Whenever I hear a Moravian cimbalom group, my legs start twitching!
Jaro Milko is a guitarist and head of the group Jaro Milko & The Cubalkanics. As guitarist with the US cult band Firewater, he regularly toured the globe and is an in-demand studio and live musician as well. With Jaro Milko & The Cubalkanics, he is moving at the point where Balkan sounds and Cuban rhythms blend. That this is something that actually works well has already been impressively demonstrated on his debut work “Cigarros Explosivos”. We spoke with him about his Czech roots and how the songs in the band evolve.


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Hi, Jaro. Who is Jaro Milko and who are The Cubalkanics?
My name is Jaro Milko and I was born in Switzerland. My parents are originally from the Czech Republic – they came to Switzerland during the 1970s. My father is also a musician and so it was natural for me to start playing guitar at an early age. First with an acoustic guitar and then later, as a teenager, I switched to electric guitar. I got to know classical guitar composers such as Villa Lobos and Leo Brouwer through my teacher back then. When I was 13, after the border opened, my parents bought me my first electric guitar from a shop in Prague. I listened to Jimi Hendrix, then later to Frank Zappa, John Zorn and other wonderful musicians and played in a wide variety of bands. When I started playing in a Balkan band though, I discovered how much that music moved me and that it was somehow closer to me than anything else I had ever played before. And so, after a trip to Cuba, I formed The Cubalkanics.
The Cubalkanics are Eric Gut (drums), Ines Brodbeck (percussion), Lukas Briggen (trombone) and Eric Gilson (keys). They are from Switzerland and Canada. Ines is half Cuban. Eric Gut and I have been jamming from the beginning. I know him the longest, and he’s the guy in the know when it comes to South American rhythms. Together with Ines, the two make a super rhythmic duo.
How does a Swiss band make it with such a big label as Asphalt Tango right from the first album? I wasn’t even aware in the beginning that you all were Swiss.
We had no luck in Switzerland. Sure, we always got good feedback, but no one wanted to take a chance on us. Unfortunately, there is also no channel here that really wants to push this kind of music. I contacted every label I could think of, even tried to get our album made in the USA, but the current situation for indie labels and the risk they take is huge. So we were extremely lucky to have found in Asphalt Tango a label that goes along with our philosophy.
How was the album received? Are you happy?
It was cool to know that people in many countries listen to our music. We are always getting some pleasant feedback from near and far, through reviews or directly to us on Facebook. The fact that we are able to tour and bring our music to other countries is fascinating and gives us a good feeling.
Where all have you played up to now?
We’ve played in Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic.
You are Swiss with Czech roots. What did you bring from the Czech culture to Switzerland? And what flows from that into your artistic work?
Do you mean musically?
In general. But of course, also from a music point of view.
The first time I was in Prague was when I was 12 to visit family with my parents. My experience of being together with the family was exactly the same as growing up at home, with all the hospitality such as when it comes to eating.
Some of the things I have seen and felt that have influenced me have managed to make their way into my creative work. Some is dealt with in my lyrics. And whenever I happen to hear a Moravian cimbalom group at some outdoor market, then my legs start twitching!
At the beginning of the 2000s, I spent a lot of time in Prague in the jazz clubs to hear the local music scene. That inspired me a lot during my time studying at the music academy. Unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer clubs. I also have some Czech LPs from my parents that I used to love listening to as a kid such as “Olympic” with Petr Janda.
What were your impressions of your trip to Cuba and how long were you there?
The Cuban trip was very impressive and inspiring. We were travelling around for a month and met a lot of musicians – we even got to play with some. Cuban music has so much soul and when an old man or woman sings about their life, you are really touched and it gives you courage seeing that you can still play at that age. Music is a direct part of people’s daily lives in Cuba, such as when experiencing a Santeria ceremony – it’s an elemental force. Many songs and lyrics evolved during that trip.
Who composes the music and who writes the lyrics in your group?
I do. When I get an idea, I have to capture it immediately. In the past I used to write it down right away, now I sing it and record it quickly with my iPhone and then work on it when I’m back at home. During rehearsals, we look to see if the songs even work. Since I already do pre-production work at home, fiddling around with a piece until it sounds a bit like music, the song has already taken shape. I find the lyrics more difficult, I really have to worm them out. But everyone in the band gives some input and if the ideas make the song better, then that is super!
What all do you have coming up next?
We are getting our second album on track. I’m working on the final details of that now. In December we’ll play our final concert of the year and then soon it will be time to go into the studio again. We are also hoping that we will be playing more gigs next year and be able to take part in festivals again next summer.
I will certainly keep my eyes open and come to see you at one of your gigs. Is there anything you would like to tell the people in parting?
Yes, sure, come see us. I don’t have any particular message for the people, but what has always impressed me is how true the title of Albert Ayler’s album is: “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe”!
Some very beautiful parting words! Thanks for the interesting talk and wishes you continued success with Jaro Milko & the Cubalkanics!


Jaro Milko & The Cubalkanis on Spotify:


Interview: Robert Lippuner / Global Music Network
Translation Jamie Davies


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