Jazz with a Slavic story: Mimika Orchestra from Croatia

tatlin (CC0), Pixabay

Ancient rituals, gods and goddesses, loud tapans, mystical lyras, virtuosic tamburas, shreeking sopelas, trumpets, saxophones, drums, vocals and Zvončari arrive on the scene to create an immersive narrative based performance. The newly released project by the Croatian – British Mimika Orchestra is an expanded jazz album focusing on Slavic folk themes and rituals. It is a fusion of contemporary music, electronic soundscapes, the tradition of orchestral jazz, prog rock energy and musical themes inspired by Slavic folk themes and complex rhythms from the Balkans.

Mimika Orchestra – Forgiveness Day / Dan Oprosta

Forgiveness Day is the closing composition from the concept album “Divinities of the Earth and the Waters” which deals with the human condition, love, loss, myths and struggle. The story is set in the preindustrial and late Ottoman / Austrohungarian Balkans approaching the Balkan wars of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Mimika Orchestra was formed in London in 2010, initially focusing on creating a contemporary orchestra inspired by Duke Ellington and the likes, yet with contemporary musical influences and an experimental edge. The group released three albums, and the first look into the Slavic history was the album “A Place Glowing a Brilliant Red”. This album was set on a terraformed futuristic planet Mars, where martian economy collapses and a wave of separatist movements occur. This was in fact compared to former Yugoslavia and the Euroatlantic crisis. However the album was a satire and the group gained the description of their genre: Balkan Space Jazz.

The ensemble just released their newest album, “Divinities of the Earth and the Waters” which sets itself in a preindustrial Balkan and Slavic landscape. The year and the place is not defined, yet the feeling is universal, or at least Pan Slavic.   The story sets as a narrative in three acts, inspired by the films of Sergei Parajanov who dealt with Slavic culture and identity (as well as with his own Armenian roots).

Mimika Orchestra – Song of Sorrow – Live in Zagreb (Museum of Contemporary Arts)

Mimika Orchestra performing “Divinities of the Earth and the Waters” which deals with concepts of identity and history in the Balkans (and elsewhere), but is also strongly inspired by folk motifs and Slavic pagan beliefs and rituals.

The album and the current show start off as a naive folk festival, where gods of earth are summoned and the new year has begun which connects to old marriage rituals and the Fašnik, Zvončari and Kukeri  carnival rituals of the South Slavs. We start to follow a protagonist into a dreamy version of his own seeing of life and struggle, touching upon universal themes of existence to the more defined metaphors of the Slavic history.

The culmination of the second part happens when the dream like state creates a vision of a Slavic mythical tree where a congregation is taking place. The vision is of shared history, shared ideals and shared struggles.In the last part we hear three small narratives, one of a child being born, both touching upon memories of the socialist blocks from former Yugoslavia and elsewhere, as well as the ceremonies that take place with the Child’s birth. The child is then transformed into a listener, listening to the Song of Sorrow  which talks about the constant wars and struggles our people face, the people lost under the constant influence of the other. The very last composition Forgiveness Day is a lively funeral fare-well. It is based on older pagan funeral traditions, yet the metaphor is that as in the beginning, the start and birth of the year, the death at the end of the show is both the death of the year, and is presented by the burning of the Fašnik effigy.

In this case, the listener, the protagonist and one-self sees the burning as one’s own funeral and one’s own life, which also connects to the broader funeral of society and the rebirth of a new one in the post cold war era and furthermore in the digital era.

Mimika Orchestra – Child (feat. Filip Novosel – tambura)

Child is a composition from the concept album “Divinities of the Earth and the Waters” which deals with the human condition, love, loss, myths and struggle. The album is set in both the modernist world and the preindustrial one, showing the polarities of the two.

Throughout the album, hints of slavic gods and rituals are used (Perun, Mokosh, Jarilo…) and strong elements of folk singing and rhythms all the way from Istria to Bulgaria. Although the themes are deep, “Divinities of the Earth and the Waters” is lively and upbeat, rhythmically constantly pushing forwards. The album is potentially the first Jazz album to strongly use the elements of all south slavic (and to an extent Moravian) music and singing promoting the Slavic culture as a source of great musical and cultural richness.

“Divinities of the Earth and the Waters” is released digitally, on CD and on vinyl (the vinyl has a bonus track) on the Croatian based PDV records.

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