Interview with Milan Mladenovic

Came across this nifty interview with my favorite musician, Milan Mladenovic, leader of Ekatarina Velika (EKV). It is from 1990, done somewhere in Yugoslavia; I’m thinking one of the capitals like Belgrade or Sarajevo. I really like this interview because it asks a lot of fun questions, get to see a lot of his personality, and demonstrates a lot about the culture at the time and that Milan M. grew up with. So, I felt like translating the interview for fun and to see how well a conversation translates as opposed to translating lyrics like I usually do. Hope you enjoy! Since I don’t have a transcript of it, I’ll just listen and pause sometimes to translate it to English. I’ll number the questions in order:

1) What did you want to be when you grow up?

Milan M.- “When I was little, I wanted to be Beatles- one of the Beatles, since my best friend and I went all around the street and sang Beatles, especially favorite song: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRtAO-nffz0 (since he was born 1958, and the song is from 1968, he was about 10 years old) 🙂

2) What did you read back then?

Milan M.- “I li-li- read a lot of Karl May. Right after that, I read the integrated version of the ten volumes of 1001 Nights. Uhh.. I also loved to read, um, Aleksandar Dimo, and something like that. Adventurous books.” I like how in the beginning he was still thinking about music, so he almost was about to say “Iistened to” instead of “read”. Then he continues:

“I wrote songs, even like, from around second, third grade of primary school. And some of them are published in books that were collections of those songs, from little, is it, Sarajevans.”   That means he grew up in Sarajevo, for at least part of his childhood. So he was born in Zagreb, grew up in Sarajevo, and died in Belgrade. All three capital cities!! So yugo, I can’t even-

3) What type of music did you listen to back then?

Milan M. – “Well, then I listened to, in general, Beatles. That somehow interested me the most, and that which could be heard on the radio; those various groups who in that time, uhh- RAVAGED around Yugoslavia. Those are some, uhhh- pop groups, were called The Silhouettes, I don’t know, Pro Arte, some kind of things like that. Weird.”  Haha, I love his fillers as he thinks of what to say. 😛

4) When did you begin to play (instruments)?

Milan M. – “Eh, well, I began to play innn 4th grade of primary school when my father bought me an acoustic guitar on which was written “Tango”. And then I went to some school where I learned, like some, accords and how to play, and I began to learn various songs, and to be interested in that.”  🙂

5) Who do you look like more, mother or father?

Milan M. – “Well, that couldn’t be defined because in every period, when I was a kid, uhh, first I looked a little bit like my mother; then later, I started to look like my father, and etc. So that, I just know that I have my father’s nose. But now, for the rest.. It wouldn’t be knowable.”

6) …But spiritually? (his personality, they mean. I don’t think we don’t have an equivalent word for personality. we comment on their “spirit”, or characteristics)

Milan M. – “Well, that’s a compound (mixture). Every child is a mixture of their parents, like you know well. Thisss, uhh, pfft, I think I am strict like my mother but that I’m, uhhh, easy-going like my father.”  ahahahaha 😉

7) How did your parents react on the first rocknroll steps? (like how did they react in the beginning to your career choice?)

Milan M. – “Eh, well, when I began definitively to deal with rocknroll, my parents did not like that at all. However, as time passed, I slowly kept fighting for them to get used to all that, and to.. later they became happy that, that, uh, I don’t know, ..to read my name in the newspapers and, they started to help me and to support me.”

Ha, and then he had move out of the way for the tramway bus!! Haha, they’re having the interview in the middle of the busy street.. like I don’t understand why don’t they go to the sidewalk.. but I like it 🙂 Milan continued:

“Well, now that I avoided the tramway, I can say that, uh, well I never had some spiritual leader that would support me or who I would go to for some advice and etc. like that. So, in general, I have done, uhh, everything, pft, by myself and given effort to be independent….. Be careful, be careful, this one’s coming fast! Run away!” And then a second tramway comes through! 😀

8) How do you feel on the stage, like Milan or…?

