Interview: Macedonia comes to the UK in music and dance | Songlines
21 December 2018

Interview: Macedonia comes to the UK in music and dance

By Tim Romain

A soulful show of Macedonian music and dance celebrates the country's rich culture and uncovers its Balkan, Turkish, European and Romani elements. We spoke to the show's creator ahead of their UK dates.

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Macedonian Inspirations brings the vibrant, cross-cultural melting pot of the southern Balkans to the UK in an expressive performance of music and dance that revels in the passions and energies of the region.

Created and led by Gundula Stojanova Gruen, an ethnomusicologist and violinist once described in Songlines as 'a shining star of the UK's Balkan music scene,' Macedonian Inspirations is the fruit of a mission of musical discovery to Skopje, Macedonia's capital. The show is performed with her ensemble Tatcho Drom as well as Linda Toteva Gjorgiva, a dancer of Roma and Irish Traveller descent whose career began aged five when she started dancing in restaurants – while her uncle collected money in his shoe.

Having played at London's Kings Place in October, and with shows coming up in the Tara Theatre and Norden Farm in January, we had a quick chat with Gundula to get a feel for the show.

You’ve shown a huge passion for Balkan and Romani music with the numerous projects you’ve done before – leading bands, organising exposés & workshops – what was it that drew you to Macedonia in particular this time?

I had to wait such a long time to finally come to Macedonia. I’ve travelled to Hungary, Romania, Serbia a few times, and there’s always so much happening. When you’re travelling you’re always invited to some wedding or party – in Bulgaria there are festivals to go to… So when I finally made it to Macedonia it was very special.

It’s not the biggest country, but its cultural range is huge – it’s certainly the most cross-route of all of them. It has all the Balkan and Western influence, plus Turkey of course.

And the Romani influence?

You can’t really call it influence – it’s such a large part in itself! Macedonia has the largest Romani settlement in Europe, it’s like a town on the outskirts of Skopje, it has its own mayor. Its music has had an impact on the country of course, but itself is a mixture of so many different elements.

You recently completed a Masters in Ethnomusicology at City University in London. Do you do things differently when you are doing academic research compared to research for performance?

At the time when I did my Masters I had to differentiate between them. When you have to write an essay, you have to care about structure – you have to find people with knowledge on the subject and contact them and go out to find them… Otherwise, [when not studying] I go out on a discovery. Sometimes I find great music, and sometimes not at all, but I always meet people. I like not going with a plan. You have some main destination and you see where it leads you – you might talk, have some lessons, some jam sessions… This way of researching is much more spontaneous. It’s all part of the discovery. It gives me time to spend with people, learn their personal stories, experience the dancing, the clothes, the traditional ways of life. Both are interesting still. Doing the structure still broadens your scope across new music and new people, just in a different way.

Finally, what should we expect from the show?

Loads of music with a really Balkan feeling, with a heavy-duty dance! But also it has very sad and very tragic songs, plus funny and quirky and entertaining ones – lots of different types of rhythms from a music point of view. From a dance point of view, partly Romani, partly folk, part expressive dancing… One part has a beautiful little Romani song – an old singer tells of a girl praying to find a husband. It has gentle, little dancing going on. It’s difficult to put in words! The dancing is very expressive.

Macedonian Inspirations is at the Tara Theatre, London on January 19 and at the Norden Farm Centre for the Arts, Maidenhead on January 31.

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