About KatalenaIn the chapter of the contemporary Slovene popular music, Katalena needs to be addressed as no more and no less than a phenomenon.
The story of this urban band begins in an idyllic village in the Southeast of Slovenia, where, in the summer of 2001, a group of six enthusiasts unearthed archival folklore material and rejuvenated its rustic image in line with their art rock, funk, jazz and blues pedigree and with their own integral youthful vision that was as much philosophical as it was musical.
The feedback from those privileged enough to encounter with the six-some music in its prime, soon outgrew the original idea of a one off experiment and in the months and years to follow, sons and daughters of Katalena took the stages of the most prominent festivals, concert halls and clubs home and abroad by a storm.
In twentyone years time the band gave birth to nine brainchildren – (Z)godbe/Stories (2002), Babje leto/Indian summer (2004), Kmečka ohcet/Country wedding (2006), Cvik cvak! (2008), Noč čarovnic/Night of the Witches (2011), Enci benci Katalenci (2015), Človek ni zver/Man is not A Beast (2018), Kužne pesmi/The Plague Songs (2021) and recorded an extra album for the children ballet Kekec (2018). Albums received great attention among music writers that are up to this day still unable to categorize them, turned the existing folkloristic theories upside down and converted a great number of doubting Thomases into folk music fans.
Combining best of the Slovene traditional music, carefully selected from the archives, songbooks and old vinyl records with solid rock rhythms, funky groove and enviable arranging skills it creates a unique post-folk rock style that presents the music legacy of Slovenia’s regions in an utterly new light. Fused with dynamic and invigorating electrical instruments, which caress the enchanting singing, it is transformed on the stage into a dance and sound performance that mesmerizes even the most musically pampered ears.
Katalena is the most inspirational voice of the 21st century Slovene folk music soundtrack.
Katarina Juvančič, journalist and ethnomusicologist
Vesna Zornik: vocals, backing vocals
Polona Janežič: keyboard, harmonium, psaltery, percussion, backing vocals
Boštjan Gombač: clarinet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, sopran sax, bass blockflute, theremin, ukulele, singing saw, fujara, irish whistles, accordion, percussion, backing vocals
Tibor Mihelič Syed: bass guitar, saz, ukulele, kalimba, guembri, percussion, backing vocals
Boštjan Narat: guitar, mandoline, banjo, backing vocals
Robert Rebolj: drums, percussion
The story of Katalena started off as a music workshop held in the summer of 2001 in a village called Črmošnjice in Southeast Slovenia. The workshop was meant to be a one-time project, but it developed into a band format soon after.
The band Katalena draws inspiration from Slovenian folk music legacy, but adjusts and performs it according to its own aesthetics and preferences. The basic premise of Katalena’s enterprise is belief in timelessness of traditional music, which, according to band members, is still alive in young generations today - not as some long lost object, but as a vital tradition. Katalena strives to invigorate this music legacy with its own fresh energy, while dusting off its ideological connotations and allowing its playfulness and catchy rhythms to take over.
In the span of 21 years, the band released nine albums: (Z)godbe/Stories-Music (ZKP RTV Slovenija), Babje leto/Indian Summer, Kmečka ohcet/Peasant Wedding in Cvik cvak! (Dallas Records), Noč čarovnic/Night of The Witches, Enci benci Katalenci and Človek ni zver/Man is not a Beast (Pivec Publishing), Kužne pesmi/The Plague Songs (Založba Pivec) and a ballet soundtrack Kekec (SNG Maribor). All albums were extremely well received by critics and audience alike, and extensive touring brought their music to larger crowds home and abroad. Katalena performed on almost every club, concert hall or festival stage in the country and has done a fair bit of globetrotting, too, with gigs in USA, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Hungary, Croatia, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Austria.
