Melody Refutes Partings
It was founded in 2013 by Belgrade native Aleksandra Acker, a professor at RMIT University. It brings together excellent musicians with the highest university degrees. They play the harpsichord, piano, harp, organ, Jaw harp, bass-balalaika, as many as thirteen types of flutes... They enrich Serbian and Balkan ethnic music with baroque patterns, as well as a unique approach to instruments. Aleksandra has been in Australia for more than twenty years, and yet: ”I dream of praying in Belgrade’s Ascension Church”

By: Ljilјana Dugalić
Photo: Ensemble ”Anja & Zlatna”

Aleksandra Anja Acker is the founder, music director and vocalist of this ensemble. With her charisma and love for the ethnic music of the Balkan peoples, she gathered excellent musicians around her. Kirsty Morphett is the vocalist, Donald Nicholson plays the harpsichord, piano and organ, Ryan Williams is the flutist, Tim Nikolsky is the guitarist, and Andrew Tanner is the double bassist who plays both the bass balalaika and the Jew harp. Except for Kirsty, they are all musicians with the highest university degrees and extraordinary talent, and so unusually dedicated to the music of our region.
– I was born in Belgrade and I have never stopped being a Belgrader, although I have been living in Australia since the late 1990s, where I completed my education. I am a professor and researcher who applies music and sound in therapy and work with children, people with disabilities and the elderly – says Anja Acker for the National Review. – The love for music comes from a very musical family. My beginnings in our community were in the First Belgrade Singing Society, in the ”St. George” Choir, at the ”Little Mermaid” competition for children, with the folklore ensemble KUD ”Milomir Petrović”, and later I was also the backing vocalist for several of our artists.
Her life’s path took her to the far corners of the world. Decades of living in Australia are already behind her, as well as a string of professional successes.
– So far, we have released two very notable CDs. The third one was supposed to be published already, but we postponed it several times due to the well-known health situation in the world. In all these years of playing music, we have held numerous and very successful concerts. We have our audience, our concerts are visited and listened to – continues Anja.
It is an extraordinary experience to listen to Anja’s and Kirsty’s voices as they blend beautifully, humming like a mountain river. Like the sound of Studenica, Bistrica, Morava, Drina. Delight spills from monitors and floods homes across the globe. Their performances and music are fresh and original, and gilded with almost mythical tones. An extraordinary combination of sounds is created by unusual, we would say incompatible instruments, along with inspired singing. Unusual arrangements are masterfully created by Donald, Anja’s life companion.
In the audience there are always listeners who are not of Serbian and Balkan origin, and they are perhaps even the majority. Therefore, Anja charmingly and wittily conveys the content of the song with words, brings the meaning closer to them, so that they can fully experience the performance.
– I think the audience recognizes our sincere dedication and feelings that we express through performances. We see many people in the audience wiping away tears while listening.


Our people in a distant land do not miss the performances of ”Anja & Zlatna” ensemble, which brings them back to their homeland with enchanting music. When she talks about herself and life in Australia, Anja says – here, and when she talks about Belgrade and Serbia she says – at ours. She is often perceived as an ambassador of Serbian cultural heritage.
– The Balkans is imbued with a fascinating and turbulent history, but in terms of folklore, melodic and rhythmic traditions, it is unassailable – says Anja. – I am happy that we have the opportunity to explore our colorful culture and share it with the audience.
She does not forget her homeland. Money from the sale of their DVD Anja & ZlatnaLive Concert was donated to help the ”Mother of the Nine Jugović” soup kitchens in Kosovo and Metohija, as well as the income from several charity concerts at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Melbourne. Her voice, she says, takes on a completely different intonation as soon as she lands in Belgrade, as soon as she touches the soil of Serbia.
– My breath deepens and my lungs expand. I breathe. In Serbia, even my voice reaches higher tones! (...) Belgrade is often on my mind. When I arrived in Australia, I spent the first three months in Brisbane. Only when I moved to Melbourne was it a little easier for me, because that city reminds me of Belgrade. Trams glide along the streets, just like in our country. I meet people of all nationalities and talents, there is also a bohemian quarter that I perceive as Melbourne’s Skadarlija. It is the High Street, favorite among artists and bohemians. We just had a concert there recently.
Our wonderful artist looks a bit bohemian herself. She colors her performances nostalgically, so we can easily imagine her over a checkered tablecloth in ”Manjež” or ”Zona Zamfirova”, famous Belgrade taverns that she remembers with longing.
– The repertoire of the ”Anja & Zlatna” ensemble consists of Serbian and Balkan ethnic music, as well as the music of other nations of the world. I like to spin a tambourine. I enjoy singing our version of the song ”Aj, ruse kose, curo, imaš” (The Light of Your Hair). We perform elegiac, humorous, witty and temperamental songs from Old Serbia, from Kosovo, from Metohija, Macedonia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Russia. Of course, we have a variety of Roma melodies, stylized in our own way.
The harpsichord gives this ensemble something baroque and special in sound, and there are also Jew harp, bass-balalaika and thirteen different flutes. A wide range of instruments allows for various improvisations, masterful and mesmerizing, which brings the affection of the audience and critics.
– I work as a professor at RMIT University. I teach subjects related to child development: music, child development, speech development in children, inclusive work with children who have developmental disorders and similar disabilities – Anja explains. – I am also engaged in research work, mainly in the field of music education of preschool children. With my esteemed colleagues, I have published several works, including three books printed in prestigious academic publishing houses: ”Rotledge”, ”Springer”, ”Palgrave Macmillan”. Some articles and chapters refer to the work of pedagogues in Serbia, which is particularly important to me, because I am proud of the quality of the work of some of our educators.


