Interview with Miron Rafajlovic

Born in Sarajevo, Miron Rafajlovic had to immigrate to Canada with her family during the civil war. After completing his jazz education, he joined Cirque du Soleil and traveled the world for 8 years and ultimately decided to continue his life in Spain. Miron Rafajlovic is a true troubadour (as the title of his first album indicates) and has shown the ability to add distillates from the cultures of every country he lives in to his music.

In the midst of recording his second album, Mediterranean Soul and right before his concert in CSO Ada Ankara in December 10, we’ve got a chance to talk with him about life and music.

How do you think that cirque music has influenced your music and life?

I would say it has influenced my life more so than my music. Being a part of such a huge traveling production with a crew and staff from all over the world was an incredible experience. During almost 8 years that I was a musician with Cirque du Soleil I traveled and lived in Japan, as well as all over Europe and North America. Those who travel a lot know that there is nothing like experiencing the customs, culture, food and music from places that you’ve never been. You can’t buy this kind of feeling with money. On top of that my job was to travel and play live music. I think for a 25 year old that I was when I started, it was an ideal dream job in a way.

Do we hear the traces of Cirque du Soleil in your composition and music in general?

I don’t think so. I think the traveling and what I experienced in those years influenced my music. I definitely learned a lot from being a musician on a live show where so many things are synced up with the music and what it takes to simply put on such a huge show where lighting, rigging, choreography, acrobatics and music have to come together 10 times a week perfectly every time. The purpose of the music I compose and the purpose of a soundtrack of a cirque show are really two very different things.

How old were you and do you remember the conditions when you left the country? What happened to the dream of Yugoslavia?

We all know what happened unfortunately. A really ugly and unnecessary conflict between people with imaginary differences, like ethnicity and religion. I was 11 years old in ‘92 when the war started in Sarajevo. I spent the first 3 years of the war on the Adriatic cost on an island in Croatia in a small village where my mom was born. It was actually there where I first started playing the trumpet.

How were you converted to jazz? Tell us about your early influences.

Eventually my parents didn’t have much choice but to immigrate to look for a better future and living conditions for their 4 kids. After we applied to various countries who were excepting immigrants from ex Yugoslavia, we got accepted to immigrate to Canada. If was there that I really discovered jazz for the first time. Since I already played the trumpet I was automatically put into a band program in high school. I played in both the symphonic orchestra as well as the Big Band and I think playing in a Big Band is one of the most valuable experiences a young developing musician can have. Later on around 16 years of age I discovered Freddie Hubbard and I was hooked. He was my 1st trumpet hero. Then I just got deeper and deeper into it and started discovering Miles, Dizzy, Lee Morgan, Louis Armstrong and of course younger generation like Roy Hargrove and Nicholas Payton who had a huge influence on me.

Are you self-trained or formally educated in music? Tell us about how you have sharpened your craft.

Yes I started studying music at a pretty young age. My 1st instrument was classical guitar and I started when I was 8 years old. I progressed faster than an average kid, or so I am told. My guitar studies were cut short due to the war, but I guess in a way it was a blessing in disguise because it was when I picked up the trumpet. I would go on to study jazz trumpet at a university level but I would not finish my degree because the circus came calling. I learned theory wise what I needed at the university, but of course being on stage and playing with older and more experienced musicians is the real school.

You play instruments other than trumpet. How did it happen? Do you still play others in your gigs?

Like I said, guitar was chronologically my 1st instrument and I still play it and is my composing tool as opposed to the piano. The reason being simply because I am more skilled on the guitar than on the piano. Other than that I love playing percussion and drums, or simply learning about different rhythmic traditions around the world. Playing some kind of percussive instrument I think is essential tool for any instrumentalist. It really helps in understanding time, feel and phrasing.

Please tell us about years in Canada. There is a very active jazz life in Canada. How were you involved in the scene?

I was playing all kinds of gigs, like any musician going to university, whatever payed the bills. Lots of jazz gigs playing standards at clubs or events, as well a tour of Canada with a funk/groove type band. I went on the road with Cirque du Soleil pretty young, I was 25 when I was offered the gig. So really I wasn’t part of that scene for that long, although I still have many great friendships with amazing musicians from all over Canada.

How did you decide to settle in Spain? Which influenced your decision more? Music or life?

