Jelena Milušić and Merima Ključo: Balkan soul expressed through music

Jelena Milušić and Merima Ključo. Photo: Miki Olabarri Powell via Balkan Diskurs, used with permission.

This article by Luka Čavar was originally published by the Post-Conflict Research Center on Balkan Diskurs and within the first edition of MIR Magazine. MIR, which means ‘peace’ in Bosnian is an annual publication and platform for young inventive people. An edited version has been republished by Global Voices under a content sharing agreement.

While Jelena Milušić caresses the specific counter-alto with her voice, one of the world’s most famous accordionists, Merima Ključo, accompanies Jelena on the accordion. They have both chosen music as their vocation and call their collaboration destiny.

Their album “Lume” contains ten covers of songs from different parts of the world and five original songs inspired by the Romanian, Croatian, Kosovo and Sephardic traditions. For some of the songs they immediately knew they were the right choice; for others it took a little longer.

Milušić tells how the selection of songs was an intense and wonderful process. Both of them suggested songs, and it was essential that all the songs fit both of them in in terms of arrangement and program. The album has been produced by Ključo, for whom “Lume” is the product of a wonderful collaboration.

“Lume means love. This album is all about that to me,” she says.

For Milušić, working on this album is a great experience from which she has learned a lot about understanding and interpreting music.

‘Lume’ has various meanings: world, life, source of light, illusion, fire, spark, lover, humanity, more than love. Photo: Marko Ercegović via Balkan Diskurs, used with permission.

Milušić says:

We often forget that lyrics are the basis of interpretation for the song because we focus too much on accurate and beautiful singing and technique and in that process, we often forget to convey the message lyrics carry. Merima pointed this out to me and helped me become aware of one very important part of my creative personality. The entire process of making this album was amazing — from the selection of songs, preparation, rehearsal and recording, and above all it is a special feeling to perform live with Merima.

The reactions to their album were, as Milušić says, extremely positive and emotional.

We had the opportunity to perform in the region and Europe, as well as in the US. Regardless of the region, the audience shares with us feelings in which you can sense admiration. There are also compliments for the performance and energy between Merima and me. Merima’s composition is especially positively welcomed because it is full of surprises.

They also revived Aleksa Šantić’s fairy-tale poem “Snowflakes” (Pahulje). It started with Ključo proposing that she produce Milušić’s solo album, which Milušić gladly accepted.

“I really liked what’s written because it brought me back to the carefree days of my childhood and revived Mostar from the most beautiful memories. We decided to record audio and video for Snowflakes and announce my solo album with that song”, says Milušić.

Traditional music as inspiration for a new work. Photo: Miki Olabarri Powell via Balkan Diskurs, used with permission.

Ključo adds that Aleksa Šantić’s songs are very visual. “You just can see every word and thought he wrote, which inspired and encouraged me to create a sound image,” she says.

The adaptation of the hit classic “Catch Me in the Suburbs”, performed by Ključo with the famous Croatian jazz musician Matija Dedić, was awarded the Porin music award . She enjoys the recognition by the other musicians, but she is especially glad that people from the region recognized her hard work, and that they are familiar with her work.

Ključo's inspiration comes from the music of Sephardic Jews, which also can be felt on the album “Lume.” And the love for that music started at the age of fourteen.

I was walking down the Sarajevan streets and passing by an instrument store I heard a wonderful melody. The sound was somehow familiar to me, but different from anything I had heard until then. I couldn’t resist the urge to walk into the store and ask what kind of music it was. I was told it was Sephardic music. I was and still am fascinated by that music, so I did a series of compositions and arrangements on Sephardic themes. My composition ‘Sarajevo Haggadah: Book Music’ was a great success and five years after its premiere and numerous performances, it is still performed all over America.

Milušić and Attila Aksoj recently recorded their second album “Yo Hanino, Tu Hanina,” which took all listeners into the world of Sephardic music.

“Sephardic music is special and magical. People feel it even though they don’t understand the lyrics because it is listened to with the heart. In addition, the music of Sephardic Jews is part of our cultural heritage. Given that there are not many artists in our country and region who perform Sephardic songs, I think it is very important to preserve this tradition,” Milušić concludes.

Find the full album “Lume” on Spotify here, and for more eclectic music from around the world, check out Global Voices’ Spotify account.

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