Milan M. – “Well, on the stage it depends. It depends on the conditions. If it’s nice on the stage, if it’s a good stage, if there’s good music sound and everything; if all the conditions, that are..necessary -for a man to relax to be able to play and to give everything of himself- are good, then I feel super. However, if something is not alright, I become very nervous/irritable, and I think that’s always seen when something is not alright.”

9) How much is a top artist different from others?

Milan M. – “Well, I don’t know, I think that it’s, that it’s most substantial that which can be found inside people and not, not which is found from the exterior; I think that it’s normal that, uhhh, the face is the mirror of the soul, and etc. I think that the audience knows that the best.”    🙂

Hahaha, and then someone recognizes him on the street in the middle of the interview and asks him if he’s Milan Mladenovic, and he said “I am. What can I answer you?” (meaning “what more can I tell you?”)

10) Have you sometimes written or composed a song for a woman that you love?

Milan M. – “Of course I have, since that’s, that, that happens to us all and from that we all… live and build our lives on that. Meaning, on love.”

11) …many artists are created because of women?

Milan M. – “Well, of course, it’s the truth that women inspired artists..from, that’s.. ha, the question itself has the answer. Yeah, yes they have, of course.”

Haha, Milan Mladenovic and his evasiveness with these last two questions… 😉 I have always paired him and Magi together. But then again, Magi is a djecak. hahaha, if you know the band well enough you’ll know what I mean by that reference. Anyways…

12) Your favorite book?   (rapid change of subject, huh?)

Milan M. – “In general, for me, “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula Le Guin. ”

13) …Can you give a summary?

Milan M. – “Well, it can’t be doneeee. I would need, an.. hour’s time.”

“An hour’s time?”

“Well, yeah.”

😛

14) Why do you love to read science fiction?

Milan M. – “Because of that that science fiction can build, um, a completely new world, thattt, that does not exist, thatt is really far away- meaning that it throws us into something that- uhh, that can throwww us out of the daily cycle and opens for us some new viewpoints, paths, in which we can, in which we can enjoy; because of that that they’re unusual and really, because of that that they’re that far away.”

15) Should people leave this country? (Yugoslavia)

Milan M. – “A-ha, out of this country, for always, you all shouldn’t go. Iff some of us do go, they should return, eventually, when something is dealt with, or when this country becomes normal. Eh, or we should all work together for this country to become normal, which is ideal; however, that has become really really difficult, in these conditions. Those, I would be able to recommend, to everyone, that they try to stay here and try to change something; and if they can’t do that -if that’s not possible to them, if they can’t take it anymore- to return after an excellent time to feel that they can’t take it anymore out there outside, and to start to build something here… Bye-bye.”

16) Three wishes for gold fishes?  (Basically, just make 3 wishes, as a last question. haha, how that phrase ends up rhyming in English.) 😀

Milan M. – “Eh, well, my first and my biggest wish is to wake up and to establish that it’s year 1990 and, and that I, and to say “Oh, what a bad thing I dreamt!” Ah, second wish would be, for, for me to be healthy. And complete. One supportive, faithful period. Meaning, another, 40, 50 years. Ah, the third wish would be, to, earn that much money that I can , uh, with it to.. make some interesting things, like which is music, like which is… like which is music. I would get held up on that.”

And that’s the end. The last question is pretty heart-breaking because he died three years later at the age of 36. </3 So his wishes never came true. But who knows, maybe the first one did? ❤

Milan Mladenovic and EKV ❤

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Siguran – Ekatarina Velika (EKV)

I remember when I first discovered EKV, it surprised me that music like this could exist, and that it could especially come from the balkan area!, because EKV was so different from anything that I had been exposed to up to that point and still are.