Good thing about touring with the Cirque was that it’s a slow moving tour. Unlike most tours where your life is basically travel – soundcheck – show – hotel, and next day the same but in a different city, we were a production that had 60 semi trailer trucks of equipment, so once they would set up everything we would stay in the same city for around 2 months, in bigger cities like New York, Chicago, Paris etc. it would be almost 3 months. The longest we ever stayed in a city was Tokyo, around 6 months. So you would settle in an apartment and really get to know each city. Also something that I did in every city was look for jam sessions and link up with local musicians. This was also an amazing experience, especially in cities like NYC, San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, London, Paris, to name a few, who have amazing music scenes. This was also school for me, and playing at these jam sessions kept me sane and refreshed from playing the show, which is basically the same every night. It was in Madrid where I discovered a very unique blend of jazz with flamenco and afro-cuban music.

Please tell us about your team mates that will come Ankara?

Apart from being amazing musicians they are all my good friends. We have also played together as sidemen in various different projects. They are some of the most versatile musicians in Spain. Also all four of us come from completely different backgrounds and cultures yet musically we are one entity, we understand each other perfectly and we are constantly learning from each other.

Daniel Garcia Diego on piano is originally from Salamanca Spain, the only one of the four of us who is actually from Spain. Reinier ‘El Negron’ Elizarde on contrabass is from Cuba and Shayan Fathi on drums is originally from Iran. We are the real united nations 🙂 Daniel studied with the great Danilo Perez at the Berkley college of music in Boston, and has an incredible solo career and already 4 albums of his own with his amazing trio. His flamenco touch adds a beautiful color to this quartet. Reinier is a master of feel and rhythm hailing from Santa Clara, Cuba. You can see him perform regularly all over the world with incredible artists like Chucho Valdez or Paquito D’Rivera as well as being the bassist for Daniel’s trio. I cannot recommend more listening to the Daniel Garcia Trio, in my opinion one of the most unique and original piano trios in the world right now. Shayan Fathi, another key component to this group, apart from being an all around incredible drummer is one of the top sound engineers in Spain and is responsible for recording as well as mixing and mastering of the album. Shayan plays any style of music with incredible sensibility, dynamics and originality. He is real ‘musician’s drummer’. He has played all over the world with artists like Dhafer Youssef, Alain Perez, Antonio Lizana Pepe Rivero and many others.

Mediterranean Soul is beautiful name. Please tell us about the new album and the compositions.

The new album very much drawn inspiration from the folkloric music from all over the Mediterranean. Of course I come from the Balkans, so that influence is very clear. But I also love Turkish and Arabic music in general, and since living in Spain for the last 8 years, I have naturally incorporated some flamenco rhythms and phrasing into my DNA. All these cultures share the same ‘melos’, this oriental sound which is present from the Iberian peninsula all the way to the middle east. So all that mixed with a touch of afro-cuban spice and latin jazz, we get what I decided to call – Mediterranean Soul.

We, sure, know that your music has its own characteristics, but do we, Turkish audience, assume that your Ankara gig will leave a taste similar to Bregovic’s music in our mouths?

Sure the melos is similar, but the concept is very different. We are after all, for the lack of a better word – a jazz quartet. So although we have this Mediterranean/Balkan sound, conceptually we are treating it like jazz when it comes to improvisation and exploration. I have no doubts that the Turkish audience will connect with us and feel the music we are bringing to Ankara. I’ve had amazing experiences with Turkish audiences, they are engaged, appreciative and very loving towards music in general and the musicians that make them feel something. Every good performance has love, drama, happiness, sadness, laughter, conflict and resolution. So I am certain that this concert with take the audience on an emotional ride, just like a good movie does.

By the way, who is Mr. Ajvar? How was he borned?

Mr. Ajvar was born during the pandemic. With a lot of time to spare, I started doing something I’ve always wanted to do, but never had time for. I started making songs in more of a funk/pop/hiphop style right from my humble home studio. I basically play all the instruments, with the exception of drums, which I can’t record at home, as well as sing and dare I say, rap 🙂 It really was something I did as a challenge and most of all for fun. I even made my own music videos, which I am totally self taught, but people seem to dig it. Since it has nothing to do with my music I do as a trumpeter and composer, I had to create an alias thus Mr. Ajvar is kind of an alter ego of mine.

And future? What are your future projects?

Hopefully more music, more concerts, more learning and sharing the message of love with the audiences around the world! We have recently finished the recording of the new album, so it will take a few months until it’s completely ready. Up next is mixing, mastering and album art and all that’s involved with that.

Any words to Turkish audience?

We cannot wait to see you and share our music with you. I am sure you will have a good time and that we will make you laugh, scream, dance and maybe even cry 🙂 In a good way of course. I absolutely love Turkish music, food and the culture in general. I come from Saraybosna so in a way I always feel at home in Turkey. This will be my first time in Ankara so I am so looking forward to meeting you, the wonderful Turkish audience.

Thank you very much. We hope to see you in Ankara.

Thank you so much! See you very soon! Much love!

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