy Duran, ethnomusicologist, BBC

An interpreter of unbelievable voice-power and hypnotic stage charisma.
Richard Schuberth, Balkan Fever Festival