Jelena Milušić and Merima Ključo: Balkan Soul Expressed Through Music

While Jelena Milušić caresses the specific counter-alto with her voice, one of the world’s most famous accordionists, Merima Ključo, accompanies Jelena on the accordion. They have both chosen music as their vocation and call their collaboration destiny.

Their album “Lume” contains 10 cover songs all around the world and five original songs inspired by the Romanian, Croatian, Kosovo and Sephardic traditions. For some of the songs they immediately knew they were the right choice, for others it took a little longer.

Jelena tells how the selection of songs was an intense and wonderful process. Both of them suggested songs, and it was essential that all the songs fit both of them in in terms of arrangement and program. The album has been produced by Merima, for whom “Lume” is the product of a wonderful collaboration.

“Lume means love. This album is all about that to me,” she adds.

For Jelena, working on this album is a great experience from which she has learned a lot about understanding and interpreting music.

‘Lume’ has various meanings: world, life, source of light, illusion, fire, spark, lover, humanity, more than love.

“We often forget that lyrics are the basis of interpretation for the song because we focus too much on accurate and beautiful singing and technique and in that process, we often forget to convey the message lyrics carry. Merima pointed this out to me and helped me become aware of one very important part of my creative personality. The entire process of making this album was amazing – from the selection of songs, preparation, rehearsal and recording, and above all it is a special feeling to perform live with Merima,” says Jelena.

The reactions to their album were, as Jelena says, extremely positive and emotional.

“We had the opportunity to perform in the region and Europe, as well as in the US. Regardless of the region, the audience shares with us feelings in which you can sense admiration. There are also compliments for the performance and energy between Merima and me. Merima’s composition is especially positively welcomed because it is full of surprises,” she adds.

They also revived Aleksa Šantić’s fairy-tale poem “Snowflakes.” It started with Merima proposing to produce Jelena’s solo album, which she gladly accepted.

“I really liked what’s written because it brought me back to the carefree days of my childhood and revived Mostar from the most beautiful memories. We decided to record audio and video for Snowflakes and announce my solo album with that song”, says Jelena.

Merima adds that Aleksa Šantić’s songs are very visual.

A traditional music as inspiration for a new work.

“You just can see every word and thought he wrote, which inspired and encouraged me to create a sound image,” she says.

The adaptation of the hit classic “Catch Me in the Suburbs”, performed by Merima with the famous Croatian jazz musician Matija Dedić, was awarded the Porin. She enjoys the recognition by the other musicians, but she is especially glad that people from the region recognized her hard work, and that they are familiar with her work.

Her inspiration comes from the music of Sephardic Jews, which also can be felt on the album “Lume.” And the love for that music started at the age of fourteen.

“I was walking down the Sarajevan streets and passing by an instrument store I heard a wonderful melody. The sound was somehow familiar to me, but different from anything I had heard until then. I couldn’t resist the urge to walk into the store and ask what kind of music it was. I was told it was Sephardic music. I was and still am fascinated by that music, so I did a series of compositions and arrangements on Sephardic themes. My composition ‘Sarajevo Haggadah: Book Music’ was a great success and five years after its premiere and numerous performances, it is still performed all over America,” says Merima.

Jelena and Attila Aksoj recently recorded their second album “Yo Hanino, Tu Hanina,” which took all listeners into the world of Sephardic music.

“Sephardic music is special and magical. People feel it even though they don’t understand the lyrics because it is listened to with the heart. In addition, the music of Sephardic Jews is part of our cultural heritage. Given that there are not many artists in our country and region who perform Sephardic songs, I think it is very important to preserve this tradition,” concludes Jelena.

Photography: Miki Olabarri Powell, Marko Ercegović, VTF Studio

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This article was initially published in the first edition of MIR Magazine. MIR, which means ‘peace’ in Bosnian is an annual publication and platform for young inventive people developed by the Post-Conflict Research Center and Balkan Diskurs. It is dedicated to individuals and organizations that left us a legacy of strongly built foundations to continue our fight for peace and justice.

Luka is a trained Balkan Diskurs correspondent from Jajce. He currently lives and works in Dubrovnik. Luka is a student of media studies at the University of Dubrovnik, and so far he has published papers on numerous Dubrovnik portals.

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Winner of the Intercultural Achievement Recognition Award by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs

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