Since its foundation in 2001, the group Iskon from Subotica has cherished the traditional music of the Balkans, performing in the Serbian and European festival scenes. During September, they were very active, promoting the new album „Drugovanje”. We talk to Milanka Nastasović, the group’s singer, about this release and the phenomenon of such a long existence on the Serbian scene.
Two decades of a band with a lot of members is a difficult task, especially in Serbia. What holds you together so strongly?
– Friendship and great love for each other and traditional music keep us together. In addition to perseverance, we are equally pleased with the consistency in our approach to the music that we have been performing for more than two decades. In fact, for many musicians who engage in the cherishing of traditional music, one of the challenges is how to remain consistent and not slip into the world of entertainment and popular music, which offers musicians greater material satisfaction and acceptance. Twenty years in almost the same line-up as at the beginning of our musical story is already a success. And today, after so many years, we know for sure that enormous enthusiasm is equally necessary – both in the years of the group’s formation and after two decades of work.
How would you describe the richness of the Balkan tradition?
– When you grow up in a multicultural environment, surrounded by the rich musical heritage of the peoples who live in this area, you perceive the beauty of that colorfullness as something ordinary and usual. Balkan heritage, history, and culture were more modestly exposed to people outside this area for a significant period. And yet, concerts abroad, the reactions of audiences visiting international festivals, and the response of followers to posts on social networks confirm to us every time how colourful, exotic, and attractive the music of the Balkans is, not only for the scene but also for the spontaneous gathering of musicians from all the meridians. Numerous musicians from all over the world are increasingly finding inspiration in the rhythms and musical themes that originated with the people of this corner of the world. Looking from the point of view of someone who promotes the music of the Balkans, we can freely say that we are truly lucky to have a musical code engraved in our genes, which is becoming more and more inspiration and a musical challenge for artists from other regions.
Your current, fourth album „Drugovanje” (Multimedia Music) gathered numerous guests from abroad. This confirms that traditional music is a universal language, and the space to incorporate personal artistic expression into it. How do you approach tradition in the 21st century?
– Since the founding of the Iskon group, our desire and one of our main goals has been to find sheet music and audio recordings of songs that have never been performed or have been performed very sporadically by other interpreters of traditional music in Serbia. We are happy and satisfied when we see that after a couple of concerts the audience knows the words of those songs, recognizes them already at the first bar and enjoys the song from which we wiped off the patina created for a long time and breathed new life into it. We never wanted to be just another performer of well-preserved musical heritage, but we desired to give our vision of traditional music through the arrangements we would make together. We are grateful that traditional music allowed us to be friends with top musicians, and above all wonderful people who gladly responded to the invitation to record an album where almost fifty musicians from Mexico, Italy, France, Hungary, and Serbia gathered.