On Tuesday 30 April this year, Vesna Cvjetićanin launched her very own radio show on Canberra’s 2XX 98.3 FM, People Powered Radio. The program, entitled “Srbija u Mom Srcu” (Serbia in my Heart), is presented in the Serbian language and features interviews with individuals in the local Serbian-Australian community, as well as information on various events and goings-on in the Serbian world in and around the ACT.
Vesna’s first guest on the show, Lepomir Miladinović, joined her the week after the launch, and shared his migration story with her. Lepomir also brought with him an object that is very close to his heart, and which has helped him maintain a connection to his home country of Serbia even after over 30 years spent living in Australia. Read on for a transcript of their interview (which has been very kindly translated into English by Vesna), as well as a couple of beautiful musical interludes for your listening pleasure.
Vesna Cvjeticanin (VC): Good evening Lepomir, and welcome to our program, Serbia in My Heart, on Canberra’s 2XX 98.3FM Community Radio. The reason I invited you onto our program tonight is because of the significant role you play in the local Serbian community, and because of one of the special skills you have for which you are so well known – playing music. Why don’t you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Lepomir Miladinovic (LM): Thank you for having me. My name is Lepomir Miladinovic and I was born and grew up in the village of Vitance, municipality of Despotovac, in Serbia. I am a tailor by trade and my main hobby is playing music, and I praise God that I am still able to maintain both my trade and my hobby.
When I arrived in Australia, I continued working as a tailor as well as playing music. The music I play is on a traditional Serbian woodwind instrument called a frula. It could be described as similar to a flute or recorder. I love playing the frula and enjoy spending time surrounded by people who like listening to me and the music I play. I look forward to playing it for many years to come and to continuing to promote the Serbian frula tradition.
VC: Tell us about why and when you came to Australia and a little about your life here in Canberra.
LM: I came to Australia over 30 years ago, in 1985. It was more out of curiosity than anything else, as I had a brother-in-law who lived in Australia with his family. My family and I obtained our visas really easily – it was a truly seamless process at the time – and we decided to come to see what life in Australia was like. We planned to stay only for two years, and that’s what we did, returning to Serbia in 1987 to continue our lives as before. However, after a couple of years back in Serbia, my wife and I realised that we wanted to go back to Australia to live.
We’ve been living in Canberra ever since we arrived and have never moved anywhere else. Canberra and its surroundings remind us of our old village in many ways. Its hills are very similar to the hills where we come from in Serbia. Also, thankfully, we have some family living here, as well as around 50 other people who are from our village and the surrounding region. That makes us feel like we are part of this place; part of the local community.
VC: You mention your family – tell us a bit more about it.
LM: My wife’s name is Gordana, and we have been happily married since 1971. We have two daughters, Olivera and Jasmina, both of whom are also happily married, and who have given us five grandchildren between them. I cannot say anything else about our life here but that we are very happy here and feel blessed with everything.
VC: Thank you for sharing part of your personal story with us. It is always interesting to hear why people come to Australia and how they decided to stay here.
LM: Look, everyone’s life journey is determined by God. We are here now, and we are happy with how things are. Thank God, everything is going well for us. We have our grandchildren and life is good. Everything is in the best possible way. It couldn’t be better.
VC: Touch wood, as the old saying goes! But tell us now about your instrument, the frula. How did you come to play it, when did you start, and how did it then become such an important part of your life?
LM: You see, God gave me this gift, this present, to be able to play the frula. I never attended any music schools or completed any musical education; I was just naturally good at it. I have been playing the frula from a very early age, and while I have been promoting it strongly over the years, it has in turn been promoting me. I remember when I was a little boy, looking after the village’s herd of pigs, I would have my frula with me and I would play and play, and everyone who would hear my music would know I was close by. The frula, as such, came to mark my identity in a special way; it became my ‘trade mark’ of sorts.
As happens in life, over the years and with my migration to Australia, my frula stopped playing in Serbia, but then it started up its new life, playing in Canberra. You cannot change the way things are, and I would not want to, so that’s how it is.
Over the years that I have played the frula, I have participated in various competitions around Serbia. I have also performed multiple times on Serbian radio and TV programs, and played my frula with some of the most famous Serbian folk music performers, including Radojka Zivkovic, Tosa Elezovic, Sisic, and others. Once, I even managed to win first place in the Homoljski Motivi competition, out of around 50 frula players – a success that is very dear to my heart! Maybe it is not good to promote myself here with you, but I know that my frula, at least, will vouch for my skills!
VC: It is always nice to hear about people’s successes! I am also sure that your skills go beyond what you have said. Well, it might be a good time now for you to show our audience what you can do and how your frula sounds. What would you like to play for us?
LM: I am a child of rural Serbia, and I love its traditional music, as I was born and bred listening to it and playing it. Regardless of whether one comes from a village or a city, I believe that true original folk music, created by people over the generations, is the most beautiful music, and lasts the longest through tradition. This is proven by the fact that many generations have enjoyed these melodies, and every new generation of young people adopts their tones to its heart. They love it and play it, and in turn hand it down to their children. I will now play a couple of original folk-melodies from Sumadija, a very beautiful part of Serbia.
[Editor’s note: to hear Lepomir’s performance, please click on this link. The first musical section starts at 10:22 and finishes at 11:26.]
VC: Thank you! Now that we have heard you play, tell us where you purchased your frula, where you find your musical notes, where you perform, and so on. It must be a tricky task!
LM: Well, my wife and I go back to Serbia every year. This enables me to visit the people who make this instrument, and over the years they have come to know that when I come over, I will buy one or two frule from them. I like exploring and finding new types of this wonderful instrument. I always think – like any person who is in love with his hobby – that the next one will somehow be better than the ones I already have, and I never stop looking for the ‘perfect’ one. I enjoy playing the frula, and have a passion for anything to do with it.
As to where and why I play – that is something very special to me. To tell you honestly, after a long day of sewing and working hard, in the evenings, I like to sit down, take my frula and start playing. Believe it or not, in those moments, the frula takes me back to my childhood, back home to our village, to my experiences and memories in Serbia, while I was growing up. The frula gives me a boost of energy that comes from the inside; it gives me inner strength. Put simply, I love it! I play every evening, for at least a few minutes. Even just touching it and holding it in my hands makes me feel relaxed and happy.
My wife is already used to it, and she also loves it. Gordana is my partner in everything I do. We support each other and she is always understanding when people invite me to play my frula. She is always supportive of me and is my biggest fan.
VC: Maybe we could now hear the second melody from your repertoire. The frula you are holding in your hands at the moment is not the same as the previous one. It has a different shape and two rows of holes – tell us a bit more about it.
LM: Unfortunately, the listeners cannot see it, but you are right, it is a different frula from the first one. It was made by a very skilled wood-turner in Kragujevac (in the south of Serbia), whom I regularly visit on my travels through Serbia. I will play you another kolo melody and you will hear how it sounds.
[Editor’s note: to hear Lepomir’s second performance, please click on this link. The second melody starts at 15:37 and goes to 16:58.]
VC: Well, that was just beautiful! Thank you so much for performing for us, Lepomir, and thank you very much for being our guest on Serbia in My Heart. I look forward to inviting you onto the program again and hearing more of your wonderful playing on your frula.
[Editor’s note: to hear Lepomir’s third performance, please click on this link. The music starts at 24:22 and finishes at 25:08.]
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This interview is a translation from Serbian into English, and the text has also been edited for relevance and readibility. The original recording can be found at Vesna’s program website, here.
© Vesna Cvjetićanin and Lepomir Miladinović, 2019