This summer we went to the Chatsworth Road Festival, and while enjoying food and the performing bands on stage we were particularly amazed by Mimika, a band playing a mix of Balkan and jazz music. So, we keep it in our secret book of notes. And, when we learnt that they were ready to present their new album “A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red” we took the opportunity to ask some questions to Mak Murtic, the saxophonist and creator of the band.
1) How much do you improvise and how much is already set? And live? Does improvising mean breaking the rules for you?
In this band we all seem to have a slight split personality, some of us are aspiring scientists that have managed to quite accidentally start playing an instrument, others are poets, artists… but all have initially found each other through jam sessions where we improvised and sort to say, met musically, so the improvised element is an integral part as is individual expression of the band members in other ways. However the basis of the material is written and thought through in other ways (sets of rules, moods, sound choices) and arranged, therefore the development of the big Mimika ensemble (20 + people) was a very logical step for us in the last few years. As far as improvised aspect of music is concerned; collective improvisation is becoming an active topic of the band, so I would say that we are at the same time leaning toward more constructed music in terms of sets of boundaries and more improvised music in terms of the individual parts. I don’t think improvisation as a concept breaks any rules, it’s going back to the roots, the way folk music exists and persists. It is living and momentary.
2) Balkan music is by itself already a mix of many influences. The complexity of its rhythms, the important role of improvisation and its opening to other musical forms make it in philosophically linked to jazz. What do you think?
Balkans are a mixing pot of many travelling and settling people, civilizations, agricultural lands. This area of Europe saw clashes of tribes, nations and empires, many prosecuted ethnic groups and traders hide their identities, change their location and carry their music so it is no wonder there is a profound richness in the area. There are some links between what we see as Gypsy and Jewish music from the Balkans and jazz, of course. I wonder how much of it is to do with genuine receptive nature of the style and how much is it to do with the creation of “musicians” as a job descripion. I reckon their histories are similar in the fact that early jazz music, gypsy and jewish balkan music all have their roots in weddings, bar micvas, christenings, birthdays… and therefore in their development demanded high knowledge of local styles from travelling and performing musicians.
I think all music, especially folk music has the same attributes, openness and improvisation than the other ones and the best western classical music and most jazz make the impression that they are improvised.
3) How much do you like being considered a “Balkan Jazz band”?
I don’t know if we are a Balkan band at all. I come from Croatia (and so does our lead singer Maja Rivic) parts of which are considered a part of the Balkan peninsula, but only a small part of inspiration for this music comes from the Balkan brass music, if any at this stage. Most of the musicians in the band, including myself, have very eclectic tastes and have come across the traditional Balkan styles and played various music from the area, but I’m trying to avoid that label, as there are as much, if not more influences from Duke Ellington, Mingus, Stravinsky, Slavic folk music and a myriad of other sounds here. However, I am personally becoming very interested in the folk music and folk festivals of the Slavic and preslavic peoples of the Panonian valley and the Adriatic coast, so I guess there are always interesting new finds at your own doorstep.
4) You said that your new album “A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red” is a story where you’re describing the future human presence on Mars. We really like it but we think that the “interlude” parts areburdening maybe too much an album which is already composed by 22 tracks. Didn’t you expect a critic in an interview, did you? How do you justify this choice?
A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red was conceived as a story as much as it is a musical journey for us.
We tried to envision how a tour of the history of this new world would look like, how would a documentary show tell the story of the rise and fall of this civilization. The initial idea was a longer, radio drama like a piece, as much narration and acting as it would be music, but we narrowed it down to simpler, scene setting and curtain rising interludes between tunes, which are short stories in themselves. I wouldn’t think of the tracks as “tunes” per sei, they are more divisions on the disc to be able to skip through, but when listening on an LP or CD, or in succession as mp3s/wav, it would appear to be interconnected as one longer cinematic music piece rather than 22 tracks or 11 songs. I do aknowledge that they are songs though and therefore this was one of the ways we could put it together and create separations, I’m sure there are other ways to do it as well.
5) The current and the past number of players help to increase the difficult in the interpretation. “A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red” is not an easy-listening album but we loved your music from the Chatsworth Road festival also for that reason. You’ve already participated to great venues so you already know that your music is maybe not easy to approach. You’re playing in an amazing niche.
The musicians involved in Mimika are lovely friends and colleagues, some have been around longer than others so some music has been written specifically to fit their style of playing. The musicians influence my own writing immensely and are an essential element in the sound-worlds of this band. Two of the newest members, Tile Gichigi Lipere (electronics) and Paul Love (percussion) have completely transformed the sound of the band. Older members, Maja Rivic, John Macnaughton, Andrew Linham, David Turay, Oberon King, Jamie Benzies, Patrick Kenny and others all paint the tapestry.
I wouldn’t worry about the “difficulty” of interpretation, I wouldn’t worry about interpreting anything at all. I don’t think we do. Maybe the whole thing is to be listened as you would watch a film, and not as a musical analysis, it is a comedy with tragic consequences.
I don’t think we have a real niche yet, as we are as much a club band with big grooves, as we are a concept “prog” band, as much as we are a jazz band, a festival band, a theatre troupe, or a group of folk enthusiasts…. and we have played all of the gigs that would fit those descriptions. However I know for a fact that similar groups have started emerging and there are some suggestions of a scene emerging from the depths of London, and with the scene there is an audience. Or vice versa perhaps ?
6) So, is your future already decided? Big stages, great audiences and a huge success. But, which is your own little dream?
The future is only known as a meeting ground, so it will be decided only when it loses its character. There is a weird definition of success, as it implies fashionable holidays and monetary security. We are a civilization of shopkeepers and define ourselves by our immediate profits, but maybe we are already there where no shopkeeper will follow. This is the dream, audiences like you who we meet in person and daily unknowns.
7) What do you think is more difficult at your concerts? Your performance or engaging with the audience?
Depends when. We are very used to performing as a 20 piece band, and when we do, there is instantly a party on stage, we laugh so does the audience. (Especially when Paul hits that Gong) With the smaller touring band we’ve only started performing this summer and all the performances had a different character as in this lineup the audience has a much stronger impact to the initial mood of the band. Bad sound system can be a nuisance, but that’s sometimes the case. I guess it all depends and everything always changes. Little things have strong impacts.
YouTube video – A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red Premiere
Mimika Official Website
Mimika on Facebook
Mimika on SoundCloud
YouTube video “A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red” performance for the Croatian National TV and European Broadcasting Union in February 2014