Your music is played at all Kotor festive events, on the radio, everywhere… How did you find your music style so loved by your compatriots?
Music is something in your blood, and you can’t learn it. I inherited this gift from my father who was very talented but had to keep running the family bakery business as the eldest son. I had a chance to visit music classes at school in Dubrovnik where I lived in my younger years and later at the Academy, but the understanding of my style and my mission came in a protest. I returned to Kotor from Dubrovnik when my father died. It was summer, and I was walking down the town waterfront (the Riva in the local dialect) with a friend when we heard a street band and a man with an accordion announcing a Kotor Kolo. To our big surprise, they started playing Moravac or the Serbian Uzic Kolo instead. My friend got mad and tried to hit the musicians shouting: how dare you!... It’s something very delicate and sensitive about respecting the tradition. At that moment I realized that traditional Boka music must be heard and I want to be a part of bringing the best of it to the world.
What is typical for the music of your land?
Regarding instruments, traditional songs of the Boka Bay, as with all Mediterranean music, are unimaginable without guitar and mandolin, which bring its fruitiness to the sounds. But speaking of the musical soul of the coastal folks, it’s always about their optimism and cheerful spirit. Even the well-known laziness of southern people, this “leave me in peace” mood, is a part of passive creativity when our mind accumulates impressions and experiences working to the later results. So, musically, this Mediterranean spirit is reflected in positive tones based on a common chord progression I-IV-V played in the major key. The sea, sun, seagulls, women, and wine are depicted through the dominating joyful rhythms of Mediterranean songs.
Zoran’s band Muzicka Radionica (which translates to 'music workshop') was extremely popular on the Montenegrin and Dalmatian coast in the 80s. Their album “Bokeljska Ploca” released in 1986 became legendary with such hits such as 'Dodjite na festu', 'Filomena, Ribarske mreze', 'Adio'. 'Kolo Bokeljske Mornarice', the first on the playlist, is the background music for all traditional celebrations in the Kotor area, and the sounds have touched every Kotoran (Kotor citizen). In August 2015, the band reunited to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its foundation with two great concerts in Kotor and Tivat which had unbelievable audience feedback. “I thought there are no more Kotorans left," says Zoran. “But there were plenty of happy people supporting us and sincerely enjoyed our music”.
Muzicka Radionica was a very successful band. Why did you stop playing?
We were at the peak of our popularity, a professional band playing everywhere, our repertoire included both original compositions as well as popular music covers. But after the war and certain political changes, all restaurants and other entertainment locations here received the so-called instructions to play narodnjake – a sort of primitive modern popular folk music which was aesthetically not acceptable for us. At that time I had a family already, had my commitments, so I decided to open a restaurant on the ground floor of the house where I was born in the old town.
We’re sitting on the restaurant terrace where several centuries ago saw the small church of St. Hieronymus looking at the 15th-century façade of a stone three-floor house with traditional green wooden shutters. Zoran is finishing a cup of dojch (local name for espresso with whipped milk) and is rolling his fifth cigarette.
There are lots of memories about this house right?
Yes, I remember my mother preparing her carnival costume. She carefully chose all the details of the dress and the mask for months. The Winter Carnival is a fantastic tradition of our town letting people be whatever they want to be at least for a one day a year. You can hide under the character mask – a thief, a whore, a flathead. It’s a wonderful way of releasing creative energy and at the same time easing the psychological tension of following the rules born in the Mediterranean area.
Did the terrible earthquake of 1979 affect your house much?
Oh, that was the moment when all went wrong for this town. Our house, fortunately, wasn’t ruined, just the roof. But the furniture was completely destroyed because the rain didn’t stop for two days after the earthquake. Kotor became a dead town for some time. No one dared to come back and continue living in ruins except several families including us.
Why is your restaurant called a konoba? What does it mean?
Konoba is something that belongs to the Mediterranean area. Opposite to the general definition of a restaurant, a konoba is always a lifestyle. A long time ago man were fishing to make living, and every household had a boat and a konoba, an area in the house where the fishing boats and nets were kept, where wine and rakija were poured, and cards were played. Women didn’t enter this part of the house, and it was the men’s zone for drinking, joking, playing guitar and singing. The traditional Dalmatian form of a cappella song called klapa (meaning a group of friends) was actually born in konobas.
Opening a konoba in Kotor, I tried to bring my memories to life, and it worked. The restaurant was always full, not only with our many friends but it soon became very popular from Boka to Podgorica. Of course, there was a lot of preparation from unblocking the drainage channels and renewing the house roof to organizing the space removing part of the walls of the ground floor. I’d spend 24 hours there greeting guests, chatting, drinking and playing music with my friends along with ordering product stocks, fixing the issues, etc. It was the true miner's work, almost slavery.
And where did the name “Scala Santa“ come from?
There are stairs behind our shoulders leading to the church Gospa od Zdravlja (Our Lady of Health) built in the 15th century. This small church with a 18m bell tower that can be seen from the main road below is one of the important Kotor catholic shrines where local people historically prayed for the health of their relatives. The tradition comes from the dark times of the Medieval plague that swept the entire Dalmatian coast and Kotor as well many times. The way to the church, which has 520 steps, was called Via Santa and the stairs received the same name, Scala Santa, which our restaurant inherited as a part of the toponymic tradition.
Gospa od Zdravlja
What about the menu at Scala Santa?
That was the easiest part: fish, fish, and fish again. Then mussels, and mussels again, then risotto with mussels and risotto with squid, and so on. Before people lived poorly and fishing was the easiest and sometimes only way to feed the family, so I am absolutely addicted to seafood, it’s in my blood. Today, when my daughter began managing the restaurant, she added some meat dishes to the menu, but the recipes were chosen very carefully.
Did you have time to compose in your busy years running Scala Santa?
My best songs were created at that time. I’m the kind of person who feels the inspiration coming and hears the muse at the moments of the strongest stress. These are the most amazing moments of creation. Or when you dream the music, that’s fantastic - a melody playing in your head wakes you up, and you realize that it’s something new, just created by your mind. It’s a pure miracle.
Zoran Proročić continues working in his studio right above Scala Santa, adding new pearls to the collection of Boka songs.