INTERVIEW Slaven Ljujić for "Vijesti": Music is like life, it happens in the moment

Multi-instrumentalist Slaven Ljujić and his trio had several concerts in Paris this year, and the motto of his band is "without borders".

7233 views 2 comment(s)
Disclaimer: The translations are mostly done through AI translator and might not be 100% accurate
Slaven Ljujić Trio and Baptiste Herbin, Photo: "Couleurs Jazz Media", France
Slaven Ljujić Trio and Baptiste Herbin, Photo: "Couleurs Jazz Media", France

The jazz music form has gone through a fascinating evolutionary path. Born from the fusion of African rhythms, European harmony and other cultural influences, jazz music became one of the most influential musical genres of the 20th century. From its beginnings in New Orleans to its global rise during the twentieth century, jazz has created a rich and diverse tradition.

Many musicians built their artistic identity through this genre, and more and more young people from Montenegro are choosing jazz. One of those who knew at an early stage of his education that he would build his career precisely through jazz is a Montenegrin multi-instrumentalist. Slaven Ljujic. His career was shaped through various projects, and during this year he particularly stood out with his Slaven Ljujić Trio, with whom he had three unforgettable concerts in Paris.

We should also not forget his contribution in bands including Kuhinjazz, Senkina Đeca and many others, because he believes that if an artist focuses on only one project, his scope is smaller.

Ljujić believes that every musician must build himself by playing original music, and he and the Slaven Ljujić Trio chose free jazz, and he talks about all this in an interview for Vijesti...

During this year you had three concerts in Paris with your trio. Given that you are very involved with your colleagues from Kuhinjazz, what was the reason for you to decide to create a new trio and dedicate yourself to it?

In the last four months we had three shows in Paris. In May we had two concerts in Paris and now the third one at the Jazz Festival in Noyon, a town near Paris. The first performance of the Slaven Ljujić trio was last year at the DEUS festival, and that's where we started the whole story. The reason why I made a trio is that my base is the drum and I always wanted to have such a line-up. All the time, whatever I did, I was guided by that desire. In the Slaven Ljujić Trio, I am surrounded by phenomenal musicians such as Ivan Marović who is intended for the role of guitarist (electric guitar) although he is a jazz pianist, and there is also an outstanding double bass player Team Džeferović. They both live in Europe, Ivan in Berlin, Tim in Vienna, so it's also interesting that whenever we get together, we bring the energy of cities like Berlin, Vienna and Podgorica, and transfer that to our music.

With all genres, we have reversals in the sound and the effort of the authors to adapt to the current trend. What is the situation with jazz and are there any "current trends"?

Yes, with all genres we have twists and turns, and so it is with jazz. Modern jazz, popular, is quite commercialized. He turned a lot towards pop music and towards some mainstream. Of course, not all, but what is listened to the most has lost, in my opinion, that certain trait of the old school approach to playing jazz music and in the sound itself. The sound in modern jazz is much more modern, plastic, non-acoustic, more and more electric. Synth-keyboards, synthetic sounds are used, that is, in modern terms, "inflated music". We in the trio, since all three of us still love old school and natural, acoustic sound the most, we are oriented towards making music that carries with it an acoustic line and the natural sound of instruments.


Use the on-site composition method. Regardless of the vast experience and work you have behind you, have you set yourself a difficult task, given that music always follows the current mood? Are those compositions that remain in the repertoire refined?

