Jozef Secnik

“Originating from Romania, Serbia and Slovenia, Paprika Balkanicus perform a fiery blend of traditional and Gypsy music from the Balkans and Eastern Europe across a repertoire of songs that mirror the longing, passion and joy of these hidden places.”

The music of Paprika Balkanicus is a fusion of the regions where the musicians hail from, making the music completely authentic rather than a cheap imitation. Their music is described as being of virtuosic proportions and has wowed audiences across the globe. Fuelled by intrigue to know more about this band, I have scripted some questions in order to peer deeper into this gypsy phenomenon that is enrapturing the world of music.

 

My familiarity of traditional gypsy music is limited to the likes of Django Rinehart and Stephan Grappelli. Outside of these two infamous greats, my only other gypsy education has been courtesy of French film director Tony Gatlif and his great documentary-esque films Swing, Latcho Drom and Gadjo Dilo.

 

Is the music of Paprika Balkanicus traditional gypsy songs borrowed from folklore or are they compositions attempting to revolutionise gypsy music as we know it?

Paprika BalkanicusJozef: With Paprika Balkanicus we play our own arrangements of mostly traditional songs from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The tunes have been around for decades or some of them even for centuries, and we combine them into different medleys, and try to "spice them up" in our own Paprika way.


Good example of that is Micka, which is a "collage" of four different songs. The first tune is “Tancuj, Tancuj” - a well known tune from Slovakia, followed by Slovenian song with naughty lyrics “Micka”, then there's an old Klezmer tune and we finish the medley with very fast melody from Romania. We also try to blur the boundaries between traditional and classical music and on this tour we have added few new jazz arrangements as well.

 

The band boasts a unique ensemble of minstrels. How did all the band members meet and what inspired the formation of Paprika Balkanicus?

 

Jozef: We met in London where all, except me, came primarily to study music. Me and Vlad (the old guitarist) met, through our common friend Vuk. Before we managed to do our first show together, Vuk got an offer to play violin in Cirque De Solei and he immediately left for The States. Vlad and I then started to rehearse with another violinist. He was a nice bloke from Bulgaria, but more of a classical orchestra player, than a Gypsy fiddler. Our first gig was to perform live on "Living With Modernism" - one of the BBC documentaries, but he pulled out just days before filming. We couldn't cancel the gig, so we got in a pianist and instead of Balkan Gypsy band, we turned up as a Jazz Lounge piano trio... Luckily the BBC people didn't spot the difference… :-)

Later on, I called Bogdan, who finished post graduate studies at Royal Academy of Music in London if he would be interested to play violin in a Balkan Gypsy band and his answer was yes. When we started to get bigger gigs and festivals, it soon became obvious that we needed to "boost" our sound, if we wanted to keep up with our audience. Sometimes they were so loud we couldn't hear ourselves at all. Being a trio without drums, mine and Vlad's role was pretty much to keep the groove going, while Bogdan was playing all the melodies and solos.

It was good fun, but there was not much opportunities for melodic interplay. The Balkan rhythms are either odd or very fast, so the rhythm section has to be really tight. Someone told me that two brilliant accordionists from Serbia are studying at Royal Academy, and one day I left a message in a pigeon hole for one of them. Milos and Zivorad are like twins and they both came to the meeting we had in a local pub. After few pints we were joking we got them for a bargain: 2 for 1. :-) Since then we play as a quintet whenever we can. They are brilliant players and its a real pleasure to have them on board.


When I see a musician who is awe inspiringly exceptional on their instrument, I am always eager to know how long they have been playing and whether they have come from a family of musicians. What are the musical backgrounds of the Paprika Balkanicus players?

Jozef: They have been pretty different: Bogdan - the violin player was born in a musical family, and spend his early years watching his dad performing in Bucarest National Opera House and his mom is a piano teacher, if I remember correctly. Zivorad has also musicians in his family, while none of Milos parents are involved in music. All three started to study classical music very early - Bogdan at age 3 or 4 , while Zivorad and Milos started to play accordions at age 6. I picked up guitar relatively late at age 12 and switched to bass when I was 14. I did study classical and jazz double bass for a while at High School for Music in Slovenia, but I am mostly self-taught. Igor Bezget who's on tour with us this time has been studying jazz guitar at Music Conservatory in Linz, Austria with Aussie guitarist Peter O'Mara.
{xtypo_quote_right}Our first gig was to perform live on "Living With Modernism" - one of the BBC documentaries, but [our violinist] pulled out just days before filming. We couldn't cancel the gig, so we got in a pianist and instead of Balkan Gypsy band, we turned up as a Jazz Lounge piano trio... Luckily the BBC people didn't spot the difference{/xtypo_quote_right}
Paprika Balkanicus have played at some of the most prestigious international venues and festivals including Glastonbury, WOMAD, Edinburgh Fringe and Royal Albert Hall. Which of these performances has been the most memorable for the band?

Jozef: Each show has been a challenge and unique experience on its own, but performing at Don Juan Tenorio as part of a big theatre spectacle staging across 7 stages in Las Palmas, Canary Islands was definitely the biggest multi-media project we’ve been involved so far. The cast included some of the most famous Spanish actors, 2 choirs, more that 300 other dancers and actors, loads of pyrotechnics and it lasted about 4 hours. We all wear medieval costumes and had to move from one stage to another very quickly as they were shattered all across Vegueta - the old part of Las Palmas. The team spirit was simply amazing... It was hard work but also great fun at the same time and we made some good friends there.

The Australian tour, which has just kicked off, is the second time Paprika Balkanicus have been to our distant shores. Have the band found that their Australian fan base is steadily growing as we familiarise ourselves with the music of Eastern Europe and world music in general?

Jozef: This is actually our third Australian tour, and its always a real pleasure to come back to your beautiful country! We’ve had fantastic time in Oz so far: the sun always shines, the food and wine are delicious and the people are very friendly. We've been lucky enough to play at some big festivals like WOMADelaide, Brisbane Festival, Bellingen Global Carnival and cool music halls like The Forum, The Tivoli and The Enmore theatres amongst others. That helped us to introduce our band to the new audiences and I hope the old fans as well as those who never heard us before will come to see our show on this tour. The Australians like to party and dance and this is what our music is all about!


Paprika Balkanicus are now touring. Further details»

Image Credit:-
Top Right - Paprika Balkanicus. Photo Kieran Doherty

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