Monday, September 16, 2013

Tamara Obrovac ~ A Star at the Chellah Jazz Festival

One of the stars of this years Jazz in the Chellah Festival in Rabat was the composer singer and flutist, Tamara Obrovac, from the Croatian city of Pula. She is one of the most impressive artists on the Croatian music scene, and in the past few years she has become very popular due to the influence of the Istrian folk music that has been the creative force of her works. She took time off to chat with The View from Fez

This was the charismatic Tamara's first visit to any African country and she found the 18th Festival de Jazz au Chellah to be a surprise and a delight. The first thing that struck her was the ease of connecting with the audience.  "A concert is always an interaction between the musicians and the audience and here it was obvious that the audience felt the music," she said, "Immediately after the first song and first solo it was clear that the audience was connected."

The second surprise was the size of the audience. "It is rare in jazz to have an audience so large and this was one thousand five hundred people. It was a truly great concert. And the audience was emotional and felt the music – my kind of music."
"My approach towards music went from jazz standards, through my own compositions, to my finding of an original expression by connecting the language of the folk music of my homeland with the rhythms and improvisation typical for jazz, so jazz is my freedom and my roots are my inner truth" - Tamara Obrovac

The first part of the concert was with her quartet and all the music was Istrian inspired.

Istrian folk music is described by Tamara as "particular". "The scale is pentatonic," she explains. "The music has a small range with small intervals and to those unfamiliar with it, it can sound rather heavy."

This untuned music scale makes the Istrian songs unique. The chants are in most cases performed by two singers, singing in thirds, called “na tanko i na debelo” (thin and thick). Two-part singing and playing in the Istrian scale was inscribed in 2009 on the Representative List of the UNESCO's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

But, as Tamara is quick to point out, if you keep to the traditional form there is no space to do anything new. "So I took the music of the dialect, inspired by the pentatonic scale and transposed it into jazz music. I retain the sense of the melody which reminds one of the Istrian scale and then merge these two forms.  As I say, jazz is my freedom and my roots are my inner truth."

But her work draws on many other influences such as rap. And again she explains. "Modern jazz is the sum of all modern genres. A capable jazz musician can play all the contemporary genres."

She attributes her success to the musicians she works with. "I have many great musicians. They are open and inventive – not closed in their souls. You can’t improvise if you aren’t free. Finding the right musicians took a long time. I tried many people and now when I play with them, something goes out, my musicians are superb – that’s official!"

Rachid Zeroual - "truly gentle and genuine"

The second part of the concert featured a collaboration with the Ney Maâlem ( master flautist) Rachid Zeroual who has been playing the Ney for more than 34 years. "My ancestors were musicians and my family history that binds the music goes back 150 years. Some played the Andalusian music and were part of the royal court and were especially famous orchestra 55. However, I am the only one who's penchant for Ney. While other children preferred other games, the Ney was my favourite pastime. I was five when I touched it for the first time and it has never left me since."

Collaborating with a Moroccan musician was another first for Tamara and one that they accomplished after only two rehearsals. "Such a truly gentle and genuine man. We had an immediate rapport – both on a human and musical level. Rachid had sent me some of his music and I sent him some. It was a challenge for both of us. I had to move my perception to a frame that was not mine. Jazz musicians have the flexibility and our improvisation is at the heart of what we do. It is the classical music of our time."

And the critics covering the festival in Rabat raved: "Tamara Obrovac is an audience-captivating phenomenon. With her trio she brought a different kind of energy and soon had the crowd pleading for more. Obrovac has a phenomenal stylistic range and has the temerity to want to take her trio into any number of moods. She also has willing accomplices in Croatian pianist Matja Dedič, and drummer Krunoslav Levačič,and Slovenian bassist Žiga Golob. Dedič is a phenomenally technically equipped pianist. Imaginative, mercurial, he proved himself always eager to step outside the comfort zone and to try something unexpected. A kindred spirit for John Taylor, Matja Dedič really is quite something." - London Jazz News

Sitting on a rooftop in Fez, Tamara reflected on what she would take away with her from the Moroccan experience. "What remains will be the rhythmical patterns and the way of creating phrases. The phrases of Moroccan music are built in an unusual way – combining the rhythmic and melodic phrases in a new way."

Tamara Obrovac (born in Pula, 1962) is a Croatian ethno jazz singer, flutist, song writer and composer nominated for the BBC Radio 3 World music Award in 2004. Apart from playing with her ensemble Transhistria, Tamara Obrovac is committed to numerous inter-cultural projects, one of which is Istria/Irland (Istra/Irska in Croatian). She composes for ballet and theatre play and composed the music for the feature film What Is a Man Without a Moustache?

Story: Sandy McCutcheon

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