Katalena also appeared at these festivals and venues (home and abroad), sometimes more than once:
Druga godba, Lent, Trnfest, Mediteranfest, Jeff, Musics of the World, Rock Otočec, Vilenica, Days Of Poetry and Wine, Festival of Slovenian Film, Cankarjev dom, Kino Šiška, Alpenöne (Switzerland), Mediawave – Jazz and Etnofest (Hungary), Visages de la Slovénie (France), A Night In Slovenia (Town Hall, New York, USA), TFF Rudolstadt (Germany), Carinthisher Sommer Festival (Austria), Ethnoambient Salona (Croatia), Film Festival in Motovun (Croatia), Enav cultural Center (Israel), Mundus and Adriatico Mediterraneo festival (Italy).
Particularly interesting chapter in Katalena’s history was co-written with Valentina Turcu and Edward Clug and SNG Maribor ballet ensemble. In 2005 Katalena participated in the celebration of National Day of Culture with the cultural program entitled Water Sprite or Woman On The Edge Of A Bath Tub, directed by Edward Clug. The creative bond with the ballet dancer and choreographer Valentina Turcu was part of this journey, too, as she created several short choreographies to the music of Katalena. Collaboration between the couple, SNG Maribor ballet ensemble and the band culminated in a well received and hugely successful project Špic cvak!. Špic cvak! premiered in 2009 in the Gallus Hall in Cankarjev dom, one of the most prestigious concert venues in the country. In 2018 Katalena created music for ballet performance Kekec also created by Edward Clug.
One could also say that the success of Katalena lies not only in a band’s close-knit ingenious relationsip, but also in the plethora of creative offshoots each member has been nurturing outside the band’s framework. Katalena’s boys and girls have been actively shaping Slovenian cultural scene, creating various theatre, film, literary, musical and dance projects and collaborating with well-known Slovenian musicians (Neca Falk, Terra folk, Melodrom, Bast, Chris Eckman etc.). In the meantime some band members have also launched their own successful bands like Tango Apasionada, Narat, The Puzzled, Patty Diphusa etc. and showcased them at Katalena’s big autumnal concert (Z)godbe ob Kataleni/Stories-Music of Katalena in 2013 at Kino Šiška, Ljubljana.
A bit special story is Katalena’s sixth album Enci benci Katalenci which is is aimed primarily to the youngest audience and has been upgraded to a theater performance by director Ivana Djilas. The show is a part of Cankarjev dom’s programme but could be also seen in other places around Slovenia.
Katalena and Edward Clug cooperated again for a ballet performance Kekec back in 2018. Josip Vandot's character Kekec is a unique hero of Slovenian literature, that still inspires new generations of readers and viewers with his courage and bright ideas even after one hundre years since it was written. The ballet fairy tale Kekec is not intended only for the youngest, but for all the young at heart.
On their seventh album entitled Človek ni zver (A Man is Not a Beast) Katalena band enters a monstrous theater of death; a battlefield where rifles, bombs and tanks crush bodies and souls, merely three years after building castles in a sandpit (I am of course referring to Enci benci Katalenci, an album of children songs, released in 2015).
The antipode could not be more apparent, but great bands are capable of great transformations. The sons and daughters of Katalena once again proved that they are such a band.
Stories of war, separation, collective or personal tragedies, conflicts, complex situations and characters are not only dealt with admirable courage and consideration, but also with a great measure of sensual existentialism and moral sensitivity without blame or ideological contamination. There is not “us vs. them” in Katalena’s war-induced ponderings. Their engaging narrative is humanistic at its core, as well as intimately visceral.
The band has never sounded so convincing, mature, uncompromising, subtle and heartbreaking at the same time. … I know it’s only March, but my favorite album of the year is already out.
Katarina Juvančič. Odzven, journalist and ethnomusicologist, 2018
Katalena is 14 already. A teen, who has played everywhere from New York to Tel Aviv, experienced all the major festivals, venues and club stages in Slovenia, danced Špic-Cvak! with Edward Clug and Valentina Turcu in a sold-out Gallusova hall (the most prominent cultural hall in Slovenia), sang with Resian grandmothers, with Neca Falk and Jani Kovačič, ganged up with Svetlana Makarovič, and brought music out of Dane Zajc’s and Gregor Strniša’s work. Innovatively and sometimes with a dash of subversion, Katalena has played within the field of the traditional very maturely, desacralizing and deconstructing the national musical treasure and its ideological concepts that have been associated with it for almost 200 years. Katalena has been accomplishing this very successfully from the very start.
