Staro Selo was formed in 1987 by members of various other local Toronto Balkan-type bands. The repertoire was largely Macedonian and the instruments used were typical of the Izvorno ensembles of Jugoslavia (gaida - bagpipe, kaval - flute, tambura - two stringed mandolin, tapan and darabuka - drums). The name Staro Selo means old village and was picked partly to reflect the group’s interest in performing village songs and partly because there was already a band called Novo Selo (new village) in the U.S. The group played the usual Macedonian community events and parties, folk clubs and festivals but also found themselves at less likely venues such as opening for jazz chanteuse Holly Cole and Jugoslav rock band Leb I Sol.
The group was a little studio shy and hence the recordings presented here are from concerts. Grabile Smiljana Devoika (1) like the two tunes following it is from Central Macedonia. Poor Smiljana is carried off by some bandits, but she does the crafty maiden thing and gets the outlaw leader, Gjorgi Sugari to marry her. One presumes this is better than not being married. The tune is in 11/8 which is one of the many rhythms found in the region of Macedonia. Ajde Red Se Redat (2) is very popular old song in 7/8 (3+2+2) that tells how the outlaw Ilijo outwits his would be captures and lives it up in the tavern while they search high and low for him. Ajde Mala Stana Bolna Lega (3) is the tragic story of young Stana who lies sick and wasting while the object of her affections is off running a coffee house in some far away town. Ironically he’s telling his friends what a great gal Stana is. Guess he’s too busy making coffee to write. This tune is also in 7/8, but is counted 2+2+3. Idi Da Go Sakas Mamo (4) is from the Pirin Bulgaria region. A young man sends his mother out to ask for the hand of Zora. If Zora refuses the offer, he will knock down the house, build a monastery and become a monk. In 7/8. Also from the Pirin region, but in 4/4 time, is Oj Jovane (5). In this song a fabulous home has been built by Jovan but much to his chagrin he finds a dove perched on the willow tree in the garden. He dispatches his mother to get a gun so he can shoot the bird at which point it speaks out, "I did not come to be shot at but to be your lover."
Chris Aston - Tambura (1,3,4,5) Tapan (2)
Neda Voda had a strange beginning, the wake of our friend Ann Mangrum. She had wanted a send off with singing and dancing and so we dusted off our tambura and obliged her request. That was in January of 1994. We decided to keep playing together because it was fun and we enjoyed the portability of such a small ensemble. After about a year we gathered at the off the beaten track studios of Caution Point to record some of the off beat tunes we had been playing. We had lunch, then sat down to record about a dozen tracks live to DAT, five of which are on this recording. We wanted to do something simple and honest as a document as much as anything else and it surprises and pleases us when people tell us they weren't that crazy about the songs to begin with but that the tunes grew on them and now 'that purple tape' is one of their favorites. Incidentally, Neda Voda doesn't really meaning anything. Neda is a girl's name and Voda means water and they are the first two words of the first tune that Chris ever learned on tambura. Sounds nice, though, like water. Ajde Sto e Dzumbus (6) is a 7/8 tune that is popular throughout the region of Macedonia and if you are very good, one day we will play for you the Gasi Nehat version with rockin' zurnas. This song asks the popular question (especially when there are zurna around) 'What is all the noise about?' It’s a wedding, the bride is no spring chicken but she’s wealthy and the groom is good looking O Gospozo (7) is a much less cheerful tune. "All because of you beautiful woman, I have gone to jail, because of you I'm leaving my wife and my children crying." This song and the following two were learned from a cassette of Razlog Rom singer Tsetsa. That cassette was picked up by ethnologist Carol Silverman a number of years ago in Bulgaria. At the time, the state very strictly controlled what was to be produced and sold; Rom music and musicians were not given very high priority. Consequently, there was a musical black market, with home produced tapes of what people really wanted to hear. Alas, Tsetsa’s tape sounds like it was recorded in someone’s kitchen with a super-cheapo-sonic tape recorder. Then the cassette went through the Balkan Music Lovers Underground gathering hiss till it found its way to Toronto. The original recording had only two driving tambura players backing the singer but we liked using one Turkish saz, one tambura and some percussion to add some buzz. Taja Vecer Ic Ne Sum Vesela (8) "Every night I can not sleep mother" says the girl "for I have no lover. He has gone far away to work. He will work and earn money and he will come back build a house and take me as his bride." In 9/8. Jaste i Pite (9) is a 4/4 hurtin' tune. A man exhorts his friends to eat and drink and talk of good things, he has a girl waiting for him with a flower behind her ear. The girl on the other hand says she will wait but only this one night more, she can stand it no longer. Rano Si Stanalo (10) is mostly in 7/8 with a nifty little bar of 5 or 12 depending on how you look at it. Back to Macedonia for this tale of dreams and lovers and promises of not going too far from home.
