Why You Should Listen to: Ekatarina Velika’s ‘Ljubav’
November 14, 2018
Welcome to the weekly-series “Why You Should Listen to”, where we will discuss great albums worth every music lover’s attention. In today’s society, while we do have all the possible access to everything and anything on the Internet, it can often happen for us to miss some music we would love to hear. That’s why, every Monday, we will try to help you discover some awesome music in this series of articles. The focus will mostly be on studio albums, be it classics or underrated gems and records that have been forgotten by time. Our focus will also stretch out across the world, from the USA and UK to the African continent, Latin America and even the Balkans. Today, we’ll talk about the legendary ex-Yugoslav band Ekatarina Velika (Ecatherine the Great) and their classic album “Ljubav” (“Love”). NOTE: Since this album is not in English, the translations will most likely be literal and possibly inaccurate at certain points.
The 1970s and 1980s new wave movement may have originated in the UK and US, but it quickly spread all over the world and influenced countless bands from many different countries. It also reached the now-defunct country of Yugoslavia (or as it was fully named the Socialistic Federative Republic of Yugoslavia), which was going through many changes at that time, which would ultimately lead to its demise.
The ex-Yugoslav pop culture was quite influenced by what was going on in the UK and US at the time. In the 1970s, the predominant genre was hard rock fused with some traditional elements, dubbed “shepherd rock”, a sound created and popularized by the, arguably, most popular ex-Yugoslav band Bijelo Dugme (White Button). While it had a gigantic following, the younger generations wanted to rebel against the primitive sound and silly themes of that genre. The emergence of punk and new wave gave many young bands from the former Yugoslav countries a new theme and a new idea of what kind of sound should be popular.
With new wave came many great bands such as the iconic band Idoli (Idols) and many pivotal releases, one of them being the highly lauded new wave compilation album “Paket Aranžman” (“Package Deal”), often considered the best former Yugoslav album. On that compilation, one could hear the cult band Šarlo Akrobata (Charlot the Acrobat, which was how Yugoslav people referred to Charlie Chaplin), the band that would lead to the formation of Ekatarina Velika. It was a young new wave band of rebels Dušan Kojić “Koja” (who would later on form his own influential band Disciplina Kičme), Ivan Vdović “Vd” and Milan Mladenović (who would later on become the founding member and frontman of Ekatarina Velika). After their incredible and critically acclaimed debut album, the band fell apart in 1981 and the members went their own separate ways.
Milan and Vd would become part of a new band known as Katarina II with Milan’s guitarist friend and band co-founder Dragan Mihajlović “Gagi”. Between 1981 and 1984, many line-up changes occured and the band’s final core line-up consisted of Milan Mladenović (guitar, lead vocals), classically trained pianist Margita Stefanović “Magi” (keyboards, vocals), Bojan Pečar (bass), with the drummers constantly changing. In 1984 they released their debut as Katarina II, an album that did not reach a wide audience. After a name change to Ekatarina Velika (further referred to as “EKV”, as fans of the band liked to call them), the band’s next two albums would bring them a dedicated fanbase and critical acclaim, but also some rivalries with other post-punk and new wave bands of the time.
EKV is often compared to the likes of Joy Division, The Cure and Talking Heads. They reagrded themselves more as a European band, rather than a Serbian band and were influenced by the likes of Elvis Costello, XTC and Joe Jackson.
from left to right: Bojan, Milan, Magi and drummer at the time Ivan Ranković “Raka”
Since EKV is not a very well-known band around the world, it might be appropriate to introduce the band, in the line-up that recorded their fourth studio album “Ljubav” (“Love”), as we will talk about it in detail.
Milan Mladenović (1958 – 1994) – legendary frontman of the band, who was also the guitarist and main lyricist of the band. He was known for his deep and cryptic lyrics, strong moral values, recognizable and powerful voice that could emit the most blood-curdling and banshee-like shrieks and screams, but also some very smooth and emotive vocals, as well as minimalistic, but integral guitar-playing. While he spent most of his life in Belgrade, he also lived in Zagreb and Sarajevo in his childhood, due to his father’s military obligations, which gave Milan a strong connection to his Yugoslav identity. He died of pancreatic cancer in 1994.
Margita Stefanović (a.k.a. “Magi”) (1959 – 2002) – the second most-known band member, known for her fantastic musicianship and anthemic synth and piano lines. She was loved by fans and bandmates alike, and recognized as a kind and unique spirit. She appears on the front cover of the album. Magi died after being diagnosed as HIV positive, due to intravenuous drug use.
Bojan Pečar (1960 – 1998) – was known for his incredible bass guitar skills and iconic basslines. He was a very proficient musician and contributed to the grooves and dynamics of the band’s music. He is remembered as the third core member of the band, despite leaving the band in 1989 to move to London, where he also died of a heart attack in 1998.
Srđan Todorović (a.k.a. “Žika”) (born 1965) – was the band’s drummer at the time, and is one of their most well-known members. His primary career is in acting, and is one of the most famous ex-Yugoslav actors, who is still active today.
The album “Ljubav” was the band’s fourth album. It came after the band’s sophomore album “S’ Vetrom Uz Lice” (“With the Wind Against My Face”) that gave them the necessary and well-deserved mainstream attention in Yugoslavia. While some critics accused them of “selling out”, fans approved of their success and continued to support them throughout.
The recording of the album started in the summer of 1987, and was completed in one month. It was produced by Australian gutarist Theodore Yanni, and carried the band’s signature new-wave and post-punk sound to new heights.
The opening track, and also one of their most well-known, is “Zemlja” (“Land”). It is a song driven by a flanged guitar playing a very anthemic and repetitive riff, while the bass and drums carry the groove and set the foundation for Milan’s voice and lyrics. Magi’s keyboard playing is present, but is a bit more subdued on this track. Milan’s lyrics seem to symbolize unity, brotherhood and love, making this song one of the more brighter cuts in the band’s often dark discography.
The title track is also a fan-favorite, opening with a punchy and loud drumbeat that welcomes the rest of the energetic instrumentation, in the form of the ever-dynamic bass and quite punkish guitar riffs. Magi’s synth lines add a light melody that makes the energetic track more refined and help Milan delve into the topic of love not being as its advertised to us. Lines such as “I boli, i boli, i boli/Boli nas ljubav” (And it hurts, and it hurts, and it hurts/Love hurts us) or “Uz lažni smeh/I naše reči od milja su navika/I naša imena od milja su navika” (“With fake laughs/And our nice words are just a habit/And our sweet nicknames are just a habit”), clearly paint Milan’s idea of love as being just a habit, rather than a true and constant feeling, meaning that relationships aren’t always pure and genuine as we want them to be. The vocal harmonies in the chorus make this energetic, yet bittersweet track all the more worthy of listening.