The Slovenia Times

Down in the Quiet Valley



When it comes to Slovenian popular music there are two separate streams, traditionally incompatible with each others. On one side, the defenders of rock and roll. On the other, the domain of "popular folk music", which is defined by accordion, folk costume, consommé, a stupid smile and not very intelligent jokes. The sort of music that is prevalent on TV programmes called "Cheers!" or "A rocket under hayrack" and on basically any local radio around Sunday lunch.
Lojze Slak, who has died at the age of 79, was one of few who managed to overcome those divisions. From the late fifties onwards he composed many pieces now proclaimed as part of the public domain. As with any real folk musician, he started his career in the countryside inns and provincial weddings. Yet he finished up among the constellations of stardom. At that time, young boys from his village (Jordankal near Mirna Peč), could only do only two things in his life - become a priest or a farmer. Slak found a third way.
There are several reasons his work appealed to so many, but the major one was his mastery of being different in a very hermetic genre. Slak successfully built new bridges from the past to present and in the same leap took care about the future. It is an achievement which was encoded a TV series entitled "Our local community" - now two three old. In one scene the generation gap between the youngsters and the granddads is illustrated with their argument about the kind of music the band should play at a certain celebration. The ultimate solution is Slak's folk song Pri farni cerkvici (By the parish church) played in a rock and roll manner.
His compromise between the traditional and the modern had nothing to do with the idiotic 'Popular folk-rock' medley, with which Slovenia has shamed itself in recent Eurovision song contests. Instead, Slak's songs were compatible with rock and roll making them acceptable to the younger and urban generations: the chorus of V dolini tihi (Down in the quiet valley) is not a surprise, but rather a homage to some common folk melodies, adhered to the basic Slovenian identity. In this group there are also tunes like Na golici or Na Roblek by Avsenik. All are songs which are not only cross generations but also borders, being particularly well received in Austria, Bavaria, Switzerland and the Polka Hall of Fame in USA. They quickly became recognised as part of the Slovene cultural identity or "typische slowenische tanz musik".
What also made Lojze Slak special was his innovative approach to the accordion. This was someone who dared introduce changes in the technique of playing the instrument - changes that accordion purists may have considered blasphemy. Yet nowadays the self-same purists listen to Slak's work with respect, appreciating the extra button and additional six bass-lines he added to the instrument. His work helped the diatonic accordion become a respected instrument in several genres and ultimately find its way into the mainstream. What Les Paul did for the guitar Slak did for accordion.
Despite his ground-breaking innovations and popularity, Slak remained a modest country guy, who never took anything for granted. He never lost his "folkish" approach and that was one the reasons that his smile was never a fake.
Only few weeks after Slak's death, his good friend poet Tone Pavček passed away too. The two men once used to joke about what they would do in the afterlife. "Dear folk musician, come visit me in paradise and play for me here," they taunted each other. What is sure is that their earthly legacies will remain immaculate for generations to come.


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