For twenty years Svetlana Spajić has been performing and teaching the traditional Serbian and Balkan songs, visiting and living in the villages and learning the oral tradition and culture from the village singers. Her main sphere of interest is ancient, orally transmitted vocal traditions of Serbian and Balkan non-tempered a capella singing and its unique vocal techniques and ornamentation, language, function, and meaning. She learned from the best village local singers and sang with some of the best traditional singers of the world such as Hronis Aidonidis, Domna Samiou, Yanka Rupkina, Bokan Stanković. In the meantime she collaborated with the likes of Stella Chiweshe, Sainkho Namtchylak, Marina Abramović, Antony Hegarty, Robert Wilson, William Basinski, Boris Kovač, Balkan Beat Box, Boban Marković.
Svetlana Spajić started to perform publicly in 1993. with Paganke, as its youngest member. Paganke (The Pagan Women), was a pioneer Belgrade group formed in the 80ies which cherished ancient Serbian a cappela village singing. Later, with three other girls Svetlana formed in Belgrade the young group Moba (Harvest Helpers).
In the age of 24 she was chosen among five best voices of the Balkans and became a member of the First Inter-Balkan Traditional Orchestra founded in Thessaloniki in 1995 by Nikos Valkanos. The Orchestra was composed from the best Balkan traditional artists. As its youngest member Svetlana performed together with greatest names of traditional music such as Yanka Rupkina from Bulgaria, Ihsan Ozgen and singer Gynul Akyz from Turkey, Ksanthipi Karathanassi and Christos Zotos from Greece.
In 1999 Svetlana started the duet Drina with the singer Minja Nikolić and they released the cult album Živa voda (The Living Water) in 2000. The duet was known for its challenging repertoire of archaic singing in micro intervals of huge energy and sonority and minimalistic aesthetics. The duet performed mostly in rock and jazz clubs and abroad.
Dedication to the Setting Sun is Svetlana’s solo a capella performance whose premiere was at Ring Ring Belgrade Festival in 2006. Since then, the performance has been presented all across Europe and in the USA (Drom –New York, San Francisco). It presents her individual effort to save from forgetfulness the world that vanishes literally in front of her eyes and pay tribute to some of those great spirits who made her singing. It includes photos and short video extracts mostly from her private archive. Her new solo performance is named By the Rivers of Danube and was premiered at Danube Music Festival 2010.
International release of “Žegar Živi” (produced by Andrew Cronshaw, Cloudvalley, 2008), the album of traditional songs which Svetlana recorded with the last authentic singers of Serbian minority in Dalmatia (Croatia) was chosen among fifteen best world albums in 2008 by European Music Charts international jury. The album is being praised as the most significant project in the area of preservation of musical heritage in the territories of former Yugoslavia in the last decade and has met with high critical acclaim in many British and European media.
Her new project, Svetlana Spajic Group, Serbian polyphony, includes four young urban singers from Belgrade (Minja Nikolić, Zorana Bantić, Dragana Tomić and Jovana Lukić), with broad repertoire of the oldest Serbian songs with genuine vocal techniques, idioms and ornaments such as “cutting” singing from Bosnia, “ojkalica” from Dalmatia, mountain shaking songs, “groktalica”, “ganga”, or tender ancient ballads from Eastern Serbia. In May 2010, the group was given standing ovations in the world’s famous concert hall Concertgebouw in Amsterdam after 90 min a cappela concert of Serbian traditional songs.
In 2010 Svetlana Spajić Group was selected by the jury of the 10th WOMEX to perform in Copenhagen. Many media, promoters, managers and artists had the chance to appreciate the persuading voices and appealing performance of the girls coming from Serbia. The group was chosen among 700 received requests. The selection for WOMEX was a mere consecration and confirmation of Svetlana’s international artistic prestige.
After casting in Berlin, Svetlana was involved with her group in the new theatre project of the most famous theatre art director Robert Wilson “The Life and Death of Marina Abramović”. The successful world Première opened the Manchester International festival, on July the 9th 2011. In 2012 was presented to the audience of Madrid (Teatro Real Madrid), Basel (Teater Basel), Antwerp (DeSingel) and Amsterdam (Carre). Svetlana acts in the play, sings old Serbian songs as well as her own compositions. The main music composer is Antony Hegarty, while the main characters are Marina Abramović and the brilliant American actor Willem Dafoe. In 2013 and 2014 the play is continuing its world tour including USA, Brazil, Canada, Europe.
