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In their collaboration, Eva Salina & Peter Stan pick up and continue an interrupted legacy of empowered female voices in Balkan Romani (gypsy) music. Amplifying voices of past generations of Romani women musicians, Eva & Peter employ tenderness, grace, passion and a commitment to keeping these songs alive and evolving, while ...

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Ron Kadish
812-339-1195 X 202

Return of a Lost Queen: Eva Salina and Peter Stan’s New Album SUDBINA Paints a Raw, Luminous Portrait of Roma Diva Vida Pavlović

They called her a queen, with reverence and affection, though she mostly sang in smoky bars, her voice rising above the din of smirking, drinking men. Despite the undeniable emotive power of her voice, Serbian Roma singer Vida Pavlović never gained international notoriety and died before her 60th birthday in 2005.

Yet in the memory of Roma musicians and older generations in former Yugoslavia, Vida’s singing and the songs she sang were regarded with tenderness and honor, even while fading quietly into Balkan musical history. Scouring obscure corners of the internet for new repertoire, singer Eva Salina kept returning to Vida’s soul-wringing, haunting recordings. The resulting new album, SUDBINA (release: March 30, 2018), her first as a duo with accordionist Peter Stan, shines a light on Vida’s legacy, but also on Salina’s exquisite knack for re-imagining faded but vital music. Salina and Stan will share this connection with audiences in all upcoming 2018 performances.

The goal of identifying and amplifying the voices of those who have been silenced, or who have had to remain quiet, resonates profoundly for Salina, particularly in this current moment of growing global focus on women’s experiences--experiences Pavlović addressed directly.

“In the context of current movements toward women’s equality and agency, as I continue to dig deeper into this repertoire, I realize over and over how it’s all way more relevant than I could have anticipated. You can fill these songs to the brim with sadness, anger, frustration, and hope, and yet they are never saturated. There’s always room for more: more life, more desire, more understanding, more fire. Songs like these bring tenderness to the day-to-day reality of an unpredictable world and help temper the hardships in our own lives, and hopefully the lives of others.”

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“I am always hungry for new songs, especially from the incredible Roma women singers of 30-plus years ago, and hearing Vida’s grounded, total musicality simply blew my mind,” recalls Salina. “I had never encountered songs that commented so plainly on women’s lives or a Roma singer who so naturally balanced masculine and feminine energies. The word ‘vida’ means ‘vision’ in Serbian, a perfectly chosen name for a singer who brought so much empathy and intuition to her songs.”

Salina tapped long-time friend Stan to join her in dreaming up spare yet fluid interpretations of the pieces she selected from Vida’s body of recorded work. Written in both Romanés and Serbian, the pieces provide unflinching accounts of the trials of poverty, migration, domestic abuse, and marginalization, while retaining an upright dignity and passion even Pavlović’s bleak life and tragic, early death could not touch. On Sudbina, Salina employs her “poised, lustrous voice” (New York Times), in dialogue with Stan’s ever-morphing melodies, to carry these songs forward with a focus and intimacy that fall somewhere between torch song and chamber music.

In “Ostala je pesma moja,” Pavlović sings that she hopes her song will continue once she’s gone. Despite her unmistakable talent and unique musicianship, her untimely death kept her from the acclaim of international stars like Cesaria Evora, Chavela Vargas, or Totó La Momposina, whose late-life global successes assured their legacy. Much like Billie Holiday or Oum Kalthoum, the trials of Vida’s personal life wore her down and hastened her decline. Unlike those two singers, however, her musical contributions have languished in relative obscurity.

It wasn’t the tragic quality of the songs, or the neglect and hardship Vida experienced as a Roma woman musician in Serbia that drew Salina to Pavlović, however. It was the raw honesty of particular songs she sang, whose stories are quite uncommon in Balkan vocal traditions. Salina explores the emotional expanse of Vida’s songs, adding husky, twilight tones of experience to the bright precision gleaned from decades of working in Balkan song traditions.

“My entire musical education centered on Balkan vocal traditions, and I always particularly loved Bulgarian table songs, historical narratives recounted with precise, articulate melisma,” reflects Salina. “While these songs provided tremendous technical challenge and beautiful melodies, Vida’s songs demand a different level of personal investment and interpretation. These are songs to grow into over a lifetime. The question I ask myself is this: How do I take this song beyond a show of skill and make it a vehicle to say something deep and honest? A great deal ofwho I am, what I have lived, and who I may be in the future is present in my singing on this album, and the same is true for Peter’s contributions. We’ve given ourselves nothing to hide behind--no production tricks, no distractions. It’s a pretty old-school record.”

The stark truths ring out in songs like “E dadeći čajori (Dema miro)”: “Vida’s performances have very clear arcs, she was completely in control of the stories she told. ‘Dema miro’ is the song to sing when people are ready to feel it all, when you’re ready to help everyone let it out,” Salina notes. “The song says ‘Give me peace, because you are devouring my heart,’ and then goes on to talk about the continued realization of one’s own poverty over a lifetime. The pain in that song is elemental--no nostalgia, nothing extraneous. The lyrics say so much without many words; the emotion lies in the melody and what it unleashes in people.”

Salina and Stan met years ago, when Salina was a young singer, during a madcap song-trading session in a green room. His fluid, shifting improvisations, and playful nature proved the perfect complement to Salina’s soulful storytelling, and their mutual love for older Roma songs sealed the deal.

“Peter overflows with unpredictable moments, intense and quirky, but always deeply musical,” Salina says. “Peter will never play a phrase the same way twice and often won’t remember what he played three minutes before. He’ll take a tour around multiple traditions in a single solo, but never loses himself. Accordion is his first and most fluent language.”

The duo provides Stan almost total freedom; departing from the usual strictures of Balkan bands or traditional performance contexts, it maximizes his ability to create counterpoint to Salina’s earthy, rich voice. Together, Salina and Stan, without severing their deep roots in tradition, are shifting this music away from the Balkan dance party club scene and toward new spaces, where voices like Vida’s might have been heard decades ago, had the circumstances been different.

While they take pleasure in injecting winks and flashes of humor and creativity into the recording and their live performances, Salina and Stan take seriously their responsibility to honor, remember, and thus hopefully carve out space for new narratives around persecution, civil rights, and present-day challenges affecting Roma communities. This duty is stated explicitly in “E laute bašalen taj roven,” a reference to the Roma experience of the Holocaust, too often marginalized or blatantly omitted from Holocaust lore and history. “The song says, ‘the violins, full of sadness, are crying for us,’ acknowledging musicians’ ability and responsibility to give voice to the suffering of the people,” Salina explains.

“I hope that my work can contribute to a legacy. I personally don’t know anyone else who is actively singing these songs,” says Salina. “Peter and my imaginations and our personal musical histories give us the possibility to say new things with these rich old songs. Our interpretations of this repertoire can hopefully provide new insight into the incredible musical diversity in the Balkan region, broadening the common understanding slightly beyond, say, Bulgarian women’s choirs and Roma brass bands. Vida’s songs speak to something else, something poignant and personal, and that’s precisely what I hope to amplify.”

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