Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Eight questions with The Balkan Wanderers

(c) Kristina Kobe
1. Who are The Balkan Wanderers? (a short introduction)

The Balkan Wanderers are a 5­-piece band from Oxford, who formed in 2014. We play gypsy­-indie- punk­-ska music inspired by traditional Balkan artists (e.g. Amira Medunjanin, Šaban Bajramović) and punk and ska bands (e.g. Madness, Rancid). The band consists of Antica Culina (Croatian) on lead vocals and piano, Stu Wigby (British) on vocals and guitar, Clare Heaviside (British) on clarinet and saxophone, Marc Witte (German) on bass and Emma Coombs (British) on drums.

2. When was the band formed and where? If there is an interesting story behind how you guys met and started playing together (it was initially Stu and Antica, right?), please do share.

The band started as the duo of Antica and Stu who met while working in Oxford. Initially we played open mics and friend’s parties: Antica singing covers of traditional Balkan songs with Stu accompanying on guitar, and later also with Clare adding clarinet parts. During this initial period Stu discovered a love of Balkan music. We started to write our own material and the idea of forming a full band, adding bass and drums, seemed as the next logical step. At that point Antica and Stu found themselves performing alongside Marc, and our first drummer Rene, in a friend’s musical­-dance show and we asked them to join the band. Thus, The Balkan Wanderers were formed!

3. There's a very distinctive and even prevalent Balkan sound in your band's music, yet some traditional indie and punk motives are present as well. How do you find the balance between the two?

This balance between different styles seems to be a natural outcome of the differences each person brings to the band – we don’t force a blend of genres on the songs. Also we don’t always set out to write in a certain style. Rather, songs can start with one sound, to which layers of different styles are added, while trying to retain the original feeling.

4. Some of the lyrics are a mix between English and Croatian. What is the idea behind it?

Every language has its own cadence, and Slavic languages seem the natural way to sing Balkan melodies. Antica (who is Croatian) has thus instinctively found singing these melodies in Croatian more natural and we realised how this can actually be combined with English lyrics to produce an interesting mix of languages within the same song. Some of our songs use this bi-­lingual background to add structure to the stories, for example by exploring the same situations from two distinct points of view (e.g. Cairo from our first EP, and Clouds from our forthcoming record)

5. Who is your audience and how do you connect with your fans? Any crazy, fun, exciting stories are very welcome.

One of the best feelings is when the audience is new to us, and they are not familiar with our style, but they all end up dancing – which is ultimately one of the main points of the music. So, although our audience might be composed of a number of different nationalities and musical tribes, they tend to be united by a susceptibility to infectious Balkan rhythms and melodies.

6. You have recently composed and performed music for William Blake's poems. Could you describe your experience of working on this type of a project? Is this something you are interested in doing in the future?

In the case of working on a song based on existing lyrics, one needs to first try to interpret the meaning of the songs, and the feelings (and the atmosphere) the poem brings. Thus, the melodic outcome of this process is a strange mix between personal experience and the experience of a person who originally wrote the words. It was a quite different process to that which we’re used to, but still very rewarding – we’d definitely be up for similar projects in the future.

7. Are you planning to experiment with the sound?

We don’t have specific plans to deliberately create a new sound – but we do have fairly short attention spans, so inevitably our style is already evolving to some extent. For example, some of the new songs we’re currently working on use chord progressions and rhythms that you wouldn’t tend to find in traditional Balkan music. However, like biological evolution, if our sound changes over time it will be a natural process, not with any grand overarching design.

8. What does your dream gig look like?

A big crowd of different ages, dancing, emotions...
These translated lyrics – from a famous band formed in Sarajevo (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in 1980’s called Plavi orkestar (Blue orchestra)– describe the feeling:

Come on my friends,
Like we used to do on Saturdays
And when we hated Sunday because of Monday

My friends, lets be honest,
Our twenties are on the doorstep
And we need to live and sing
Lets dance like it is a prom night!

The Balkan Wanderers follow up the packed out EP launch we put on for them last year with a show at The Jericho Tavern in Oxford on 19th November, tickets here.

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