The group also performed in New York at Arcadia gala dedicated to the composer William Basinski, along with Antony Hegarty and Marina Abramović. In autumn 2012 the group published its first official album, Grey Falcon. This album also includes the pieces, both traditional and written by Svetlana for “The Life and Death of Marina Abramović”.
Other points of interest for 2011 was the collaboration with the artist Sainkho Namtchylak from Tuva (Ring Ring festival 2011) and performing in the play “Poslednja plovidba”, (The Last Voyage of Rigas Fereos) directed by Nebojša Bradić, in the frame of the first Belgrade festival dedicated to the river Danube “Dunavfest” which includes her own songs dedicated to Rigas Fereos, famous Greek revolutionary who had the vision of the united Balkans.
In 2012, she was invited to work with “Kitka” and teach the famous American female ensemble to Serbian traditional songs. The performance was named “To the Singers of tales” and was dedicated to famous American linguists Albert Lord and Milman Perry, referring to their famous book. They performed and gave series of concerts in San Francisco in January 2012. The group is coming to Serbia in 2013 to continue the collaboration and give a series of concerts in Serbian cities and villages.
Since February 2012 she has been teaching all across Brittany, France, both the traditions of Brittany and Serbia. This has been done in collaboration with Kreiz Breizh Academy and the teaching and co-operation with Brittany musicians and artists will be continued in 2013 and 2014.
Svetlana Spajić performs and gives lectures in the country and abroad, teaches young groups and helps several old village singing groups but what is unique for Svetlana’s work is that she is perhaps the only singer of younger generation who was taught to speak the Serbian oral language and its numerous idioms and dialects, being recognized and accepted among the authentic village singers of the oldest generation who spoke all their lives only orally and had the knowledge of where, when and how to respond. Not one song does she sing nowadays without permission of them. She is also obliged to re-create and make her own songs and know how, when and where something is sung and why. “I was never given a comment by my teachers like: ‘You sing nicely…’ Such thing doesn’t exist in the ancient epic world. Either you testify the truth or not.”
For almost a decade Svetlana Spajić works and performs with famous composer, instrumentalist and multimedia artist Boris Kovač. She performed with him in 2004 (RING RING Festival, Belgrade) and in 2005 (the Netherlands tour with Palinckx, including Bimhuis in Amsterdam) and sang at the artist’s work “Anamnesis” (Long Arms Records, 2010). Since 2009 her powerful voice has been accompanying Boris Kovač in his project for Chamber Music “New Ritual Group”. Boris Kovač ‘s repertoire of Chamber Music includes selected works as a retrospective of his career so far, as well as material from his forthcoming album „Catalogue of Memories“ (recorded in 2010, where she participates too) and some unreleased songs.
In 2005 Svetlana met Marina Abramovic and participated in her work Balkan Erotic Epic. In June 2010 she was invited by Abramovic and performed in MoMA in New York at the Closing party in honor of Marina Abramovic’s life retrospective and performance “The Artist is Present”. In 2011 she performed at Moca in Los Angeles.
In 2004 Svetlana performed at Belgrade Summer Festival in a duet with one of the biggest world music stars, Zimbabwean mbira player Stella Chiweshe.
She also performs and collaborates with some of the best traditional artists in Serbia. With Bokan Stankovic, the best Serbian multi-instrumentalist, singer and bagpipe player she has been singing since 1993 and they mastered in singing ancient ballads “na bas”(over bass) from Eastern Serbia. Together they have been visiting many villages in Eastern Serbia singing, dancing, playing and making friendship with dozens of best village singers of the region. In 2009 they recorded the material in Bokan’s village of Lasovo, Zaječar vicinity, with the help of artists Eric Adamsons and Zdravko Mirčeta with whom they plan to continue co-operation and preserve the heritage of Eastern Serbia. The album “Zajecar Sessions” is about to appear in spring 2013.
Since 2003 she performs with Belgrade group Belo Platno which cherishes the traditional music of Kosovo and Metohija, south of Serbia and north Macedonia. Their music is presented at multimedia CD Kosovo and Metohija, the Image of Europe, (Tipon, Janus, 2005).
Svetlana Spajić has also adopted Bulgarian, Macedonian and Greek traditional singing. As a crown of its mastering in the Greek singing in 2004 she gave the concert of the Greek traditional songs with the leading Greek traditional artist Yorgos Simeonidis and Periklis Papapetropoulos in the honor of the living legendary singer Domna Samiou, one of the best ever Greek traditional singers.
