Apart from performing with her band, she teaches singing and vocal technique and publishes articles, or is working on her PhD thesis on the presence of musicians from Southeast Europe on the Austrian jazz scene. Irina Karamarković is also one of the founders of the Post Pessimists movement that promoted cultural exchange projects involving young people from Southeast Europe. Earlier on, she belonged to a band called Sandy Lopicic Orkestar. This band combined different styles of music originating from the Balkans. She also used to be a member of the La Cherga band, which merged electronic music with ethno elements.
Irina Karamarković was born in Priština to a family with a long tradition in music. She enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, after which she auditioned for the Jazz Department of the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz (1997). She studied for example with Mark Murphy, Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton, and wrote her graduation paper on jazz composer and bassist Charles Mingus. Recently, Karamarković produced an album entitled "Songs from Kosovo", where she was accompanied by Stefan Heckel (piano), Wolfram Derschmidt (bass) and Viktor Palic (drums). The album is comprised of old traditional folk songs such as Gusta mi magla padnala (Thick fog has risen), Tuđa zemljo (Oh, foreign land) or Preleteše tice lastavice (Swallows flew over), all of them rearranged in jazz style.
Karamarković told Southeast-Europe: People and Culture that some of these songs she had known ever since she was a child, whereas some she discovered later on and grew to love them in her mother’s traditional arrangements.
Karamarković: I see jazz as a kind of language which brought democracy into music, a language which offers the possibility of a free expression. It is quite natural that I should feel the need to express the stunning beauty of songs from Kosovo and other parts of the region in a language which makes them accessible for audiences from all walks of life.
On your album, alongside songs that you sing in your own mother tongue, Serbian, there is also a song in Albanian.
For me, giving due attention to the rich Albanian cultural heritage is a matter of course. I strongly oppose the neglect of the musical diversity of the part of the world that I come from and the suppression of the political reality of the times I live in.
There is also a song from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Zajdi, zajdi?
Zajdi, zajdi is a song that many singers like to sing simply because it is so beautiful. It is also interesting because Bulgarians and Macedonians cannot agree on its origin. I believe that I have chosen it because of the disagreement that is behind its beauty and because of the evident closeness between the musical traditions of Kosovo and [the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Can your audiences abroad feel and understand these songs the way they are intended?
The audiences are similar everywhere. Some know a lot, some less, and the majority believe they know everything. I think that none of us know enough and I feel this constant urge to find out more. I believe that “understanding something correctly” does not really exist. We each have our own perception, and we have every right to do so. My work boils down to selecting the way which will allow me to express myself fully, to introduce different ideas according to my own aesthetic criteria and things I enjoy. The English translations from the Songs from Kosovo album are found in a little inlay booklet that comes with the CD but they are also available on my website. German translations can also be found there. (www.irinakaramarkovic.com)
What do you think of the terms “Balkan jazz” and “World music”?
Everything is “World music”. Instead of using the irritating term “Balkan Jazz” I suggest we use “Ethno Jazz”, until we have found an acceptable geographic definition of the Balkans.
Your PhD thesis focuses on the presence of music and musicians coming from Southeast Europe in the Austrian jazz scene in the last decade. What have you came across during your research?
That for example Serbia lost many talented young people owing to the lack of proper facilities, for instance no jazz department at the University, but also because of disastrous working conditions that jazz and classical musicians have to face there. The Austrian music scene is very fertile and vibrant which is why many musicians from Southeast Europe simply moved to Vienna and Graz.
How do you prepare for your concerts?
I mainly sort out the key issues which will be happening on stage with my colleagues. We discuss the order of songs and possible variations. Then, during sound rehearsals we try to achieve the right sound and get everything to work the way we think it should. There is also the unavoidable warm-up. After that I normally slip into a pretty dress and spend a lot of time putting on make-up. That relaxes me.
What else do you want to achieve in 2010?
I have just completed my share of work on Daniela Fischer’s new album and Dragan Tabaković is coming over for a rehearsal for the new project we’re planning, and also I am currently recording Fritz Kres’ songs…Stefan Heckel, Wolfram Derschmidt, Viktor Palic and I are working on a new scheme. There is also the duet with Stefan and working with Andreas Fabianek on a new album. We are planning some concerts in Belgium (as part of the Southeast Europe: A Cultural Journey) and Croatia in June and setting up a new website. What will follow will be a CD presentation in Vienna (Porgy & Bess). Another thing I am also planning, if at all possible, is to beat my father at table tennis.