February 2007

Ten years is a long gap between tours but that’s what it had been since our last concert tour, so we were excited and a bit apprehensive as we made our separate ways from 4 countries to Belgrade. I was very happy to be returning to Serbia and Macedonia as we’d had lovely experiences there years ago, I was also curious to see how much things had changed.

February probably wouldn’t have been the month of choice to visit Serbia, confirmed by the pilot announcing, as we readied for take off, the temperature in Belgrade to be -10C! But it was gloriously sunny when we landed and the frosty temperature rose steadily during our stay.

It was great to be back in Belgrade, we were royally looked after by the ever generous Belgrade friends, fed to bursting point and given the space to practise the day before our first concert. It was an intense day, starting with a TV interview at 9am followed by hours of practising (so necessary as we all live in different countries and only meet up a few times a year) and then the concert.

Unfortunately our visit coincided with some political unrest and there was a degree of tension on the streets (though none of ever felt remotely unsafe) so the audience numbers weren’t as high as had been hoped for, but none of that mattered, the people who came seemed to really appreciate the music and identified with the abundant peace that Sri Chinmoy’s songs embody. We loved being back on stage and singing our hearts out.

After the concert it was off to Sladja’s new restaurant, a great little place in the heart of the city, for a delicious supper of rice and dal. We were all so impressed with the way she had put the place together and wish her great success, people are bound to love the food, it was very yummy!

The following day we were due to perform in Novi Sad but there had been a devastating fire in a local club and 7 people had perished, so the city announced a three day morning period and our concert was cancelled. As sad as this was for us we were touched by a community spirit so strong that it collectively mourned the loss of its citizens. We thought this meant a night without a concert but we underestimated the Serbs! Within less than 24 hours, they arranged a substitute concert in the beautiful city of Subotica and managed to find a small audience too! The concert was probably my favourite of the tour as we really felt the audience entering into the music and it seemed everyone was meditating, the feedback from the audience was so peaceful and they made it very easy to perform.

Next we were off to Nish where the concert was in a puppet theatre. It was great, all these amazing puppets in the wings and a very atmospheric hall. Then it was off to the Bulgarian border and a concert in Sofia, everything went smoothly – and we fought through the endless Sofia traffic to a big concert hall with a lovely grand piano. It’s so great when we have a real piano to perform with rather than a synthesizer pretending to be a piano!

The concert went very well, 200 people came, and we only wished we could have spent more time with our Bulgarian friends, but the next morning we had to be across the border once more, into Macedonia, and at a TV station in Skopje for 8.30 am. No joke considering the drive is a good three and half hours and you have to add on time for the border crossing.

After a inhospitable starting time and a very scary drive down the mountains after the border, we screeched up to the TV station just after 8.30, were rushed straight onto stage and promptly interviewed by a charming lady with impeccable English. Then we were treated to a full spread breakfast at a little hotel owned by a member of the Skopje centre. It was a beautiful place with a touch of old England in the decor, very comforting and perfect after a 4am start!

The concert that night was in a proper concert hall and Eshana, our pianist, was over the moon to find she’d be playing a Steinway – talk about being spoiled on our last concert! The hall held 500 and demand for seats had been so great that we were asked to give two concerts, one at 8 and one at 10pm! It was a great finish to the tour, the hall was amazing to sing in and the audience was full for the first concert and fairly full for the second.

Come midnight we could barely stand but were very happy; to sing Sri Chinmoy’s songs is rewarding in itself but to sing your heart out and share the music with an audience brings something extra alive in the songs. I left the hall that night so grateful for the experiences we’d had over the week, each concert had been different, rewarding in unique ways, we had been in the countries we love so much, and we’d experienced the great hearts of Serbia, Macedonia and Bulgaria once again.

Driving back over the border the next day (to Sofia airport) we had time to appreciate the great beauty of the region. Our tour had been quite different to the ones we remembered 10 years ago but the satisfying feeling at the end was the same, and maybe more precious after such a long break.

So now I’m busy dreaming of the next tour!

– Shankara