I found this excerpt from a post I made about them last year on a tumblr blog, from exactly one year ago. It is an accurate description of the band, so I’ll reuse it and let’s hear from 17 year old me from March 2014:

“This band… First, can I just say that this is my favorite band ever? Not going to lie, I am in love with them. Here is some brief info about them in order to understand the band better. Ekatarina Velika (abbreviated EKV) is named after Catherine the Great and falls in a more art rock, post punk, new wave genre of music from the 80s’. The band changed members often, but the 3 core members were Milan Mladenovic, Margita “Magi” Stefanovic, and Bojan Pecar. All three were such talented musicians and songwriters. Some of their lyrics are even studied in some schools in the Balkans. They all died at tragically young ages during and after the war due to cancer, drugs, etc. There is even a street named after the lead singer, Milan Mladenovic, in Croatia. Unlike a lot of music, they do not sing about love or romance much; their themes are often about the tougher aspects of life: Pain, addiction, tiredness, loneliness, death, society, greed. Now, do not get the impression that they are therefore a goth or emo band or something like that. They are not at all, they are simply really creative and real. When I feel frustrated or sad, about the rest of the world or myself even; I listen to some EKV to sort through my feelings and feel understood.”

🙂 They’re still my favorite band ever, by the way. I love my warning of “do not get the impression that they are a goth or emo band or something like that…they are simply really creative and real”, ahahahaha xD, how a year changes a person. I feel like now I’m more… sophisticated with my wording of things and interpretation. Like now I would comment on the melancholic tone of their music, coupled with the sheer emotional force of Milan Mladenovic’s voice. The themes and meaning of their lyrics are complicated often overlooked human emotion and states. They also use metaphors, imagery, and symbols in their lyrics, adding to the poetry of it. Overall, their music is powerful and engaging with a melancholic, subtle poetic meaning and sound. And they achieve all this using the standard band instruments such as guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums.

This song, “Siguran” (Secure) is from their 1991 album Dum Dum (Doom Doom). It is considered their darkest album and anti-war. This is around the time that ex-yu started descending into war and Milan Mladenovic’s health started declining as he had pancreatic cancer which he would eventually die from in 1994 at the age of 36. 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦  😥 😥

Even the album cover of Dum Dum reflects the dark despair and hopelessness at the impending doom-

Translating lyrics of Siguran:

Siguran sam  –  I am secure
ili samo mislim da sam siguran  –  Or I just think that I am secure
staklenim nogama  –  With glass legs
ovo je hod po tankoj zici  –  This is a walk along a thin wire*

Maskiran sam  –  I am masked
ili samo mislim da sam maskiran  –  Or I think I am masked
pod ovim bojama  –  Under these colors
govorim samo reci sto me kriju  –  I speak only words that hide me

Sastavicu krajeve  –  I’ll put the ends together
iscepane poruke  –  The torn messages
tragove pod prozorom  –  Traces under the window
i obale pod jastukom  –  And the coasts under the pillow
kao u snu, kao u snu  –  Like in a dream, like in a dream

Oprezan sam  –  I am alert
tvoje oci gledaju u moj dlan  –  Your eyes are looking in my palm
ti ne znas ko sam ja  –  You do not know who I am
ja ne znam ko bih mogao biti  –  I do not know who I could be

Pokusaj saznati  –  Try to find out,
ni iz cega sklopiti  –  out of nothing to put together
podigni zavesu  –  Lift the curtain
pokazi sve sto mislis da krijem  –  Show everything that you think I am hiding

Sastavicu krajeve  –  I’ll put the ends together
iscepane poruke  –  The torn messages
tragove pod prozorom  –  Traces under the window
i obale pod jastukom  –  And the shores under the pillow
kao u snu, kao u snu  –  Like in a dream, like in a dream  ❤

In this song, there is a theme of losing a sense of security. Doubting one self’s and one’s surroundings. “I am secure..Or I just think I am secure.” reflecting the loss of security because of the descent into war, especially because citizens in Yugoslavia did not expect this to ever happen, they thought they were secure. It completely surprised most of them. And after that, comes nervousness as with “glass legs”, feeling insecure and vulnerable, they must walk a “thin wire”, a guaranteed impending fall into the darkness awaits them. Then I interpret the “masked.. under these colors” as meaning masked under flags, under ethnicity and sides; where nobody can be their true self. The words they speak under such masks further hides them, even hides from themselves as they start depersonalizing and acting in ways they never thought they would. Nobody recognizes the humanity under the masks, they don’t see each other as humans but as others- masked others to be suspicious of. They become insecure, vulnerable, nervous, suspicious – afraid- losing their sense of security, and self, and reality. When is a person is afraid, anxious, they paralyze- they do not act like themselves, but act out of survival, such as attacking the “others” to defend and protect oneself..

