by Katy Widder


Though Sviraj (pronounced SVEE-rye) is from the United States, it’s virtually impossible to tell. Their name captures their sound well. Sviraj means “play on” and is often shouted when musicians are playing with special energy and inspiration. The band’s newest release, Cigannine, transports listeners right to the Balkans. The veteran tamburitza band whips up a stellar recording, with not a song to skip.

Tamburitza music is an energetic folk music that thrives in North America’s Balkan communities. Sviraj’s music also has roots in Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Dalmatia, Romania, and the Roma (Gypsies).

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The band is made up of childhood friends who grew up in Steelton, Pennsylvania, and they’ve been playing together for 12 years now. They’ve played all over the United States including at the Smithsonian Institute, Disneyworld, and for National Public Radio.

The standout on this album is R.E. Lopatic, who has been recognized as one of the best tamburitza fiddlers in North America. Of Croatian and Slovenian descent, he has been performing for over 20 years in groups such as Jorgovan, Trick Bag, and Tzigantzi. His fiddle playing seduces and excites. The way he plays, it’s guarunteed to get the wallflowers on the dance floor.

Danilo Yanich, who does a great job on accordion and bugarija, is of Serbian descent. He is a former music director for the Tomov Folk Dance Ensemble of New York, teaches Balkan msic and dance and was at one time the president of the national board of the East European Folklife Center. The bugarija is a rhythm instrument that has the shape and size of a large dreadnought guitar. It can be tuned to different chords and is played with a pick that goes through all the strings. It functions as both a rhythm guitar and a snare drum.

And, Lenny Tepisch brings in the bass and cello to create the heartbeat of the music. Of Serbian and Croatian heritage, he has been featured at Balkan music and dance camps and international folk festivals. His cello part adds counter-melodies to give the music fullness.

Also featured on Ciganine is Tamburitza Hall of Fame cello legend Vlad Popvich, and Tosh Yanich, Danilo’s brother who sings bass.

This festive recording treats listeners to the soul of multicultural tamburitza music. Ciganine is a must for anyone who collects East European and Gypsy music. Also, keep your eyes out for a live recording by Sviraj, which should be released shortly.

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