In spite of many other artistic projects of all the six members, Katalena is still the "band" as well as the "brand" that follows
the starting premise or statement with which its artistic leader, Boštjan Narat starts their concerts: "We are Katalena, we are from Ljubljana, and we play traditional Slovene music." Urban musicians and traditional material. From here on, the road is wide open to infinite combinations of various interpretations. From here on, katalenization starts.
Katarina Juvančič, Odzven, journalist and ethnomusicologist, 2015
The members of the band Katalena are truly experienced, with such a long road behind them that they have developed a very distinguished sense of composition. Their work is a brewing (a unique recipe from the Katalena cook book, of course) of picturesque traditional melodies that have been experimentally flipped into jazz variations, turned to cabaret, blues, swing, gospel, and rock. With a fresh approach and in a witty way, they break down the barriers between genres as well
as generations. The album is undoubtedly appealing even for a very demanding listener - the adults will enjoy it as much as the kids.
Aleš Podbrežnik, Rockline, 2015
“There is no denying that Katalena is incredibly prolific. It is driven by the creative genius of six powerful and musically defined entities. Six musical worlds that have been creating a unique musical world for twelve consecutive years. The recognizable world of Katalena.
Their work is an inventive reconstruction of folk standards and a multi-genre construction that forms a unique image which attracts with insightful arrangements.
The band’s exceptional world is so powerful and shines so persuasively that it overwhelms you and takes you into a parallel universe where fantasy and the irrational reign”.
Aleš Podbrežnik (Rockline), January 2013
“Numerous Slovenian folk songs have been brought back to life through their arrangements and, as it appears, need not fear for their existence.
One can feel not only some sort of musical chemistry between the members of the band but also genuine playfulness which is possible only when people know each other really well.
Ksenja Tratnik (MMC RTV Slo), October 2013
“There is no denying that Katalena is incredibly prolific. It is driven by the creative genius of six powerful and musically defined entities. Six musical worlds that have been creating a unique musical world for twelve consecutive years. The recognisable world of Katalena.
An inventive reconstruction of folk standards and a multi genre reformation into a unique image which attract with insightful arrangements.
The band’s exceptional world is so powerful and shines so persuasively that it overwhelms you and takes you into a parallel universe where fantasy and the irrational reign”.
Aleš Podbrežnik (Rockline), October 2013
“The six members are perfectly synchronized and enticing at all times. The silent trinity with Robert Rebolj (drums), Polona Janežič (keyboard) in Tibor Mihelič Syed (bass guitar) and the dynamic trio with Narat, Zornik, Gombač make you question yourself after four hours what else you can expect from musicians who epitomize the good in Slovenian music.
Superb, epic, definitely one of the Slovenian concerts of the year!”
Jaša Lorenčič (Večer), October 2013
"The band Katalena is one of the most excellent Slovenian musical artists, even though their musical expression could not be put in any conventional musical frame. Their last album, which they promote as a tribute to the Resian musical legacy, is very deep and wide ranging. It is very clear in their sound that this band has been playing a lot and that their creative bonds have become a field of development and creative experiments. The ideas on the album Cvik cvak! are a product of all the group members and are masterly produced by Aldo Ivančič. The voice of Vesna Zornik is incorporated into the music as an addition to the sound, it is hypnotic, and its colorfully Resian dialect doesn't only tell us lyrical stories and speaks to us, but is seducing us to the heights."
Miroslav Akrapovič (Stop magazine), June 2008
The band Katalena is at this moment one of the best, or maybe even the best musical artist in Slovenia. After a month of listening to their fourth album as well as their former three, it is very clear to me that those are the musicians that bring the needed depth of musical expression into this musically and culturally more and more challenged world. Searching through the forgotten archives of traditional folk songs, incorporated into a very up to date production of Aldo Ivančič (Borghesia, Bast), ancient and hypermodern, all this with musicians and a singer that don't care about any barriers of genre or marketing, the musicians and a singer that are letting their unpeaceful spirit dive into the music, passion, euphoria, sadness or yearning. ...In all aspects, Cvik cvak! is a top quality artwork.