Then the chorus, expressing the desperate wish for everything to be whole and secure again, for the pieces to be back together again, for things to make sense, to be together and safe – “I’ll put the ends together..The torn messages.. Traces under the window”, the “coasts under the pillow” can symbolize the coasts of the dreamworld (“under the pillow” symbolizes the dreamworld, in other artists’ songs as well such as Bajaga’s “na druga strana jastuka” (on other side of the pillow), the coasts symbolize that in the distance, those sunny outlines out of reach, the unreachable coast of security that now only exists in the dreamworld. Yugoslavia was also known for its Adriatic coast, which fell apart as the countries split during the war. This notion of wishing for the unattainable that used to exist and remains in the unconscious is further reinforced by the key line “like in a dream”.

And this new gruesome reality of a war and falling into the darkness is like a dream because it doesn’t feel like it could be real, especially after feeling so secure in Yugoslavia and trusting those around you who now become “masked” or were they “masked” before even. It is a nightmare.

Then the alertness, “I am alert”, showing worry and anxiety. The eyes looking into the palm, somebody else reading your future, determining your future. Then “you don’t know who I am.. I don’t know who I could be” demonstrates being controlled by someone else even though they don’t know you, and you don’t know what can become of you either – what you’ll do or what your future will be, especially when controlled like this, by the conditions of the war and loss of security.

Then another stanza is “try to find out..out of nothing to put together..lift the curtain..show me everything that you think I’m hiding” is addressing peoples’ suspicions towards each other and fears, asking “why are we suspicious of each other? why do we hate each other? what are we afraid of?” , asking “what do you think I’m hiding just because I’m serb or croatian or muslim?” It is asking for open communication to clear this up, to “put the ends together” and see where things went wrong.. because many Yugoslavians have no clue how it got to this or why the war occurred. It was a complete surprise. There really was no point to it, no reason. No good came out of it.

Later, all those deaths, everything, for nothing. The region is in shambles now. Corruption, Mental Illness (from war and distressing conditions), and High Unemployment and Poverty (Last year, I read it as 66% unemployment for youth, I still can’t get over that! That means every 2/3 young capable people are unemployed. And it’s true too. My cousins barely can find work, and when they have it, often they won’t be paid for 3 or more months because the companies have nothing to pay them with 😦 ) Because of this, there is much crime happening! Every time I watch their news, I hear of so many robberies and murders, of fathers having to teach their sons to steal and kill to survive. It is crazy and heart-breaking, and all of it because of a useless, stupid war motivated by the personal political and economic interests of rich, greedy politicians. Mass murders, people’s lives screwed up and destroyed, everything people worked for destroyed, displacement, pain, poverty – Please, no more wars!!!!!!

Well, this post started as a casual music post of my favorite band and one of my favorite songs by them and has now turned into a rant – because this war and its consequences are personal and painful to me as I’ve grown up watching my family suffer because of it.

A second interpretation of the song (and my initial one before I learned more about the album) was a person feeling personal insecurity about themselves, a person doubting themselves and feeling socially unsure. I think this is an equally valid meaning as it has the similar feelings of nervousness, loss of security, feeling masked, worry, not knowing who you are because there is no social outlet to discover yourself through, etc. Most people have something they lack security about, so this song can have multiple interpretations depending on the person, as many of EKV’s songs do. 🙂

Thanks for reading! Comments?