In 2008 she gave two concerts with Andrew Cronshaw, Tigran Aleksanian and Ian Blake at WOMAD (UK), and their concert on BBC stage, was broadcast live at Radio BBC3. With Cronshaw and Aleksanian she also performed at Warsaw Radio Festival (2008) and EthnoPort festival in Poznan (2010).
In 2010 she performed and shared the traditions with Dario Marušić, the leading performer and researcher of the traditions of Istria.
In 2011 Svetlana performed again with Sainkho Namtcylak at Ring Ring Festival, Belgrade. The two artists look forward to continuing collaboration. In 2013 she also plans collaboration with artist from Sarajevo, Damir Imamović.
MOBA – Come on Harvest Helpers, BILJEG, 1994.
DRINA – traditional Serbian singing: Living Water, Svetigora, Promezzia, 2000.
SRBIJA SOUNDS GLOBAL series, vol. 1, 2 and 3, 4, compilation albums, B92, 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2008.
EXTENDED EUROPE, live in Vienna, SALON ELISE – VIENNA, 2002
ŽEGAR ŽIVI, Žegar Živi, Cloudvalley London, 2008
POD OZRENOM SVIRALICA SVIRA, (DVD) Serbian traditional singing, dancing and playing from the region of Ozren mountain, Bosnia, Culture Association “OZREN” (Karanovac, Petrovo), Doboj 2010
SVETLANA SPAJIC GROUP – Grey Falcon (CD), Multimedia Records 2012.
The theatre plays:
HARTA, Wrong Movement Ensemble, Athens, Museum of War, 2008
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF MARINA ABRAMOVIC, directed by Robert Wilson, Manchester International Festival/Teatro Real Madrid, 2011/2012
POSLEDNJA PLOVIDBA (The last Voyage of Rigas Fereos), by. N. Bradic, Danube Festival, Belgrade 2011
Chosen venues, festivals and institutions:
Bimhuis (Amsterdam), Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), DOM (Moscow), Moma (New York), DROM (New York), Moca (Los Angeles), Teatro Real (Madrid), Konzerthaus (Vienna), Jad Vashem (Jerusalem), Grotowski Institute (Wroclaw), Kreizh Breizh Academy (Brittany), RING RING (Belgrade), WOMAD, WOMEX
On Svetlana Spajić
“You’d have to be a lifetime steeped into tradition to sound like that.” Max Reinhardt, BBC
“An interpreter of unbelievable voice-power and hypnotic stage charisma”.
Richard Schuberth, Balkan Fever Festival
“Wonderful voice and great presence.” Lucy Duran, BBC
“Charismatic singer”, The Scotsman
“Impressive traditional singer”, Metropolitan Opera News
“Svetlana Spajić is not just and foremost a singer of traditional ethnic music, but a phenomenon whose imposing stage and artistic presence reveals deep, obsessive and elemental dedication and effort to restore contact with the greatest themes in the history of Western civilization: Eros and Thanatos.” Melita Jurkota, festival director
On Svetlana Spajic Group
“It is the personification of the Voice of the very root of Serbian traditional singing and its a cappela performing, the Voice of the supernatural tone and unbelievable power. We can rarely hear such top performance of the song art with such fantastic voices.”Karoline Janicek, ‘Kulturforum’, Balkan Fever Festival, Vienna
„Svetlana Spajić and her group of Belgrade singers are haunting.“ The Observer
’’Once again Svetlana Spajic showed that she posseses incredible intuition in presenting diverse segments of the archaic music, which she neither folklorizes additionaly nor does she fosilize it into the past. With ultimate lightness and skilfulness in performing different styles ( and showing once again her dedication to the local idioms in the manner of best ethnomusicological enterprises) she went with her group through a broad repertoire of traditional songs with entire spectrum of stylistic and form articulations.“
Iva Nenić, Radio Belgrade
’’The last RING RING evening brought the performance of Svetlana Spajic Group and it was the best event of the entire festival, the sublimation of all the elements that we were able to see in previous nights : intensity, theatre, tradition and inovation, abstraction and emotion. The group has the experimentation of free-jazz, simplicity and energy of anarcho-punk, all of this jointed with deep respect to the tradition. The Group was greeted with standing ovations and euphoria which can rarely be seen.“
Uroš Smiljanić, Ring Ring Festival