She was born in Palma de Mallorca, but has lived all over the world. Her father is Vangel Mackovski, a multi-talented instrumentalist who plays over 15 instruments, born in Bukovo, Bitola, who spent the last half century in Spain, where after an international tour he found his true love in the eyes of a beautiful Andalusian woman and decided to stay and form a family there.
Few people know that Maika’s middle name is Irena, and her last name was adapted into Makovski, for easier understanding in her native Spain. Raised barefoot, with every day presence of music and art in their home, Maika was a shy girl who built her world around nature and singing.
At the age of 12 she started creating her own music, at the age of 15 she already performed, at the age of 18 she had her own band, and at the age of 21 she released her first album. And none of this is strange, considering the blood that flows is from a very talented musical family – here grandmother Menka (* Vangel’s mother) sang beautifully, and among her cousins who are professors of music education in Macedonia, is also Jovan Milosevski, a music virtuoso who is a guitar teacher and has his own private music school in Palma de Mallorca.
Seven albums later and many ups and downs, personal transformations and inner retreats and self-examinations, Maika is exactly where she needs to be at the moment – personally aware, discovered in her Macedonian roots, with an open heart and tons of self-love and love for the nature.
Eager to learn how to cook Macedonian food, Maika told us that so far she has perfected only the spread of ajvar on bread, but that her mother, although Spanish, makes zelnik (*Macedonian cheese pie) “worth dying for!”.
In the interview for Vezilka, she told us about her inner journey, the changes that did not necessarily come when she was looking for them and the importance of the renewed contact with the Macedonian roots.
We learnt about Maika, the Macedonian singer from Spain, some time ago through the song ‘Makedonija’, and the internet went crazy for you. Let’s go to the beginnings of everything – who and what influenced your musical journey?
Maika: Oh my! There have been so many influences in my life.
I guess it started with my father, who is a very peculiar multi-instrumentalist. I used to sit front row at his shows as a very young child. They tell me I was always attentive and concentrated on him and the music, and that I’d shake off any hands that approached my face to pinch my cheeks or any of the cute things we tend to do to children.
I wouldn’t eat without his music playing and the house was, of course, filled with his instruments: rarities like the serpent, which is a 16th Century instrument that very few people play, the Alpenhorn or the tuba, ocarinas, bells, flutes (yes, the kaval as well!), the trumpet, the trombone, and long etcetera.
So those were part of my natural landscape, and I think I developed a sense of the music I liked and didn’t like pretty early in life thanks to that.
Music always had the power to move me and guide my emotions, and it was a mysterious force that really called on me.
Only recently you came in touch with your Macedonian roots. How did your parents meet and what was it like growing up with a father from a different nationality, but never really be in touch with that part of yourself?
Maika: My dad was touring with an international band at some point in the 70’s. They were playing in a club in Mallorca for a season, my mom used to frequent the place. But it wasn’t a case of the groupie: it was my father who chased after her quite relentlessly!
Growing up with my dad was quite fun, really. He’s always had a knack with animals and children, a special kind of magnetism. I never knew, however, what parts of my dad were peculiar and what parts of him were… well, Macedonian. He’s always felt quite bad he didn’t teach me the language as a kid, and that of course derived in me having a distanced sort of relationship with his (and my) origins.
My relatives visited every now and then and they were always amazing, but I couldn’t understand what they talked about, what they laughed about. That started to change about seven years ago, when I visited Macedonia on my own and my whole life turned upside down (in the best of ways).
What was it like for you the first time you played on stage?
Maika: It was a marvelous reaffirmation that I needed to do that for the rest of my life. I was in my early teens when it happened, but I felt my throat on fire and I felt the music take control of my entire body.
What did you learn and “take” from your mother, and what from your father?
Maika: From my mom I learnt how to analyze the world around me, I learnt to be critical of myself in a balanced way, putting everything into perspective, taking everything into account. I learnt generosity and I also that I shouldn’t be scared to dream big.
From my dad I inherited the love for nature (he’s great with plants as well as animals and children). I learnt that being curious and excited about life keeps you young and healthy.
For which period so far, you can say it was the most difficult and life transformative?
Maika: There have been quite a few… I was a very shy and sheltered kid and I was sent off to boarding school when I was 15. Suddenly I had to fend for myself, so I learnt the most valuable lesson: that I was able to do it.
It’s good to be uncomfortable, to get closer to your limits, even trespass them… Confrontation is an amazing teacher.
Another peak moment was of course Macedonia. I kind of ran away from Spain at a time when every aspect of my life seemed to be blowing up. So I thought I’d escape by spending some time away, and I chose Macedonia because it was convenient: my dad had an apartment there, and at the time I was short for money.
So I went away to disconnect from my life and instead I found myself in the very heart of it all. Right in the center of the plug, connected straight to it. My family embraced me in a way that that softened my spirit and the whole experience filled me up from head to toe: how kind people were, the music I heard, the beauty of the landscape and most of all, the feeling I had that I was supposed to be living all that like it was written, the feeling I was home…
You grew up in front of the audience. What is the lesson you’ve learnt that hit you the most, and what is the one thing you’re the most grateful for?
