Saray Iluminado

Saray Iluminado play new interpretations of Sevdah from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Jewish Sephardic music from the Balkans. Formed in 2013, Saray Iluminado has progressed swiftly to become one of Melbourne's most original world music ensembles, performing at festivals and venues including the Caravan Club, Cygnet Folk Festival and the Bosnian Embassy in Canberra.


The core of this group is Nela's intimate knowledge of Sevdah and Bosnian and Herzegovinian cultural customs and traditions. Ernie's knowledge of Sephardic, Klezmer, East European and Gypsy music supported by Kelly, Irine and Dan's multi-genre musicianship complete the ensemble. Together, these musicians draw on the practices of traditional Sevdah and Sephardic masters of the past two centuries to create intimate participatory musical gatherings and new vocabularies for the expression of their authentic musical imagination. 

In 2015 the members of Saray Iluminado were recipients of the Graduate Mentorships Program funded by the State Government, the Victorian College of the Arts and Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. This grant enabled the group to record their debut album "Nightingales in the Rose Garden" and pursue the development and performance of Trifkovic's song cycle "The Song Boat."

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listen to and buy their music from bandcamp


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. 

And our thanks to

Will Thompson | oud, lute and voice


Former founding member & contributor to our debut CD

"Nightingales in the Rose Garden"

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© 2015 Website by Kelly Dowall

Artwork by Cait NaMara

Photos by TRUPIXELS, Dave Wayman & Underground Media