A few evenings ago I came across the upcoming concert Goli na odru (Slovenija) [Naked onstage (Slovenia)] by singer Janja Majzelj, taking place Tuesday 7th January at 10pm, Cankarjev Dom, Ljubljana. She’ll be singing arrangements of the poetry of Svetlana Makarovič, an acclaimed poet and a woman of many talents, who has previously also sung some of her own poetry.
The performance by Majzelj will definitely be worth a visit, not only for the lyrics but also because of the accompanying musicians Jelena Ždrale, Blaž Celarc, Nino de Gleria and Joži Šalej who have their own credibility and whose names will occasionally surface in various contexts. This project led me to think and then make a little search about the recurrent instances of poetry performed in song amongst the recent musical productions.
Obviously, the first band that came to mind were Čompe. Though their history goes back to the mid-nineties, they released their first album in 2005 and very successfully brought forth established Slovene poets such as Dane Zajc, Milan Jesih and Edvard Kocbek, all of them greats of the Slovenian literary cannon.
Another band with takes on great lyricists of the past is Maja Osojnik Band, which has made somewhat less radio friendly interpretations of Srečko Kosovel, Simon Gregorčič, Fran Milčinski and others. Then there is the forthcoming album by Godalika, where some of the poets covered are Janez Menart, Lily Novy and, once again, Srečko Kosovel and Edvard Kocbek, whose poetry was, by the way, also interpreted by yet another band called Autodafe. Nino de Gleria has conceived an awarded three album project called Odpeti [To sing], basing the albums on the work of Niko Grafenauer, Srečko Kosovel and Dane Zajc. The latter was recently also ‘musicalised’ by Chris Eckman. Some time ago he heard the translated poems of Zajc and claimed that the poems were already singing by themselves, needing only a little of his assistance to be recorded on an album.
Besides the already acclaimed lyricists, some of the younger and less known poets have also had their poems set into music. The remarkable Uršula Ramoveš in fantje iz jazbecove grape are doing this in their very special way, as their poet of choice Janez Ramoveš is expressing himself in a strongly distinctive local dialect. KvinTon have recently collaborated with the poet Borut Gombač. More than worth a notice are also Orkestrada, a young band that sings the poems of its lead singer. Then there is the Rokerji pojejo pesnike [Rockers sing poets] project, which has till now seen seven albums of ‘rockalised’ poetry of the younger generation of Slovene poets.
From here on, only a casual glance into google shows that much more has been going on in the recent decade. The poet Tone Škerjanc and the musician Jani Mujič produced a very interesting album called Lovljenje ritma [Catching the rhythm], where poetry appeared in a refreshingly an-acoustic context of electronic soundscapes and guitar riffs.
Gregor Podlogar and Dj Borka collaborated in a similar way; The Živa književnost [Living literature] events have seen a recorded compilation of some of its protagonists. There is also the Odpeti pesniki [Sung poets] project. In addition an album by Katja Šulc of songs by Mila Kačič, released by Sanje publishing house, which has more than once ventured into the field of sung poetry albums. Not to forget Peter Andrej and the late Ivan Volarič – Feo in the band Salamandra Salamandra. There are probably many others that will unfortunately not see the light of the day in this blog, which will end by some music from another great poet and singer, Tomaž Pengov.
Written by Anže Zorman
PS: The diffuse line between poets and lyricists has not been overlooked, only vehemently ignored.