Mimika Orchestra
©Domagoj MokrovićMimika Orchestra

Introducing... Mimika Orchestra

Zagreb and London-based collective of expert musicians who combine jazz and classical influences with Balkan folklore

Written by
Marc Rowlands

Being eight years old, Mimika Orchestra needs much less of an introduction than other groups featured in this column, particularly to those in London where the orchestra was formed and performed over several years. But, for the last two years, the outfit's composer and leader Mak Murtić has been back in his home city, Zagreb. His prolific output and ceaseless musical adventuring has since had as significant an impact as anyone's in the city. Plus, Mimika Orchestra have just released their third album, the fascinating and accomplished 'Divinities Of The Earth And The Waters', so it's a great time to talk about them.

Mak Murtić spent seven years studying and working in London where he became absorbed into a young and exciting scene of infinite musical possibilities involving an infinite number of fantastic players. Some of the musicians that could be considered his peers at that time have since gone on to become among the most talked about names on the now internationally recognised, new London jazz scene, such as saxophonists Shabaka Hutchings and Nubya Garcia, and tuba player Theon Cross who played with Mimika alongside his trombone playing brother Nathaniel Cross and Phil Meadows of Engines Orchestra. 'There were all of these jam sessions going on,' says Murtić, 'I don't think it was really my studies which inspired Mimika.'

Meeting so many talents, Murtić's ideas and Mimika's line up expanded drastically; they are now an orchestra who can number anything between 12 and over 20 members in live performance, containing two singers, several brass instruments, strings, electronics, guitars and percussion, with Murtić conducting.

Their latest album deals with concepts of identity and history in the Balkans, their previous free jazz sound now very strongly inspired by Slavic folklore and folk music. 'I wouldn't call it a world music album,' says Murtić, 'it's more of an avant-garde album, but with a particular focus on this region.'

Being such an extensive ensemble, Mimika now has two separate troupes; one based in London, which perform western European concerts, and one based in Zagreb, the latter having spectacularly closed the Crossover Festival at Ribnjak park in late July. With its singers clad in narodna nošnja (traditional folk clothing), vocalising in the Kajkavian dialect, which lies somewhere between Slovenian and Shtokavian, the stunning performance sounded like a cross between modern classical, the entrancing, otherworldliness of Sun Ra and a more refined take on the rootsy folk of Goran Bregović's weddings and funeral band.

Already planning to record their fourth album this November, Mimika have forthcoming shows at London's Vortex in October and are collaborating with some outside musicians. Four of Mimika's members, including Murtić, also play in the Zagreb group Truth ≠ Tribe (Pravda ≠ Plemya) who will play at Museum Of Broken Relationships on Thursday 20 September. Murtić also appears in various duo and trio formats alongside Mimika guitarist Luka Čapeta. They have a residency at Zagreb's Vinyl, every second Thursday of the month, often with their Živa Voda, project who perform interpretations of famous Balkan musics in Sun Ra-esque style.

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