Name: Stracho Temelkovski
Occupation: Multi-instrumentalist, improviser
Current Release: Stracho Temelkovski's The Sound of Braka is out now.
The Prophet by the poet Khalil Gibran and his beautiful quote about sadness and joy: "They come together, and if one is sitting with you, at your table, remember that the other is asleep on your bed."
The Bach Suites for Cello performed by Pablo Casals
If you enjoyed this interview with Stracho Temelkovski, visit his official website for more information about his work and his current projects. He is also on Facebook and Instagram.
When did you start writing your own music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing music very young even though it took a long time to consolidate.
I had a lot of influences including blues, Balkan bands, Ravi Shankar and Brazilian batucada ensembles.
Music allows us to share incredible moments of celebration, it is a universal language, but also of meditation and therapy.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I learned both from the idols of the Western world like Santana or Hendrix, but also, because of my origins, I was submerged in the atmosphere of Macedonian weddings. Watching Slavic and Gypsy musicians also deeply influenced me.
Rather than imitating all these people, I unwittingly made a sort of synthesis of all these influences, rooted in urban culture (because of my generation and where I grew up). My constant search for identity, due to the uprooting that I have experienced, and the fact that I am self-taught, have forged who I am musically.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I can't separate the artist from the person, from the soul. In my culture, the word "soul" also means "person". Music is an echo of our soul and our experience. For me, it is an echo of a childhood dream that might seem naive, cosmopolitan, and peaceful.
As music is an echo of the soul, I simply told my story in music, especially on this album. It's a kind of photo album of my identity. I just translated my wounds into music, emotion, and groove. I try to shine a light on them.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
My first challenge was to tell a story in music, without words, trying to find a balance with as many mixtures as possible. It was also to master different instruments. In fact, I realize that 20 years later, I still have the same goal. The form has evolved but the substance is the same: it's the same concept, the same childhood dream.
When starting out, many artists want to "change the world" with their work. What was this like for you? What were some of your early ambitions and in which way were you able to realise them?
I wanted to change the world, to make it universal and pacifist. I even dreamed of a concept of fighting through music.
I think I have contributed in my own way to make some of my desires come true. I achieve them by meeting particular people, who have almost become a second family, through my creations mixing East and West. Encounters and voyages make me feel like a mediator.
In which way do you feel as though music can bring about change and lead to tangible improvements?
To bring about tangible changes and improvements, I think the music must be unifying, convey a message or be therapeutic in order to console.
As far as my music is concerned, I'm trying to create an imaginary, improbable universe covering Pakistan, Morocco, the Balkans, and Latin America and adding a lot of grooves to it. I like the idea of proving that even in an abstract way, cohabitation can work.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
For me, collaborations are an integral part of our careers. Being self-taught, my life as a musician is made up of collaborations that follow one another and that last.
I meet the artists in person (whether it's an impromptu meeting or a desire to work together) and we take the time to discuss to see if philosophically it works. Then we see if we can instinctively improvise and if we understand each other. Finally, we work together to be able to use the technological, mixing and editing tools to produce a project that corresponds to both of us.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
My days vary depending on whether I'm on tour or at home. For a long time, I had my musical life blending with my personal life. Since having children, I set myself more stable schedules to spend time with them and not bother them with my music.
But usually, I start my day with a cup of tea and playing my bass, whether it's plugged in or not. I work on the more cerebral aspects of music in the morning and the more instinctive parts in the afternoon.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I had only been playing guitar for two years when my first guitar teacher, Pierre Feugier, introduced me to Amazigh Kateb, the lead singer of Gnawa Diffusion. Amazigh invited me to play with him in a sold-out 6,000-person concert. It was an amazing experience to start my live music career like that.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
To create, in my opinion, you must be connected to your inner world, despite its mysteries, to be in connection with your intuitions and emotions. Whether it is to work in the short term like for an improvisation, but also to be able to develop that over a long period with re-listening and re-workings.
I think you must avoid thinking about your preconceived ideas and judging ideas too quickly. Sometimes I sit down with the purpose of creating and thinking, but sometimes ideas just come to me instinctively.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music healed me to face the first disappointments of my life like the death of my father. Playing and listening to music has calmed me and given my life a direction.
It's not the music that hurts but the ego, when you want to compare yourself to musicians from all over the world, for example. You may feel unimportant, or on the contrary, you may feel too highly of yourself .
Everyone develops at their own level; we are all unique.
I did workshops in prison where the inmates played and produced records as well. Co-composing music and writing about the unspoken was a fantastic tool for healing, reconciliation and understanding for them.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
For me, the line not to cross is to just copy. You must make it your own, otherwise it's just copying and it's uninteresting.
You can also make a tribute, that's great, but if it becomes a denial of your own personality, that's a shame.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses like seeing, smelling, and touching. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses?
When we play, we are disconnected and linked to the present moment, each time it's a kind of trance. There is no room for thought.
I have a few memories and especially when accompanying dance, I experienced a kind of hyper consciousness. You are so connected to your senses that you feel like you are a spectator and not an actor: this is very rare and special.
Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
The proximity of art with my life is total: it is a single entity. I take family breaks so as not to overwhelm my children with my passion.
Being an artist has a formal side where my concerts earn my salary but otherwise it is my pleasure to play and to deepen my understanding of music. Confucius said, "Choose a job that you love, and you won't have to work a day in your life". That's how I feel.
What can music express about life and death which other forms of art may not?
As music can combine sound, emotion, and movement in real time, it allows moments of communion or collective contemplation that can reach the most primal instincts like a prayer song or trance music. The possibility of doing without words brings us back to a universal language but also to the possibility of doing without any reflection or analysis. It’s like going back to the first screams we emit before we know how to speak.
Music allows us to celebrate, despite ourselves, our first relationships with art, whether they are individual or universal. It’s like the reminiscences of a child in its mother’s womb. I have the feeling that the songs my mother sang in Macedonian when I was in her womb taught me to understand the rhythms of Balkan songs.