PS. The * in the lyrics next to “…thin wire” are because, I’m pretty sure that line “a walk on a thin wire” is a reference to the band Milan Mladenovic used to be part of as a teenager, Šarlo Akrobata (Charles the Acrobat) 😀 A really great band, by the way, we’ll probably look at that too. That would be ex-yu reggae-ish punk, so it will be interesting.. 😉

Udri Mujo – Lepa Brena

Oh my god, where do I even begin to talk about this woman? Lepa Brena was like…like.. the Madonna of the Balkans basically. Just the most popular.. huge sensation in the 80s’ in ex-Yugoslavia. Like I’ve heard stories of couples and marriages breaking up because of her. She was practically worshiped. There is like even a movie series made revolving around her and her songs, which is where this song and video is from. The movie series “Hajde da se volimo” is actually one of my favorites from my childhood, particularly the second movie filmed in Dubrovnik, Croatia. It featured a lot of comedians and music, so it was really fun.

Now, why was so much attention paid to her? Probably because she was something really different for that time period, a transition away from the traditional. For starters, she was much more scantily-clad and flirty than what they were used to. That could explain the male attention and breakups, as opposed to today where we see people dressed like that all the time so it’s not a big deal. Her songs were also more just for fun and entertainment, rather than heartfelt and meaningful. She would dance a lot as well, and there would be a lot of jokes in her songs and movies. She was overall very entertaining for them to watch, very modern and fun.

I would say Lepa Brena was very influential, even in today’s Balkan music scene. It seems like she was the first female star to dress and dance like that, attracting popularity for being entertaining on top of having good vocals, so after her many more female stars were able to emerge like Ceca and Dragana Mirkovic. She also seemed to be one of the first turbo-folk artists, or at least influential in it emerging later. Turbo-folk being music with folk and pop elements, and quasi-meaningful lyrics. A lot of people would consider slightly trashy, but fun. P.S The comedian I mentioned in my very first post, Žika, is featured in this video (except in this video/song, he is Mujo, pronounced Moo-yo) 🙂 He has a few funny parts. Big cultural icon.

Ok, so now the lyrics of this song, I will translate them for fun. ^_^ Anything in { } is reworded to make grammatically sense, while keeping the meaning. And asterisked items will  be explained at the end.

Udri, udri, udri Mujo  –  Hit it, hit it, hit it, Mujo (Moo-yo)

udri Mujo u tarabe  –  {Hit the fencing, Muyo!}

Ni poljubac nije vise  –  {Not even a kiss is}

kao nekad dzabe  –  {free like some time ago} x2

Kazi, mala, u sta treba  –  Tell, mala*, in what {I need to hit}

udaracu sve do neba  –  I’ll hit everything to the sky

kazi mala, matere ti  –  Tell, mala*, {I swear on your mother}* (LOL!)

ja cu vazda udarati  –  I will always hit!

Udri, udri, udri Mujo  –  Hit it, hit it, hit it, Mujo!

udri Mujo u šargije – Hit, Mujo, in the šargije*  (it’s a kind of instrument, I’ll explain)

Zivot bolan kao nekad  –  Life is not painful like some time ago

nije vise nije  –  It’s not, it’s not anymore x2

Kazi, mala, u sta treba  –  Tell, mala*, in what {I need to hit}

udaracu sve do neba  –  I’ll hit everything up to the sky

kazi, mala, nema mučke  –  Tell, mala*, there’s not {a problem}

udaracu oberučke  –  I’ll hit with both hands!

Udri, udri, udri Mujo  –  Hit it, hit it, hit it, Muyo! udri Mujo u tepsiju  –  {Hit the pan, Mujo!}

Ja u srcu tebe cuvam  –  {I keep you in my heart}

Bosanskog deliju  –  My Bosnian delija* x2

Slusaj, mala, frke nema  –  Listen, mala*, {there’s not a problem}

s’ tobom je prava sema  –  With you it’s a real {fun}

slusaj, mala, matere ti  –  Listen, mala*, {I swear on your mother} (LOL! again)

ja cu vazda udarati joj  –  I will always hit, jojjjj*!

