Those of us raised on commercial radio are likely unfamiliar with the name Simaku. The Albanian music star arrived in the United
States nearly 15 years ago she’d been invited by New York’s Albanian community to perform her music. Simaku learned English at an
ESL school in Manhattan and later relocated to Los Angeles, where she lived for 7 years. She returned to New York nearly 4 years ago.
Musically, Simaku’s sound is rooted in the culture and history of her native Iliria. Broadway, jazz, and the people of New York have all
influenced Simaku’s work, but her sound remains faithful to her culture. She met her husband (and fellow musician) Robert while living
in LA. The pair performs regularly in New York, with recent and upcoming shows including Bar on A (in the East Village) and the
legendary CBGB’s. Simaku’s latest album is entitled ECHOES FROM ILIRIA and is on the Muza/Reincarnate labels (distributed by
Sony/BMG). Through her own Web site, and through MySpace (the mega-popular online network), Simaku continues to expand her
already expansive listening audience.
Were you raised in Iliria? What was it like leaving your region to transition to the US? Why did you immigrate to the US?
Many of the songs I grew up with were passed down from the ages of Iliria. I was born and raised in a city by the Adriatic Sea, where still
today in the middle of the city is the ancient road Via Ignatia in Kavaje, Albania. I left to further my art and to get the opportunity to sing my
music in the stage of the world. Leaving Albania caused me to dive further into the folk music of my country. New York for me is like
going over the rainbow.
You describe your sound as world music from Iliria. How much of your culture do you bring to your music? Are there instruments
or sounds native to Iliria that you incorporate into your recordings?
My music is modern world music from Iliria. Robert and I set out to make music that is interpreted and produced in a very original and
modern way, but is roots-based and those roots are planted firmly in my culture. Our sound draws on the sharkia (stringed), lodra
(drum), pipza (flute), polifonia (polyphonic vocals), and ancient folk motifs; all of these are part of Albania folklore.
What types of themes do you write about? Do you consider yourself political?
I think art and politics don't mix. Music can be a reaction to politics, but when music promotes a certain politics then you start becoming
a politician and less of an artist. My music represents the truth and that is the culture of my region, and that truth runs deeper than
politics. The only motif in my songs is love.
You dedicated an album to your first teacher, your father. Do you come from a musical background? What did your father teach
you and how did he inspire you as an artist?
My father grew up a shepherd (coban) like his father; we used to sing at home every Sunday. That's how I learned to sing first making
iso, singing ancient songs with my father and grand father.
Did you have much exposure to Western music? What did you listen to growing up? What do you listen to now?
Growing up I listened only to Albanian music until one of my composers, Agim Krajka, introduced me to the music of Italian singer Mina
and that was my first Western music. Her voice was free and it opened my heart. Nowadays I listen to folk music from around the
world—blues, jazz, rock, and pop music—and I like them all. I find inspiration in Louis Armstrong, Motown, Fiona Apple, Train, and
How do you approach songwriting? Do you typically write lyrics around music or vice-versa?
Robert and I don't have any preconceptions when we write, and ideas can start in any number of ways; this is a constantly evolving
Do you travel or do you play mostly in New York? To what extent are you known internationally?
I travel as much as possible. I sing for Albanians around the world. I enjoy singing my music and the songs of my people. My new CD
ECHOES FROM ILIRIA is being well received internationally and more than 50 countries visit my Web site. I love to perform in New York
City the most. I have a live show twice a month called Forbidden Apple in Manhattan’s East Village.
How long have you and Rob performed together? How would you describe your collaborative efforts?
The marriage in our music is like my marriage to Robert. We met through a mutual musician friend in Hollywood. We both love music
and we inspire each other continuously, and when you see us live, our chemistry is something special. I brought with me the songs of
my people and Robert brought something new from the West.
To what extent has MySpace added to your fan base? How have you used MySpace to attract new listeners?
MySpace has brought my music to people all over the world, and their feedback can be a great inspiration. It’s also a great for promoting
live shows. Its amazing that you can interact in such a direct way with the whole world.
What are your thoughts about music as it exists today—the digitizing of music into electronic files? Do you regard this digitization
of the product as a good or bad thing?
The music industry is going through a lot of changes. But all the computers in the world cannot make a singer or a song. In the US,
there is very little variety on radio, but people can still tell the difference between commercial product and real artful music. Digitizing
doesn’t affect a songs integrity. Music still originates with the writer and is like good cooking that needs the right ingredients, the right
fire, and some hungry, happy people.
3 1 a u g u s t 2 0 0 6
* * * * *
WIDE AWAKE HOME
SLEEPING GIANT CREATIONS
I n t e r v i e w s 1 0 1 : S i m a k u
d a v i d y u r k o v i c h