Žegar Živi (Zegar Lives) - CD
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cd cover ŽEGAR ŽIVI
Žegar Živi (Žegar Lives) (Cloud Valley)

It might come as a surprise that this extraordinary music is from Europe. Powerful acapella group vocals, often using the wild beating-against-drone technique of groktenje, diple playing, goat-calling and church-bell ringing from a group of amazingly resilient Serbian singers who’ve moved back to their village of Žegar in the rocky hill-country of Dalmatia in Croatia – a region war-shattered in the 1990s and still depopulated, but beautiful and now peaceful - to rebuild their homes and pick up the threads of their lives and rich musical traditions. The album’s title, and the group’s name, means Žegar Lives.

Recorded in Žegar in May 2007, produced by Andrew Cronshaw in collaboration with Svetlana Spajić. The digipak contains a 60 page booklet with many photos and extensive notes including the background story to the recordings (in English and Serbian).

Listen to a compilation of some track samples. Some longer individual samples are below.


  • Vojislav Radmilović - vocal
  • Miljka Radmilović - vocal
  • Jandrija Baljak – vocal
  • Dragomir Vukanac – vocal
  • Obrad Milić – diple & vocal
  • Svetlana Spajić – vocal

      • 1. U Žegaru rodila me nana (I was born in Žegar) 3:18
      • 2. Čobanska svirka (A shepherd’s air) 1:27
      • 3. Četiri djevojačke pjesme (Four “maidens’” or “shepherdesses’” songs) 3:12
      • 4. Vučarska Pjesma (Wolf song) 2:47
      • 5. Čuvam ovce, čuvala me nana (I’m herding the sheep) 2:02
      • 6. Koze (Goats) 1:29
      • 7. Žegar Živi (Žegar lives) 1:21
      • 8. Poziv za Jandriju (The call for Jandrija) 3:58
      • 9. Svirka na diplama (Improvisation on diple) 0:45
      • 10. Kolo igra (The ring-dance) 2:24
      • 11. Biračko kolo (Biračko circle dance) 3:48
      • 12. Sinoć veče večera jedna mlada gospoja (Last night the lady had supper) 2:16
      • 13. Zdrav, Jandre! (To your health Jandre!) 1:10
      • 14. Pije vino stotinu ajduka / Grlo moje, sto si ogrbalo (A hundred hajduks are drinking wine / Why my throat is hoarse) 2:04
      • 15. Zeman dođe da zapjevam ođe / Sve sam svoje potrošio novce (The time has come to sing here / I’ve spent all my money) 1:25
      • 16. Nemoj, mala, kazivati ko je (Girl, don’t you tell) 0:51
      • 17. Za te tvoje crne oči (For your black eyes) 1:33
      • 18. Pjesma o Jandri Ćosi (The song of Jandro Ćoso) 2:46
      • 19. Sve popišmo, a ne zapjevašmo (We’ve drunk everything, but not sung anything) 0:59
      • 20. Ošino kolo (Ošo’s kolo) 1:10
      • 21. Žegar polje goji janje moje (Žegar field feeds my lamb) 2:32
      • 22. Zvona Žegarske crkve (The bells of Žegar church) 1:31
    Andrew Cronshaw writes about the recording:

    cd cover My friend Milica Simić is a young Serbian ethnomusicologist who compiles and presents a good programme of deep-traditional music, Od Zlata Jabuka, on Fridays on Radio Belgrade 2. I listen to it online over here, and noticed that whenever I heard a particularly striking traditional singer of village music it usually seemed to be a lady called Svetlana Spajić. Once I found out her name I realised I already had several recordings of her, on the three valuable Srbija Sounds Global compilations that Bojan Đorđević put together from 2000 onwards for B92, on which she appears solo, in the duo Drina and with Darko Macura. (She was also a member of the female vocal group Moba, and often guests with the band Belo Platno).<

    I wanted to learn more about the rather elusive Serbian village music, to be heard on recent recordings in the archives but hard to track down live these days – perhaps I could also draw some attention to it in Serbia and abroad, create perhaps a ‘foreigner effect’, by doing some kind of project. Svetlana seemed a promising person to seek out – a strong singer, born in Loznica in western Serbia, who spends time in the villages across Serbia and its neighbouring Balkan countries learning from the older people there. I wanted to know more about her.

    Milica obligingly contacted her and interviewed her for a programme which convinced me she was the one. I didn’t know if she spoke English (turns out she has a degree in English literature!). I emailed her explaining my thoughts for a collaboration between her, myself and some of the musicians I know, particularly Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan and Australia-resident Brit multi-instrumentalist Ian Blake.

    She was very receptive to the idea. So in February I went to Belgrade and took her and Milica out to dinner; during it she talked about the group of traditional singers she’d been working with that she’d found in Dalmatia. They’re Serbs who, following the destruction of most of the houses and the flight or death of the population, both Serbian and Croatian, during the war, have moved back to their shattered village of Žegar, in Croatia near Obrovac, and are doing what they can to pick up the threads of their life and livelihood. She called them “the last of the Mohicans”; before the war the area had a strong living vocal tradition, remarkable for the power of the singers and a remarkable edgy, almost yodelling, beating, bleating vibrato-against drone technique known as groktenje, that’s particular to singers in this Krajina (‘borderland’) region of Dalmatia, one singer doing the groktenje while one or more others hold a drone.

    This group, pretty much alone, is tenaciously continuing it, now they’re back.

