Music Heritages of the Balkans
”Trag” (”Trace”) of the trace. In the depths of time and memories, in forgotten treasuries, they reveal our golden musical threads and we hear them in ourselves again. They adjust it to modern arrangements and sensibility, showing that tradition is not anachronous but timeless and that we always have to return to the ancient in a young way. They amazed Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and revealed the most to ourselves

By: Ljubiša Trivić
Photo: ”Trag” Archive

Tradition and cultural heritage can tell different stories about a nation. In Serbian lands, folk songs, as a unique historical manuscript, are sometimes the best way to find out about lives and dreams of our ancestors. If we listen to those songs more carefully, if we feel their rhythm and energy, we’ll see that they speak about our ancestors as much as they speak about us.
Ethno band ”Trag” is an example of young guardians of tradition. For an entire decade now, they have been dedicating their artistic work to traditional music of the Balkans and its preservation. They do it in the most beautiful manner – by singing and representing it, very successfully, to people around the world.
They performed with the band ”Vrelo” in Kusturica’s opera Time of Gypsies, with the Teofilović brothers, Biljana Krstić and ”Bistrik”, ”Istočnik” octet, the band ”Iva”, Ivana Žigon, ”Kosovski Božuri”, as well as world famous names, such as Russian singers Inna Zhelannaya and Marina Devyatova, Bulgarian ensemble ”Angelita”, Tuvin ensemble ”Hun Hur Tu”, Divna Ljubojević and ”Melod”...
Members of this vocal and instrumental ensemble were brought together, according to their words, by Serbian folk art. The band was formed by several enthusiasts from the Cultural and Artistic Society ”Slavko Mandić” from Laktaši, while, as they say, Goran Ćetojević takes most credits for it. At the time such music was not as popular, he had the will and energy to engage in it, and to bring together several people in love with the Balkan cultural heritage.
– When we started a whole decade ago, people were skeptical at first. It took a long time to break the prejudices, especially of young people, that the music we are engaged in is outdated, meant only for older generations. Today, after years of efforts and faith in our work, we are happy to see full concert halls everywhere in the region – says Valentina Milekić, art director of ”Trag”.
The idea was born, says Valentina, from the wish to save folk music from oblivion and bring it closer to the ear of modern audience. They embedded traditional rhythms and melodies into their own arrangements, emphasized old instruments, such as old percussion instruments, fiddles, pipe organs, caval. Supported with classic and modern instruments, their performances of old folk songs become unique. They are modern, yet they hold within everything that makes them cultural heritage.


– We are happy to be able to do what we love and to have the opportunity to present to the world all the best our nation has: our folk music, authentic classics of the Balkan area. Wherever we performed, people were amazed with out folk melodies and rhythms – adds Valentina Milekić.
During the years of working together, the love towards tradition and Serbian cultural heritage brought the members of the band closer in a special way. They like to say that ”Trag” is a big music family. Their sound is now recognized around the world, they are invited to big world festivals, and their music has become very popular. They believe that one of the main reasons for it is the incredible musical richness of the Balkans, on which they base their work.
– We noticed different reactions to music from different parts of the Balkans, depending on the place we perform in and the type of audience. Sometimes the audience is intrigued by the rustic bass of Krajina songs, permeating from our arrangements; sometimes it’s the specific Macedonian and Kosovo melodies, sometimes unusual Bulgarian rhythms… Balkan music is so varied and interesting, that people have never been indifferent to it – says Valentina.
The band has published two albums, excellently accepted by both critics and audience. The first album, ”Sounds of the Balkans”, was published in 2008, and the second ”Legacy” was officially presented in July this year, marking one decade of their work.
– The greatest challenge is to select songs which have never been performed before. The tendency of new ethno bands is to play already heard and known songs, in order to make their program more attractive. It’s good and nice, but we mustn’t forget that the national treasury is full of jewels hidden under layers of time and history. One of our tasks is to find already forgotten and lost songs, and to try to save them from oblivion – emphasizes Valentina.


In their work, they use ethnomusicology material and recordings from radio archives. It’s more difficult and requires more effort, but the pleasure is, they say, incomparably bigger. ”Trag” is the first ethno band which revived the music of Lijevče Polje, the area they originate from, because these sounds were officially processed in ethnomusicology and presented as authentic only in 2007.
– We tried to present the sound of Lijevče songs, perhaps a bit raw and rough for our times, in a new manner. To bring them to the level of the beautiful songs of Kosovo and Macedonia, which are, due to their melodies, more suitable for performing – says Valentina Milekić. It’s a true pleasure, she says, when they reveal a song from their country, for which even they didn’t know it existed, to people around the Balkans.
During the previous few years, ”Trag” has been making a series of successes throughout Europe. They are the first ensemble from Srpska given the opportunity to perform at the Day of Slavic Literacy and Culture in Moscow, one of the biggest Russian state and religious holidays. The central event, the gala concert, has been held for years now in the Moscow Kremlin, in the presence of the highest state and church officials.
They had successful tours in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland. At these performances, they were especially amazed by the fact how much power Serbian and Balkan music, as well as the emotions embedded in it, has to connect the seemingly distant and incompatible areas.
The future of ”Trag” is mainly related to the past and searching for new songs and sounds. They hope that they’ll be able to take out numerous jewels of Serbian and Balkan old folk music from the depths of time and save it from oblivion.


Loving and Living
– You don’t only love ethno music, you live it. Most of us have been engaged in this kind of music from our childhood, in the family or cultural and artistic societies. Only great love towards it, despite the obstacles of this profession, has made ”Trag” survive all these years – underline the members of this vocal and instrumental ensemble.


– It was a great honor for us to perform at the Day of Slavic Literacy and Culture in Moscow, before thousands of viewers, together with their great ensembles, such as the Russian State Symphonic Orchestra, Russian State Folk Chorus, leading singers of the Russian opera, ballet and national theater. Having the opportunity to present your traditional music in such an environment is truly something extraordinary – emphasizes Valentina Milekić, art director of ”Trag”.


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