Marko Milosavljevič (Vikend magazine), June 2008
What critics also have said about Katalena and
It was only a bit more than a year from a release of their first album, but for the sons and daughters of mother Katalena the time has extended into an unfinished “summer of love”, indian summer in which the heat of the media just doesn’t wont to stop. In meanwhile Katalena has become a national phenomenon, the only Story that has shown Slovene youths how very cool Slovene traditional music can be. They have shown that it can have the same or even better drive and groove as to them much more known foreign tunes.
On the other hand ‘Babje leto’ has not reached over the expectations that could have been suggested by their first released album, but this isn’t necessarily bad. Distinctively heavy folk-rock sound, where the rhythm section diametrically to clarinet and keyboard inlays fills the empty spaces around neck-breaking sexy rock vocal of Vesna Zornik, has anchored into a Slovene conscience. It has become a distinctive trade mark of Katalena.
Through its audio and visual picture, and through carefully choosing the sources, ‘Babje leto’ is a logical extension of a Haley’s comet called ‘(Z)godbe’ (Stories/ Music)*. The catch is also in a fact, that phrasing, polishing and decomposing of folk tunes might, because of specific formulas, have limitations that can soon turn into a very predictable arranging of predictable materials. Katalena’s inovativity of re-making certainly still deserves our attention, even and even more when we speak of so many times re-made traditional classics as ‘Pobelelo pole’ or ‘Prvi rej’. With explicatively accented riffing of guitar and mandolin parts, with base and percussion rhythmical lines and with soloistic improvisations both Bostjans, Robert, Polona and Tibor are discovering the groove which we have missed so much in stoical arrangements of all folk groups until now.
David Verbuč (Muska), May-June 2006
Complicated Simplicity of Traditional Music
Katalena, live presentation of an album Kmečka ohcet
“We are Katalena and we play Slovenian traditional music.” With these simple words Boštjan Narat introduced this interesting musical group on their first solo concert in Gallusova dvorana in Cankarjev dom Ljubljana. With their original approach to re-creation of Slovenian traditional music Katalena started a courageous work, especially since the band didn’t deicide to play and perform well known musical themes but rather search for the more hidden ones with their origins in different parts of Slovenia. On a brave concert in an almost full Gallusova dvorana (the most important Slovenian concert hall) Katalena presented their new album Kmečka ohcet ali tretji prispevek k slovenski blaznosti (The Peasent Wedding or the Third Contibution to Slovenian Madness). Their decision to present Slovenian folk music in the way they are doing it was in the beginning definitely crazy, but – as it often happens – later can be recognized as the right one.
In the first part of the concert Katalena performed songs from their first ((Z)godbe) and second album (Babje leto) while for the second part the band selected material from their new album, which enabled them to reach an even wider circle of enthusiasts and fans. Direct enjoyment of musical performance was easily transmitted from the six-member band to the audience. The performance was relaxed and self-confident, the playing of the “team” under invisible Narat’s leadership was fascinating. Special contribution was of course passionate singing performance by Vesna Zornik, who literally sang for her life while on the other hand Boštjan Gombač with his “toys” (wind instruments, shakers, singing saw etc.) took the performance in a world of fairy tails and dwarfs.
Katalena presented their new conceptual musical contribution to diversity of Slovenian traditional music in a very solid way and together with their guests – accordion player Marko Brdnik, musical binder Vlado Kreslin, Pritrkovalci iz Šmarja-Sapa (a group performing on church bells) and a boy choir from Zagreb – showed us new dimensions of their and our music. While their new album definitely is one of those Slovenian musical products we can all be very proud of.