    One, the imposingly white-moustachio’d Jandrija Baljak, was a well-known singer before the war, but he disappeared and people, including the younger singers he’d gathered around him and taught, creating the group whose name translates as “Jandrija’s Flock”, said he was dead. Svetlana had seen him sing in the early 1990s and was transfixed, and after fifteen years she’d found him, living back in his own house some 30 kilometres from Žegar, having returned with his wife from being refugees in Bosnia. The others she’d come across singing together at one of the big annual gatherings of Serbs at the orthodox monastery of Krka, south-east of Žegar; she’d edged up to them and joined in, and they’d recognised her great ability, immediately asked her to join and made her very welcome in their home. She lives in Belgrade, which is a hard 12-hour bus-ride away from Žegar (there’s no direct route through mountainous Bosnia, you have to go round), but it’s a trip she now makes frequently to spend time with them.

    Svetlana wanted to make a CD of the group, but couldn’t figure out how to do it or finance it. Without a second thought I found myself saying “That’s easy - we’ll do it! I’ll bring sound engineer Jamie Orchard-Lisle and his laptop and some mics, and we’ll come to the village. When d’you want to do it?” At this point I’d just met Svetlana and hadn’t even heard her sing live, and I’d heard nothing from these people, but I trusted her.

    So in early May Jamie and I flew from Stansted to Zadar airport, were met by Svetlana, picked up a hire car and drove to Žegar, near Obrovac. As she navigated us in the dark into the range of concrete-grey Dinaric karst hills that runs down the Dalmatian coast, Svetlana was explaining to an enthusiastic but slightly apprehensive Jamie that we’d be staying in a burnt-out apartment block that used to accommodate teachers who once worked at the primary school that serves the whole of the Žegar area; before the war it had over 900 pupils, and now has just 3.

    Vojo Radmilović and his wife Milja, whose own house is too wrecked to be habitable, have moved into a flat at the end of a long balcony on the top of the three-floor block; the rest of the flats are just shattered, window-gaping shells with swallows flying through them, but they’ve turned this one into a perfectly pleasant flat, with proper bathroom, electricity and running water. The balcony, its ceiling still smoke-stained, has a wide view across the green, birdsong-filled, bee-eater and swallow-skimmed valley to the church, with its pair of bell-ropes hanging outside that Vojo tugs to get the bells ringing when, occasionally, there’s a service. They keep 400 goats in part of the gutted school building across the road, and at 5am each morning they get up to give them pure water from a spring nearby, take them up on the scrubby hills to graze, and with the assistance of four dogs protect them from the wolves.

    Svetlana had explained that it might take some time to get all five of the singers together and ready to start. And indeed it was so; Milja lay in a darkened room ill for two or three days, another of the group, Lujo Vukanac was having voice trouble. So we settled into life, good fresh food and home-made wine and rakija in Vojo and Milja’s little apartment, did a little apprentice goat-herding, and explored the area on foot and in the car with Svetlana, and recorded her singing solos sitting at the red and white oilcloth covered kitchen table.

    On about the third day of that week of wonderful spring weather we at last got all this group of extraordinary, resilient, hospitable people gathered around the kitchen table and singing powerfully and wonderfully. We also recorded a couple of songs in the marble-floored school hall, which has been well restored together with a couple of classrooms as ‘a gift from the Japanese people’. The singers had wanted a group photo taken there - to show that things are improving and there is a good school if people return with their children (the current two girls and a boy, all very polite and well turned out, are getting a good education with a 1 to 3 teacher ratio). They began to sing, and the sound turned out to be so cathedrally glorious we went and got the laptop and recorded a couple of songs in there. Outdoors we recorded Vojo ringing the church-bells, and Milja and Svetlana goat-calling as they herded the milling, bleating flock. One of the group, Obrad Milić, also plays diple, a double-bored reed-pipe like a double bagpipe chanter without a bag, and we recorded tunes from him outdoors and in the school hall.

    We’ve finished mastering the recordings here in the UK, Svetlana and I are working on the sleevenotes, and early in 2008 I’ll release, as the first and probably only ‘not-me’ album on my Cloud Valley label, the CD, Žegar Živi, which is also the name of the group. (It means “Žegar Lives” - a very intentional message from the singers to all, be they Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian, that they can return to Dalmatia and rebuild a peaceful way of life).

    Foreign-label CDs (except for some global pop, and bootlegs, which the government is now making some progress in stamping out) don’t sell in Serbia, because they’re twice the price of local product, so I plan to follow the example of German label Piranha, who released a Serbia-only version of the CD by Serbian Roma band Kal at local prices while selling the same recording and packaging at normal prices abroad, and make this one available in the villages and in Serbia at the price of local CDs.

    At this stage there are no plans for the Žegar Živi group to tour. Apart from anything else, there are those 400 goats to mind, and there are wives to consider; perhaps, though, it might be possible for them to at least travel to nearby parts of the Balkans. But in August 2007 they and Svetlana hosted a small workshop week in Žegar, open to all, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian or from further afield, to draw mainly local attention to the traditional music and crafts they have among them, and it seems to be have made an encouraging positive impression in the region. And, Svetlana tells me, “after the recording of the album in May, Nedjeljka, Joka and Dara, three famous women singers who had also come back to Žegar, and also some other women singers, have ended their mournful silence and started singing again, waiting for more younger singers, new heirs of tradition, to come and share”.

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