Udri, Mujo  –  Hit it, Muyo!

joj, joj, hocu, bona –  jojj, jojj, I will, bona*

kazi u sta treba udarati jos  –  {Tell what else I need to hit more!}

Haha, I love how he hits himself in the head with the pan at the end! 😀 lol! Funny lyrics, and what I also like is that there are a lot of fun cultural elements to explain in it, a lot of slang used. So first, Mujo (haha Moo-yo or Muy-o) is a comedic Bosnian name. I think it’s important to note that Lepa Brena was from Bosnia out of all the Yugoslav republics, so this song is a good example of the Bosnian dialect and its humor. 🙂 And I’m from Bosnia, so this has a lot of the common slang I use too! 😀 Ok so, some of the things:

  • mala – Mala is like, it’s like “shorty” that’s used in the U.S. It means “small girl”, but is often used to refer to any girl, like “shorty, what’s up?” – “mala, šta ima?” That kind of deal. 😛 lol!
  • matere ti – Haha, this phrase, it’s like saying “I swear..” and so it’s common over there to say “I swear on your mother”.
  • šargije –  That is that instrument Zika/Mujo is holding in the video. A common bosnian instrument. It’s like a lute I suppose. Something cultural remaining from medieval times, perhaps. The sound it makes is still heard in a lot of music, especially the folk and even turbo-folk.
  • delija- Pronounced deli-ya. It’s a word coming from Turkish actually. Bosnian has a lot of those words, influenced by the 500 years of Ottoman rule over the area in the past. Delija is like a brave, strong guy. 🙂
  • bona – A slang word for girl, mostly used in Bosnian. It also has a male counterpart, bolan. It’s usually used humorously. 😀
  • joj! – Pronounced like yoy. It’s like an exclamation of frustration usually, but can also be used humorously 😀 like an exclamation of humorous frustration!
  • The tepsija (pan) is also an important cultural symbol because it’s used to make pita/burek, an important Bosnian food 🙂

I hope you liked it. 🙂 Any comments/feedback? Also, a debate question… There is a lot of debate over female singers like Lepa Brena or even more so, a lot of the modern ones we see, getting more attention and popularity for their looks and dance moves, rather than quality of voice and songs. And that this leads to a devaluation of music or spreading superficial values and many singers with amazing vocals getting overlooked because of looks. What do you all think about this? Is it a problem/cause for concern or not? Is it unfair? Is it hurting our culture and society?

Kemal Monteno

Kemal Monteno is a legendary Bosnian singer, beloved across the whole region, with a successful career that spans decades. He died recently last month and the region is greatly grieving him. His voice and lyrics move my soul, so beautiful and touching. His music is so soft and poetic. It arouses this glowing dreamy imagery. This song in particular, especially when he sings it live like this. “Bacila je sve niz rijeku” (She threw everything down the river) was recorded much much earlier, but this is his live performance in 1997, a little after the Bosnian war. Maybe it’s just me, but I can feel the tender sadness from it all in his voice. Perhaps in this performance, Kemal is singing it with some emotion towards what happened in the war, as in the war “everything was thrown the river” essentially. This song has also been covered by other popular bands and artists such as Indexi, Crvena Jabuka, and Tose Proeski. We’ll certainly be looking at them in future posts, especially the latter two which I’m more familiar with.

As far as Kemal’s background, his mother was Bosniak and his father Italian. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, was his hometown. It is also the hometown of my parents, and my favorite city in the world. I hope to visit it one day. Kemal Monteno is well-known for his song “Sarajevo, ljubavi moja” (Sarajevo, my love) which pays tribute to the city, great song. I think Kemal Monteno was one of the only singers to stay in Sarajevo during the siege and wartime. I could just imagine a scene of war, everything destroyed and burning, with “Sarajevo, ljubavi moja” playing softly in the background on an old radio. Matter of fact, let’s post that song as well.

Kemal Monteno ❤

I won’t be posting translations in this post because I posted two songs and this post was more for remembering and appreciating Kemal Monteno. However, if you would like translations, feel free to ask and I can put them in another post! 🙂