Mario Batković will perform for the first time on the scene of the Jazz Fest Sarajevo on November 4 in the venue Dom policije. This artist, born in Banja Luka, who lives and works in Switzerland, explores the possibilities of accordion and performs at important festivals and concert halls around the world.
JFS: What music influences contributed to the formation of your musical expression?
MB: It would be very difficult to pick a composer or music genre to explain what my music is or what has led to my expression, the way of playing or composing. I think every person experiences different things in life that make them what they are- whether those things are friends, family, some travels, socializing. I have, as well, received through my life so many influences that I really cannot say what it was that led to that moment of the development of my music. It would be more correct to say that my music was some kind of mirror, a musical mirror of what I’ve experienced or what I’ve faced with in my life.
JFS: You have classical music education, but you also did less formal club gigs . Is it really necessary to reconcile these two worlds?
MB: I’ve studied classical music and I’ve been dealing with the classical music for a long time, but I’ve never been an exemplary student. I was a kind of opposition, I was fighting the system. The same thing was with rock’n’roll. When I played with the r’n’r musicians, sometimes I was too bored because I did not play guitar and some standards, but I was interested in developing music – how to perform music in some other way, bring it to another level. And I have never tried to reconcile these two worlds, but I have chosen to be an opposition. I do not want these boundaries in music and it is not my intention to reconcile all those genres, but my goal is to break the boundaries, because the boundaries in music don’t exist for me. They exist in people’s heads, but there are no boundaries in the music, because the tones are always tones, C is always C, and A is always A. Whether a rocker or classicist or anybody play them is completely irrelevant. I love music, and that love of music is greater than any boundary or limitation. What I’m fighting for is music freedom, to be able to serve music, and to be totally independent
JFS: You have your own studio and record label. What kind of music is welcomed in your studio?
MB: When you listen to the little children, you always get the most honest music. Children do not lie, they play the wrong tones, sing the wrong tones, but they love them. And it goes straight to our adult hearts. That’s what I expect from the musicians who come to my studio, to play from the heart, love the tones they play. Many people want to promote themselves and their lifestyles through music, , want to become popular through music by abusing it. But I believe there are two genres in the music – a sincere and insincere sound, and I believe in the sincere sound. So, everyone who really loves music is welcomed to my studio.
JFS: There is always a melody floating over the minimalist patterns in your music. In the era of the contemporary music that is often ruled by restlessness, what meaning a melody and melodic tune have for you?
MB: Is my music minimalistic? Not for me, because it’s too dynamic. I know contemporary music very well and I really love contemporary music, but it is somehow too abstract, that’s the music of some professors for some professors, the music of some experts for some experts, and I do not want that. What I want in my music is a kind of development because I believe that the death of every art comes when it ceases to develop. I do not have any problems with combining some tacky melodies with abstract sounds, and one can even say that my music is a kind of primitive contemporary music, or, as I call it, a professional fantasy.
JFS: You were born in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the accordion first entered the world of traditional and later classical music. What is your stance toward accordion as a traditional instrument?
MB: I’ve experienced the accordion as something very natural when I was a child. I remember people who, without any expectation, used to sit together, sing and play, purely from the heart. And that affected me, although I never wanted to play this music professionally, because I was interested in other things. There are people who do this very professionally and who play perfectly but honestly speaking I would not play our music in public, although sometimes in the studio I sit down with friends to sing and play. And I find the story about accordion interesting, how it developed, where it is today, and where it was earlier in the classical sense. It is important to know what was in the past, but I think it is more important to know what a person wants to achieve in the future. I am yearning to go somewhere in my own direction where I try to realise what I hear in my head, to make it real. Therefore I am basically researching this instrument and surely the fact that I was born in these regions has affected me and that I have experienced this instrument so personally.
JFS: Given tremendous acoustic capacities of the accordion, how would you describe its capacities in the context of sonority and sound itself?
MB: Accordion has tremendous capacity and potential as an instrument and I have just opened one small door for what it can do on the scene. It is important to note that I never seen myself as an accordionist, but as a musician playing a accordion. So I have observed this instrument from another perspective, where I wanted not only to play well, but to know how this instrument works. So I simply listened to what the instrument could do, and then with my friends, sound technicians, I developed a microphone system so that the accordion could survive on large stages. We wanted to be able to hear basses or high tones that otherwise “disappear into the mixing.”
And the accordion is a heavy instrument that is hard to bring to a huge stage, at a rock festival where a heavy metal band had a gig before me, and some DJ after me, and now in the middle of all that is that accordion that has to survive – to say without using clichés. I think that love for that instrument made me look at it objectively, as a musician, not as an accordionist.
This instrument is popular, but not at the same level as piano or guitar. Who claims the opposite, let them go and knock on the door of MTV or Rolling Stone magazine. I’m trying to fight for that instrument and place it where it should not be, and that’s my goal. It is my wish that one day I see this instrument, and I see the young people who play this instrument, without all these difficulties on the world scene, to do what they want, to be individualists and to play their music.
Photo by Christiaan Walraven