We use the method of playing free jazz. That was my idea when I gathered the team to use that free expression through the music played on the spot. However, it is not the classic free jazz that people are used to, there is no shouting, no noise on the instruments, but we have a template-base on which we build our free expression. That is one, quite strong bite, for the reason that a person really needs to be completely free and open to be able to approach such music making, to not have any current shackles, but to completely surrender to that one emotion. I'm lucky that Ivan and Tin are so phenomenal in their knowledge of harmonies and melodies, so when we listen to that music after all those concerts we record, we hear how beautiful and harmonious it sounds, as if we were composing, not playing on on the spot. They really know very well and use harmony brilliantly and feel which way to go. Likewise, in that expression, only respect between us makes a big deal. When everyone is given complete space and width to express themselves in their own way, then the most beautiful moments of which we are proud come. The very point of that composition is to use moments of public performance for as much emotional and mental expression as possible. Since they are free and that's how we play them, then we don't touch them anymore, because they just happen and we don't try to refine anything. The point of that music is not to be refined, but to happen on the spot, as life itself is. No matter how much a person tries to refine his life as well as his music, he can to some extent, but life happens in the moment and what happens stays. So also this music that we deal with and that we also perfect through the very approach of dealing with playing that free expression, we get better and better. We are mentally preparing for a joint performance, which spheres we will indulge in and in which directions we will go. Perhaps the most important thing in the performance of such music is precisely this self-control and mutual respect and allowing each other to have complete freedom and breadth in expression.

During the concerts with the Slaven Ljujić Trio, you had the opportunity to perform with the French saxophonist Batista Herbin. How did the collaboration with him come about and what does Batist bring to your music and sound?

The collaboration came about through my friend Jacques Pope and friends Maje Popović and that one great project that is under development - "Jazz Bakan - France". It is a project that takes place between the cities of the Balkans and France, thanks to which, through jazz, a stronger relationship develops between the two regions. Through the development of that project in which I was involved, I met Pope, who is the founder of "Couleurs jazz radio", who also introduced me to Herbin in Paris, and we immediately played together. It is about a wonderful man who had the chance to live in the Balkans, more precisely in Serbia, and knows our mentality. Herbin loves this part of the world, and it's a wonderful feeling when we play together. We played concerts in Podgorica and Cetinje in April, then at the Jazz Festival in Bitola and Kotor, and then after that we had two concerts in Paris, one of which was just a trio, and the other with Herbin. Now we had that third performance with him as our guest. All in all, we are very happy to be able to play with him because we have a strong mutual cohesion and a very good sound together. When we play with Batista, everyone plays their own compositions and it's very interesting, because from that free playing we go and play those prepared compositions. We actually have both sides involved. Batist brings us a special sound and character because he is a recognized saxophone virtuoso in the world. He is one of the leading saxophonists of the younger generation of the European and world scene. I am honored to play in the company of phenomenal artists and to see my art flourish in that way. That is also the beauty of art - mutual sharing and selfless giving.

How do you see your role in the contemporary jazz scene, especially in the context of Montenegro and the wider region?

I see my role on the jazz scene in the context of Montenegro and the wider region in such a way that a person can influence the scene itself through projects like these and many different projects. If he has only one project to deal with, then his scope is smaller. I can boast of the Slaven Ljujić trio where I am the drummer, Kuhinjazza - a sextet where I am the bass player, band leader and producer, and now I can also boast of the Purple grame trio where I play bass and Ivan Marović the guitar and Martin Djordjevic drums. It is a new jazz fusion trio that is interesting and we are also preparing an album there. Also, I can boast of the role of percussionist in the band of Senkin Đec, who is slowly working on his first album and singles that will really bring Brazilian jazz and Latin sound. In general, the influence on the jazz scene and the scene itself as far as Montenegro is concerned is done in that way - having as many projects as possible and spreading its tentacles in all directions, seeing that with a different sound and genre, it gets a little closer to a wider audience, and that is not a bad thing. commercial music that everyone is used to today. Also, I founded the Slaven Ljujić collective - a band based in Belgrade, where the people I perform with are also there. The most we have performed so far is in a jazz and blues club, I think we will have gigs there once a month. It's right there next to me Enes Tahirović on the keyboard, a colleague from Kuhinjazz, so as far as the Balkans are concerned, we are slowly expanding and I think that over a period of time we will be able to boast of playing in the region.


The motto of the trio is "without borders". For a long time now, the phrase "knows no borders" has been true for music, but musicians from these areas have a much harder time building careers outside the Balkans. What are your experiences and is the audience in Europe and the world, as well as your colleagues, ready to hear something new, innovative?

