Interview with Martin Lubenov

"Music is my life!"
Martin Lubenov is a key part of the Roma / Balkan music scene. With "Dui Droma" and "Veselina" he has coined two classics of contemporary Balkan and Roma music. Gypsy Music Network spoke with him about his past, current developments in Roma music and his future plans.
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Hello, Martin. How are you?
Very fine, thank you. I am just in Sofia in the studio working intensively on the completion of the new Jazzta Prasta album.
OK, Martin, please introduce yourself before we begin for those who may not know about you.
Hi, I’m Martin Lubenov, a musician and composer from Sofia, Bulgaria. I play accordion and just want to say: Music is my life. From first thing in the morning when I get up until I fall asleep at night. Everything I do has to do with music. I either listen to it or read about it, practise accordion, compose, write lyrics, record in the studio, rehearse or perform at concerts. I thank God that I am able to live like this and am very happy with the situation.
As you may know, I’m involved in various music projects in which I can participate in different ways. It’s a bit like playing different roles. With the Martin Lubenov Orkestar I show one face, with Jazzta Prassta a quite different one. And so it is with every project. I am very happy that I have these opportunities to realize myself.
When did you start playing music?
Let me think ... I was seven years old when I started learning accordion in a children’s music school in Sofia. It was a really nice time because my grandmother had just given me my first accordion and I was incredibly proud of it! My grandfather was a famous magnificent accordionist in the old days in Bulgaria and it was my grandmother’s wish that I follow in his footsteps. And so it was to be.
Actually, I come from a family of musicians. From my mother’s side as well as my father’s, everyone in our family was a musician. Everyone played at least one instrument!
Your first album “Dui Droma” (with the Martin Lubenov Orkestar) appeared in 2004. Now it’s 2014. Why haven’t we heard from you in such a long time?
There are several reasons. First, the album was very successful and I toured clubs and venues for quite a while and had many engagements. And secondly, I also a stepped back a bit and was writing again and working a lot. I have recorded two complete albums during this time. And still, there is enough material for another three more albums! One can truly say I had a creative spurt and that is why you have heard nothing from me for so long.
As I said, the second Martin Lubenov Orkestar album is already finished and hopefully will come out in the next few months.
I’ve even heard a snippet from the album and it sounds great!
Thanks. Yes, it is a very interesting and fresh album in my opinion. I think it will bring a breath of fresh air to current Roma music. I’m not quite sure yet, but I will probably call the album "Don’t worry, be Gypsy". Like on the first album, I have again written and composed all the songs myself.
On the first album, all the songs were written and composed by you?
Yes, that’s right.
I didn’t know that. Many of those songs are played regularly by other Roma bands and are very popular in the Roma community.
Yes, exactly. Just last week on YouTube I came across a brass band from Los Angeles that was playing a song from the album. Crazy! “Latin Tschuss” is another song that is quite popular and played by many Roma brass bands. I am very pleased. My songs have become commonplace in Roma music in the meantime and that really makes me happy.
On your last album, Neno Iliev contributed the vocals. Will he again be part of the new album?
This time I worked together with another singer. He’s younger than Neno Iliev and has a very modern way of singing Roma songs. He brings that breath of fresh air to the album that I already mentioned. His name is Petar Yankov and he is incredibly talented. Until now he was known only in the Bulgarian Roma community and has sung exclusively at weddings. But I think that after this album he will also be known by audiences in the West.
Otherwise, I have again worked with some of my favorite Roma musicians from Bulgaria and also with a drummer from Austria. On some of the songs there is a brass section. Anyway, all the arrangements this time are quite lavish with some songs having up to14 musicians.
We’re curious. Tell us something about Vienna. You have been living there for quite a while now.
Vienna is my second home and is, in the truest sense of the word, a multicultural city. There is everything there, nothing is lacking. As a musician, the city is incredibly inspiring and you can easily socialize. The whole world music scene is quite lively in Vienna – you can find musicians from all corners of the world.
How do you see developments in Roma music over the past 10 years, especially in the context of world music?
The hype is over. Roma music is popular in the West, but the attention we had 10, 15 years ago is gone. The established Roma brands are still successful because they are doing good things. But for new, unknown bands or musicians, I think it is difficult to express themselves beyond their home base. The well-known bands are still very successful, but the great mass of unknown Roma musicians is currently at home.
What do you think of bands and musicians such as Shantel or Balkan Beat Box which do not make classic Balkan music but refer to elements of it?
Honestly, I do not know them. I think if the bands are successful, the music also has its raison d'être. The success of these bands also has a positive effect on us and brings us and the whole world music scene further along.Success depends on many factors, you know, and is often also a matter of chance and luck. Some projects are successful simply because they got lucky with the media. Unfortunately, there are also many projects that do not get the attention they deserve, even though the music is well worth it. There is plenty of excellent music that never finds listeners, exactly for that reason.
OK, Martin, tell us everything that we can expect from you in the near future.
Next up, the Martin Lubenov Orkestar album will come out once everything has been finalized with the label. After that comes Jazzta Prassta which is already in the wings. It will be quite a crazy record. A lot of jazz and Balkan, but other music, too. Gaucho, chanson elements, musette and more. The music is very heavy on percussion this time and you think there’s a rhythm section, although the ensemble consists only of double bass, guitar and accordion. Really exciting!
Another project I’m working on is “Harmonica Electronica”, an electronics project along with a DJ and producer from Bulgaria. Then there’s another project I currently call “music of my grandfather” that I’m working on and which I am doing with a well-known Romanian cimbalom player. Together we will interpret ancient Roma songs anew. And a few other surprises are in store, but more on that later.
OK, Martin, thank you for the interview. Is there anything you would like to tell us in closing?
I thank you for the interview. All the latest information can be found on my website. And stay healthy, my friends!


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