Chris Aston - Tambura (6,7,8,9,10)
Mastika is an alcoholic beverage of almost mythical properties, said to bring one to an elevated state of inebriation. It will also turn your metronome on its side. When Chris wasn't working on Balkan tunes, he was playing accordion for Morris dancers and sitting in on Irish sessions with his banjo and tambura and probably imbibing the local equivalent of mastika. One day it dawned on him. If Andy Irvine can do then so can I. He enlisted Jack and Ben and the three of them set out to confound their metronomes and coax pumpkins to dance. Lupchevo (11) is a snakey little Macedonian tune in 11/8 (2+2+3+2+2) that Chris learned from a guy named Lupcho. Rod Serling’s Trip To Bulgaria (12) in 7/8, is what happens when you watch too many reruns of Twilight Zone. And Pumpkin Paidushko (13) is in fact two tunes in 5/8 associated with the pumpkin harvest ritual dance.
A large stack of 45 rpm from Jugoslavia had been sitting by Brenna’s turntable for several years. They were not gathering dust. Thinking it might be nice to play some of the tunes rather than just listen to them, she sought to put together a not so traditional band. The first rehearsal was with klezmer and new music clarinetist Martin Van de Ven and all around guitarist John Gzowski. Then came jazz and klezmer bassist Laura Cesar with Jeff Wilson and Robin Easton sitting in to play percussion, then Ernie Tollar started coming with his saxophone and flutes, then Rick Lazar took a break from Latin grooves to play darabuka with us, then Rick Hyslop dropped by to play guitar and violin. Cousin Jennifer Moore added back up vocals from time to time and Daniel Janke, better known for his kora and piano playing added a few chords with the accordion. Ravi Naimpally graced us with his tabla. The list goes on. The Orkestar was meant to be a flexible entity, so when no wind player was available, then the guitars played the lead. It was also a sound technician’s nightmare if everyone showed up for a gig...but it was fun. And fun it was supposed to be. Oh yes, and what does the name mean? (It’s not that easy to pronounce and it wasn't meant to be easy to spell either) Gold Star Band. But that's another story. Rumelaj (14) is a dangerous song though it sounds so innocent. It was originally sung by Hungarian band Kalyi Yag. It became popular in folk dance circles and a lot of people began to play it. Problem is that no one could come up with an accurate translation of the words. They might be quite lewd. However, even Kalyi Yag couldn't settle the question when a friend contacted them. Well, up your own verses and sing along on the chorus. Cano Cano (15) is mostly a Turkish song from Macedonia about being driven crazy by desire with some extra Orkestar bits added in. In Zurefa (16) a man laments that he will die young as a result of unrequited love. We learned this song from a recording of Kossovo Rom singer Ibrahim Semsi. Chiftetelli #6 (17) was based on a chiftetelli by the late great Greek Rom clarinetist Vassilis Soukas. It’s called #6 because there are twelve chiftetellis on the album and each is identified by only a number. You already know what Ajde Sto e Dzumbus (18) is about (see under Neda Voda), but here we add Ravi’s tabla. This was recorded in concert as was the next tune, Feryad (19). In Feryad, there is kind of a which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg-question. This melody appears on a recording by Turkish musician Fikret Kizilok, the words came from a version that appeared on a tape by cümbüs¸ player Orhan Koçan, but it is rumored that Turkish Arabesque artist Orhan Gencebay wrote that version who knows. Feryad is a lonely cry to the creator, "You put me on this earth where no friends are left, my heart is filled with such a love yet no one knows its worth, show me the way to go."
Martin Van De Ven - Clarinet (15, 16,17)