Maika: As I said before, I used to be a very shy kid. Shyness is not talked about enough, I think. And it’s the reason most people start drinking or taking drugs when they’re young, so I think it should be talked about.
The feeling I had was that I was trapped in a hard shell I couldn’t break out from, I couldn’t show other people who I really was, or give the best of me. Music helped me connect to others. It gave me a good head start, too. Whenever I’d get up and sing a song, it seemed to say “hey, there is more to me than this little person in the corner”.
But still, there were so many things that were difficult for years. Interviews were painful. What to say to the audience in between songs, my whole relationship with how I showed myself: should I put on a mask or should I take it off?
Hadn’t it been through music, I would still be quite introverted. But my profession put me out there, kicked me in the butt, told me “go on, say something, fuck it up! You’ll see that it’s ok, and you’re ok, and it’s easier than you think”.
Vlatko Stefanovski and “Uci me majko karaj me” – what does this song mean to you?
Maika: The first night I arrived in Macedonia I stayed in Bitola with my family, just to have them take me to Vlatko’s and Miroslav Tadic’s concert at Heraclea. Lucky me, right? What a night to land!
So I sat there, in that very spectacular amphitheater filled with a history that’s also a little bit mine, and the night was beautiful, and the show was sold out… I had my first glimpse at the perfect mix of beauty, tenderness and humor that is Macedonia. How the elders sneeze like there’s no tomorrow, no matter how sublime the music or the moment, how the official photographer sat on the same rock for the entire show snapping away and therefore took the same picture a thousand times. I find all those things so deeply endearing.
But back to the music, there they were, Miroslav and Vlatko, playing all those beautiful popular Macedonian songs that I didn’t know back then. And the kids and the elders were clapping, and of course they were clapping to 7/8 and 11/8 rhythms and it was blowing my mind! “What are they doing? I am a professional musician and I don’t understand the way these little children are clapping to a song!”.
Still, the beauty of the songs overtook me. And when I heard ‘Uci me majko, karaj me’ I was done for. It was the most beautiful melody I’d ever heard.
Few months after that experience, you wrote the song ‘Makedonija’, as part of your 7th album Chinook Wind. How did it feel putting those words and 7/8 tact out there, for the world to see them?
Maika: Oh, I wrote the lyrics on the plane back to Barcelona, where I was living at the time. I was so grateful for what I’d experienced and I had a feeling that I was coming back too soon, that I was breaking the laws of fate. So I wrote the lyrics in one of the bags they give you in case you feel ill and I kept it like an important document.
The melody and the harmony happened pretty quickly too, but the song sounded very different then, it took me a while to find the right atmosphere for it, with the strings and the drum machine.
I usually don’t take long at all to produce a song, and if it had been any other, I would’ve just abandoned it. But I believed in this song so much. I believed in the truth of it. And the first time we played it for an audience, I cried like a baby.
People that follow you know you’re an artist as well and that you translate your feelings into paintings. When did you decide it’s time for the world to see your inner art, and have you ever had an official exhibition?
Maika: I am persistent with my music, but not with my painting. I studied fine arts, but I have always used painting as a complementary tool of expression and so I’ve been too erratic and sporadic to produce a whole series that I could show in an exhibit.
I’m sure it will happen if it has to!
Your love for the outdoors was passed on to you by your father Vangel, and now you’re fascinated by the Permaculture. What do you usually like doing on your property?
Permaculture is probably the most fascinating subject of study I’ve found in the past years. It englobes everything I care about. It is basically a way for humans to BELONG into their environment, not just dominate it until we crush it. What an idea, that mankind could be GOOD for the planet, not just aspire to not do harm, but to actually do good.
One of the things permaculture talks about (like any old horticulturist would) is the importance of having a healthy soil, and increase biodiversity for the benefit of the environment as well as your own crops.
So I’m trying to improve the soil here. It is very hard, very compact and poor in nutrients, and plants have a hard time growing here. But I started with fava beans and peas, which are plants that are capable to catch Nitrogen from the environment and trap in the soil. If I keep it up, I could have a decent garden in a couple of years.
And one more thing: ban phytosanitaries now!
How much is Love a part of your everyday life and what did it mean getting in touch with your roots?
Maika: Love is part of every moment of my life! Be it for the recognition of it, or for the lack of touch with the emotion, which is so unsettling.
For me, the trip I described earlier was exactly this: filling up the paternal half that had been only partially full up until then without me even knowing.
You know what? I was able to fall in love for the first time when I came back from Macedonia. That’s how much it opened me up.
What does Macedonia mean for you?
Maika: Macedonia is like a promise, or maybe a hope. A hope that I could know home. It’s the sweetness I’ve found in the villages. Strangers inviting me for coffee in their homes. That spark that lights up in the eye of the person who just made a witty joke, the way people laugh and offer you food until you’re bursting at the seams.
It is the spirit of Pece, who lead to clean up Dihovo, and helped turn it into what every corner of Macedonia deserves to be again.
The tall trees in the summer, the silence in the winter, at least until you enter a restaurant where everyone ends up dancing and singing around the musicians, and crying and laughing (yes, that has happened to me!).
It is a little melancholy to see so many youngsters leave and the rest of them be left in a state of helplessness, but that translates into hope, hope that one day everyone will see Macedonia through loving eyes like mine!