Musicians of Saray Iluminado reimagine Sevdah and Sephardic Jewish music by drawing on a number of existing traditional references and mixing them with their own diasporic Australian creative voices. The group has a distinctive performance style that blends borders of music and story-telling rituals, intimately uniting the musicians with their audiences in their various shows.
The group was originally formed late in 2013 by three of the current members, the vocalist Nela Trifkovic and multi-instrumentalists Ernie Gruner and Kelly Dowall. Irine Vela and Dan Witton joined the group in 2016, completing the current line up.
Over the past 7 years the group has performed at various national venues and festivals, including regular shows at the Melbourne Recital Centre and fortyfivedownstairs theatre in Melbourne's Flinders Lane, shows at the MONA FOMA and a curated performance at the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Canberra.
In 2019, Saray Iluminado Femme, a trio derivative of the band ( Trifkovic, Dowall and Vela) made a European debut at the Sicilian traditional music festivals in Palermo and Pisano.
In 2020, movement artist Israel Aloni, joined the group for a period of experimental collaboration and is currently working with Saray Iluminado on their upcoming actual and virtual presentations in 2021-22.
Nela Trifkovic | vocalist, frame drum
Nela is a Bosnian-Australian artist whose multi-faceted practice includes the disciplines of music, theatre, performance and installation art. She trained at WAAPA and VCA. A recipient of several grants and scholarships, Nela has performed and conducted research in Australia, Asia, Europe and USA.
In the realm of folk music, Bosnian Sevdah and Sephardic Jewish songs are Nela's greatest passion. They have been an integral part of her life and upbringing. These musical genres have inspired the formation of the ensemble Saray Iluminado, allowing Nela to gather a curious bunch of like-minded musical travellers and pursue life away from home by finding a home in song.
Ernie Gruner | violin, mandolin
Ernie Gruner is Australia’s leading klezmer violinist and teacher, with bands including Klezmeritis. He was musical director for the Jewish theatre show “Exile and Ecstasy” which included klezmer and Sephardic music. He has performed and recorded with Sephardic bands Soleluna and Melisma. For over ten years he was a member of Middle-Eastern ensemble Yalla!. Bohemian Nights duo has toured and recorded for near 20 years and includes Balkan, Turkish and Gypsy repertoire. He was recently profiled in Seth Jordan’s book “World Music: Global Sounds in Australia”, as a performer who has contributed significantly to the Australian world music scene.
Ernie met Nela while working on music for the La Mama show “Sarajevo Suite”.
Irine Vela | laouto
Irine Vela is a composer, creative producer, musician and the Artistic Director of Outer Urban Projects. Irine’s work emphasises the validity, necessity and excitement that diverse voices and forms bring to the Australian arts. She has collaborated with many of Australia’s finest performers, writers, directors and theatre companies. Her work has conceptualised and enabled many fertile collaborations.
Her film and television credits include: Head On (feature film), Remembering Country (documentary drama SBS), and the mini-series The Slap (ABC). She received the 2012 APRA Screen Music Award for Best Sound Track Album. Other notable collaborations and productions include; Who's Afraid of the Working Class, Do Not Go Gentle and her music drama 1975-A Populist Opera for which she also wrote the libretto. Her choral opera Little City was acclaimed by both music and theatre critics and garnered her an award from the Australian Music Centre for Best Composition by an Australian Composer.
She also performs with I Viaggatori and is founding member of the haBiBis. Their CD Intoxication received an ARIA award for Best World Music Album.
Kelly Dowall | ney, clarinet, dayereh
Dan Witton | double bass, voice
Kelly was studying clarinet at the University of Queensland School of Music when she fell in deep with a community of world musicians and has never looked back. Her love of Balkan, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music has taken her to Greece and Turkey for further study of ney and clarinet styles and seen her collaborate with musicians from Balkan, Greek, Turkish, Arabic & Persian musical traditions. She has performed in traditional and contemporary music groups including Muziz, the Australian Arabic Orchestra, Kashkul Ensemble and the haBiBis.
She spends the daylight hours working as a librarian.
Dan Witton is a bassist, tubist and vocalist. He has worked as a composer and sound designer, music technician, teacher, soloist in theatre, radio, film projects and with ensembles such as cosmo cosmolino, jenny m thomas & the system, the wikimen, brunswick bluegrass collective, tania bosak, ennio morricone experience, the blue grassy knoll, and, since 2016, SARAY Iluminado.
Dan Witton has also worked as a theatre performer and designer with mainstream, fringe and independent theatre companies, dance companies, contemporary music ensembles, street theatre, television, bands, physical theatre, acrobatic troupes and in art galleries/installations. Dan co-founded desoxy theatre in 1990 with Teresa Blake creating original performance projects including work at major festivals, film and video, short pieces and independent seasons touring Australia, Venezuela, Spain, Japan, Belgium, Austria, Holland, England, Ireland, Scotland.
Israel Aloni | movement
Israel Aloni is an independent choreographer, educator, performer, writer, provocateur and cultural entrepreneur. Their choreographic work has been presented around the world. They have been continuously developing a powerful artistic voice which transcend boarders and truly captivates the audience.
As a performer for nearly two decades, Aloni created and performed a vast repertoire of globally acclaimed choreographers such as Sasha Waltz, Mats Ek, Wim Vadekaybus and Club Guy And Roni to name a few. In 2018 Aloni initiated and directed Tr.IPP which was a unique pathway in Melbourne, Australia which mentored and fostered artists in the dawn of their career.
Currently, Aloni is the Artistic Director and Co-Founder of ilDance, an independent contemporary dance organisation based in Gothenburg, Sweden; the architect and international project manager of International Contemporary Dance Collective (iCoDaCo) which is co-founded by the Creative Europe programme of the European Union.
And our thanks to
Will Thompson | oud, lute and voice
Former founding member & contributor to our debut CD
"Nightingales in the Rose Garden"