Zdenko Matoz (Delo), March 2006
Katarina Juvančič (Muska), July-August 2004
»The peasant wedding or the third contribution to Slovenian insanity«
The album title itself has invoked a lot of guessing and presumption among many people, and consequentially a great deal of attention. Katalena was always known by two characteristics and virtues. The first is their consistent referring and quite serious deepening into Slovene ethnical legacy (never superficial or ignorant, or made just because such approach would be fashionable). Their second quality is that they are musically interesting and listenable, with their successful and intriguing author approach that, with some artistic tendencies, combines old traditional songs, rhythms, and ways of singing, harmonies and nevertheless dialects with popular contemporary artistic approach.
Because of this first characteristic of the band, the first part of the title “Peasant wedding” has promised an interesting selection of traditional songs that would probably come from very diverse geographical areas, different styles of well-conceived dramaturgy of the abundant repertoire of this custom – Slovene wedding. The second part of the album title “or the third contribution to Slovenian insanity” has indicated something excitable and not easily imaginable. However, what has the listening revealed?
From the folkloristic science point of view, album repertoire could be seen as quite unexciting. It does not reveal all the attractions that could be dug out of the archives, written or audio-recorded sources referring to Slovene wedding. In addition, the most striking themes of the album songs are quite familiar to Slovene audience. Istranova, Aldo Kumar and Aleš Hadalin previously rearranged the main theme “Dajte, dajte”. “(Rad imel bi) Jabuko” is known to many from childhood, or they even learned it in school. Maybe “Lucija” and “Le pijmo ga” are the exceptions. Nevertheless, the choice of songs is led by style, mood and chronology of wedding diversity.
Our selective attention and interest for other layers or aspects of the album has therefore a solid foundation. At this point comes to the front the second (but maybe even primary) virtue of the band, the musical arranging of the chosen songs and motives. Especially significant author signature of the group is not only musical this time, but it adds message to the lyrics as well. Katalena easily delights us with rich and thoughtful arrangements and good compositions. The music is breathing with sudden turns and plays games with diverse styles of popular music. Beside Rock and Pop in their music, we can find patterns of folk-punk (“Le pijmo ga”), house (“Lucija”), swing, Neworlean-jazz, funk, folk-songwriting (Štrbenk na štrbunk”) and so on. Instrumentation offers a rich sound; they even use an old Slovenian ethnical specialty of playing on church bells, and on the other hand prerecorded sounds (very interesting is the addition of the train sound that gives rhythmical base to the composition “Pleši pleši črni voz”).
This album adds another novelty to the sound of the band, sharing the roles in lead vocals. Beside the main leading vocal of Vesna Zornik, voices of Boštjan Gombač and Tibor Mihelič feel welcome. If all the above is an expression of quality and art of the group Katalena, with this album they have, by project and form, reached beyond the first two, (Z)godbe and Babje leto. The entire album as a whole feels very organic because of the motive, but mainly because of its special form, which could remind us of a classical rondo or sonata. The two main themes “Rad imel bi jabuko” and “Dajte, dajte” appear as a main idea or a connective link throughout the entire album.Next to basic forms of these songs, there are other, mostly instrumental versions. Among the leading theme material, other songs are evenly spread.
This album reaches beyond their first two also because the group in its creating process follows a solid idea and conceptual form, which throughout every single verse and detail plays with sparkles of “Slovenian insanity”. Witty and fresh social criticism puts Katalena in a position of a contemporary band in every sense of the meaning.
Another freshness comes through the message of the lyrics that reveal much more authorship than ever before. Until now, Katalena has worked merely with lyrics of traditional songs, but now, for the first time they have stepped into the field of folk-songwriting. Some songs are therefore completely new and some are extended and upgraded versions of traditional songs with an addition of newly written lyrics. The music, the arrangement and the lyrics (except for the traditional ones, of course) are written by Boštjan Narat, who is also the bandleader. The album reaches its climax towards the end, where the complete story comes to the front in the songs that offer us the strongest message through the lyrics (“Le pijmo ga”, “Štrbenk na Štrbunk” and the third version of “Dajte, dajte”).
This album needs to be understood mostly as a “studio project” that stands for the artistic and intellectual reading and presents the traditional through diverse styles of popular music. In this sphere it is certainly an excellent and fresh contribution to Slovene music.