She came to Australia more than two decades ago. She sang in the Melbourne Symphony Choir (similar to the RTS Choir) and in the choir at the Serbian Church of the Holy Trinity in Melbourne. She was also involved in sports, playing handball for a long time for the Monash University club. She also has a gold medal won at the Australian championship. Now she plays tennis.
– During the pandemic, my mother Dragica passed away in Belgrade. There was no way for me to come to the funeral. It is a great suffering, which I heal with prayer and song. Donald and I are recording the album I Sing You, a song dedicated to my mother. When we finish the album, we will organize a charity concert of spiritual music and forward the proceeds to help a family in Serbia – Anja tells us.
She spent the first years of her life in Sremčica.
– Thanks to the teacher Hadži Darinka Božović, I fell in love with classical music already in elementary school. Later we lived near the Đeram market. I finished secondary education in Dedinje, and then completed all course work in pedagogy at the Faculty of Philosophy. I completed my studies in Australia, a master’s degree at La Trobe University, and a doctorate at RMIT University. I attended the Music School ”Stanković”, department of solo singing. I sang in the First Belgrade Singing Society and in the ”St. George” Choir. Until the age of seventeen, I danced folk dances and was a vocal soloist of the Cultural and Artistic Society ”Milomir Petrović” in Sremčica. I traveled around Europe with the group. The key support to start discovering the world came from my late father Drago. He taught us to constantly increase our knowledge and to certainly ”see a little of the world”.
Anja tries to visit her hometown every two years. Then she usually presents herself to the Belgrade audience.
– In 2014, during our stay in Serbia, Donald, my sister Mirjana Kotlaja Bunić and I had a concert in the ”Cvijeta Zuzorić” Pavilion. A year later, in 2015, Donald, soprano Dragana Živković and I had a performance in Kolarac. The repertoire ranged from classical music and Bach to Russian Gypsy music.


Her love for Serbia, especially for Kosovo and Metohija, can be seen in her repertoire, in her humanitarian concerts, and in the way her voice trembles when she talks about it. And in the fact that she sees Šumadia in some Australian glades.
– Sometimes I dream that I pray in Belgrade’s Ascension Church – she says. – There is only one Serbia. However, one, when they have to, can be a Serb beyond any geographical coordinates.
The longing for one’s own and homeland, as well as the thought of returning, are constantly present. She channels them into art and work dedicated to children.
– Children are the ornament of the world, their souls are pure. Their simple genius, immediacy, sometimes extreme sincerity, cheerfulness, creativity, must ennoble a person and make them better. I am always revived and invigorated by them.
Acker seems to want to embrace us all with musical creation, conveying deep and dramatic, sensitive and passionate melodies. Until she comes back to Belgrade and gives a new concert, look for her on YouTube. You will understand.


The ensemble ”Anja & Zlatna” holds five to seven concerts a year.
– Since there are outstanding musicians around me, we perform at prestigious venues, such as ”ABC Classic”, Melbourne Recital Centre, Australian Digital Concert Hall – says Anja Acker.


The ensemble ”Anja & Zlatna”, which has been active since 2013, has released two very notable albums of Serbian and Balkan music: ”Ruse kose” and ”Oj, Vesela, Veselice”. The ”Live in Concert” DVD was also released. The release of the third studio album, as we said, was postponed due to the pandemic.


The ensemble ”Anja & Zlatna” strives to preserve the beauty of Serbian, Balkan and other traditional music, but also to enrich them with baroque elements. It combines the musical practice of the 17th century and improvisations from folk heritage. The original sound also comes from their unique approach to the instruments they use.

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