That platitude for not knowing borders is a broad term. Unfortunately, we are limited when it comes to Montenegro, because we do not have a built scene. We have no representatives in the world who would pave the way for people from Montenegro who are involved in music to present themselves in an easier way. I was lucky enough to live in America and feel that scene there and now to start playing more, to be present on the European jazz scene. I think that people in Europe are absolutely much more open and cooperation occurs faster. There is a foundation there and the base itself has been built a long time ago, the scene has been developed, as well as the music business, so that when it comes to creating a project, people can easily present their work in different countries. It is also problematic for us that even when a person creates an album, he has to make a lot of effort to even get close to that stronger scene. And in order to get closer to a stronger scene, he has to sound good live, to be able to play a good concert, and to have representatives in those European capitals who will help them spread that music and play a concert, like we do now in Paris, to from Paris they can go to Italy or Spain. When it comes to non-commercial music, there is a problem everywhere in the world, because non-commercial music is looking for its specific audience that cares about that quality that is not popular, where the masses do not know it. In a way, it is chamber music that has a specific audience. To get to that music requires a lot of persistence, work and effort. I think that awareness has started to develop in our country and there are certain people and underground bands who are not involved in jazz, but in rock and roll and various other genres who create music, record and that is the most beautiful thing. That's the only thing that can set the scene on its feet - creating music. Without original music, nobody has anything, playing other people's music all your life is limiting and leads to nothing.

Colleagues abroad regarding our Slaven Ljujić Trio were very intrigued to hear what we were doing since, at least as far as Paris and the Parisian jazz scene, which looks a lot like the American one, they won't hear it there. They didn't expect to hear such an approach to music making. What we do is really unique and requires a lot of courage. A lot of people follow safe paths and steps, they play a rehearsed repertoire, they know exactly what is being played. We have grasped something completely different, where we want to find out through music what we want to do, what is subconscious, what we can do, and there is music within us that is completely dependent on the emotional state of mind and consciousness, and in the subconscious at that given moment. That's the most beautiful thing about that way of performing music - that it's different every time. Every time, after we have played a concert and when we listen to it, we can actually see what state we were in, all three of us, during that concert and the day in general. What everything from that day was reflected in our music.

Montenegro has trained drummers

Slaven Ljujić began his musical education at the classical guitar department. Fascinated by the sound of the drums, he decides to dedicate himself to them professionally while simultaneously learning the guitar at the "Vasa Pavić" music school in Podgorica. After finishing high school, he decided to take a step into the world of contemporary music by enrolling in the famous Berklee College of Music in Boston.

He started his professional career as a drummer and the youngest member of the then largest Montenegrin Dixieland orchestra ("Niksic City Orchestra"). The biggest influence on his music was Vinx De' Jon Parrette (singer, percussionist and composer), with whom he worked on many projects.

As someone who has a higher education behind him and plays percussion instruments in many ensembles, he referred to the recent statement of the artistic director of the Music Center of Montenegro, Marko Sinmović, that "there are no percussionists in Montenegro who are trained and can read notation".

"I'm sorry that the leading people from those institutions for some reason are not sufficiently informed that in the country itself there are people who already have world-class diplomas such as the Berklee diploma in jazz performance and drums. I believe that such an attitude will change when these people become familiar with it. In addition to me, there is also Martin Đorđević, who graduated from the Jazz Academy in Siena in drums, and there is also Milorad Balić, who graduated in classical percussion in Belgrade and is currently finishing his Master's studies. I believe that he will return to Montenegro and that he will have the opportunity to perform with the same orchestra, since he just finished the Academy for Classical Percussion. I want to refer back to that statement itself and inform the public that there are trained drummers and percussionists in Montenegro who know how to read notes and who have been playing percussion instruments professionally for years," notes Ljujić.

"Exactly through this way, performances and everything I do, I want to improve the music scene and make the public aware that there are world-class educated people in the field of modern music, who acquired their knowledge at world-renowned academies," adds Ljujić.

Bonus video: