It’s a sad irony when music-makers — who are in some ways as close to emissaries of world peace as our civilization has — are blocked from a country other than their own. This very thing happened last year, when the venerable family of Serbian guitar players Trio Balkan Strings was forced to cancel their show at the New Vic theater by U.S. immigration officials due to a visa technicality after a Canadian tour leg. It’s a shame, too, because their enrapturing instrumental music — which I described at the time as borderless in its melding of Mediterranean music — ought to be the antidote to these kinds of poisonous political patrols, the sort of thing anyone can enjoy, regardless of language, location, or legality.
But the show must go on, and, thankfully, they are back to play Santa Barbara for the first time at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Wednesday, May 24. For those not yet acquainted, Trio Balkan Strings is an award-winning family of master players led by Zoran Starcevic and his sons, Nikola and Zeljko Starcevic. The three are especially known for their family style of playing — that is, with all three of them picking and plucking the strings of one guitar. From these hands come cross-cultural compositions that string together sounds from Serbia, Macedonia, Romania, Moldavia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Greece, plus gypsy cultures, jazz, and classical music. They like to invite their audiences on a musical carpet ride, traveling along as they pluck pictures in the air.
The trio grew out of the Starcevic household, and as Nikola said when I spoke with the band last year, it’s that family connection that keeps them playing through thick and thin. Last year’s cancelation was “very stressful for my guitar family,” Zoran said more recently, “but we have to go further and leave that behind, like we always do.” And move forward they do; the group is continually composing, too, and has some new large-scale works blooming from under their fingertips. “Always … it is process with no end,” wrote Zoran in an email. The three just recorded a Balkan rhapsody for three guitars and a string orchestra, done more in the classical style, as well as a more contemporary swing composition featuring three guitars and a female choir.
For a band that started in a household living room, with Nikola and Zeljko first learning to play guitar with their dad while growing up, their music has expanded. But the nuclear core, so to speak, stays the same. “Over the years, we changed and expand our program at first, also with making fusion with more and more elements, but the family works fine and the same in any other point of view,” Zoran said. So cook up some ćevapi with kajmak (the band’s recommendation), and head to SOhO for an enjoyable night of evocative music. Thankfully, you will not need a visa to hear it.
Trio Balkan Strings plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Wednesday, May 24. The doors open at 6 p.m. See sohosb.com.