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SARAY Iluminado: At Home in Song

SARAY Iluminado: At Home in Song

Local ensemble SARAY Iluminado celebrates Sevdah and Sephardic Jewish music through its lively performances. We asked Bosnian-Australian singer and performer Nela Trifkovic to give us an insight into the band and its music in the lead-up to their upcoming performance, Songs of Love & Exile, a soulful program that will ignite your sense of belonging. 

Eight years ago, musician Ernie Gruner and I were sitting in a Brunswick warehouse dreaming of our future band. 

Now that band – SARAY Iluminado – is family. We jam together, eat together, travel together, and even grieve and survive together as events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and Melbourne lockdowns have shown. All these shared experiences find their way into our music.

For Songs of Love & Exile, I wanted to create a gift for our listeners, after the year Melburnians have had. I hope for this event to be a playground where we can come together and unravel our nostalgia and dreams. Balkan and Sephardic Jewish folklore is imbued with these references. In the songs we perform, you meet irreverent mermaids, talking fruits, warrior birds that become women’s allies and otherworldly temptresses who take their lovers to incredible allegorical heights, enabling them to experience higher, more magical versions of themselves. This is what I want for the audience: to know that they are loved and held in our music, just as they have held and supported us all this time. 

SARAY Iluminado

My work has always been about creating intimate, immersive environments through music. 

I find such environments very important, particularly for children of diasporas, who spend their lives straddling different borders, cultures, languages and even emotional vocabularies. While no one else in SARAY Iluminado is from ex-Yugoslavia (or specifically Bosnia and Herzegovina), in Australia, we all come from ‘somewhere’ and many of us are still piecing together the mosaic of our homelands: past and present, real and imagined. 

I used to doubt that I could share music from a ‘little known country’ sung in ‘little known languages’ and get anywhere in Australia. Yet people gather at our concerts like the crowds gather under ‘beautiful Hayriya’s balcony’ (she is a heroine of a beautiful and ‘spicy’ song we sing about a ‘femme fatale’ from Mostar).

The songs we present explore the quintessential human themes of love and grief, hope and despair, homeland and exile. 

They remind us that just when you think you’ve ‘arrived’ in life, you cannot rest on your laurels because the next lesson is lurking just around the corner. They also state the opposite – the darkest hours can also be those with the most potential. I’ll share a personal example of this. 

In late 2019, I met dancer Israel Aloni, who is now the associate artist with SARAY Iluminado. Our conversation flowed with such ease that I invited Israel to observe a SARAY Iluminado rehearsal, at which they, (of course), ended up moving and dancing. There we were: Israel, like the irreverent mermaid and me like the talking fruit, living it up as archetypes! Two weeks later we were in lockdown and most of the performances were cancelled. But the irreverent mermaid and the talking fruit persevered on Zoom, on the phone, we walked with each other when it was possible, and we talked ideas. We waited. We believed. And here we are.

Come with us on a dream-like journey featuring six warrior-like characters, each carving a little part of their musical story in the broader tapestry of the SARAY Iluminado soundscape. 

And for you? A musical space to believe, to dream and to unveil whatever you need and want to for an hour. For me, sharing music is a ritual of belonging and I warmly welcome you to it. So that, regardless of your physical, geographic or ideological homeland, at least for the hour that you spend with us, you can explore the idea of the homeland within.

SARAY Iluminado performs Songs of Love & Exile in the Primrose Potter Salon on Saturday 1 May. Click here to find out more and to book tickets.

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