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MILI'S HARROWING STORY: 'I grew up in a 400-sqm apartment, had a PARK with a fountain, and then all my MEMORIES were BURNED'
Foto: Nikola Anđić

HE THOUGHT IT COULD NOT GET WORSE THAN THAT

MILI'S HARROWING STORY: 'I grew up in a 400-sqm apartment, had a PARK with a fountain, and then all my MEMORIES were BURNED'

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Aleksandar Milić Mili has been part of the local music scene for decades. In all these years, he has managed to keep some details from his life to himself, ensuring that next to nothing is known about his personal life and past. This composer, music producer, lyricist, arranger, and music label owner has many hits under his belt that have left a mark on generations past and present and will continue to do so for future generations as well. His incredible life story could be turned into a film whose genre would be difficult to pinpoint. He has decided to talk openly about everything with Kurir.

Miligram
foto: Nebojša Mandić

The beginnings

I was born on 28 January 1969 in Osijek. I remember my childhood as very peaceful but eventful. My parents, Stanko and Danka, tasked my older brother Ivan and myself with school, music, and sports. We had to have results in these areas, and we could do whatever and however else we wanted. There was a lot of warmth throughout my childhood, coming from both my family and the environment in which I lived. Osijek is a city enveloped in greenery, tucked away on the bank of the Drava, and its warmth still lingers with me. My beginnings in music and poetry are linked to this city. I haven't changed much since the first grade of elementary school. I've always been aware of the fact that I had to have results, and how I was to have them was really up to me – I needed to find a way to make it easier. That was my attitude at school. Always a straight-A student, both in elementary school and high school, and later on as well, when I was at university. I had the ability to find ways, invariably new and innovative, to be better at school in as easy a way as possible. I'm very proud of my friends from Osijek because we've managed to stay as close at university and now as we were back in the first grade. We were the sort of gang that came up with things and stuck together, and these friendships have lasted for 40 years.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Privatna Arhiva

My father Stanko and my mom Danka

My childhood means the world to me. I think our background defines us. All the fundamental values that we are taught then stay with us for the rest of our lives. I grew up in a very loving family of medical doctors. My father Stanko was a top athlete – the state champion in wrestling – and a neuropsychiatrist. He was a university department chair in Zagreb for 30 years. As a chief physician, he managed two clinics, and worked at a court as well. My mom Danka is a dentist, and my brother Ivan – who's three years older than me – a neurosurgeon and a pianist.

A 60-sqm room

We were a financially stable family. I grew up in a 400-sqm apartment in the centre of Osijek and had my own park with a fountain. My mom and dad felt uncomfortable getting a new and furnished apartment so, when they arrived from Belgrade, they took an old and dilapidated one, which the hospital had made available to them. Later it turned out that the apartment in question had been a bank during the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, with my room alone 60 square metres in size. A positive selection of sorts was at play there, it was a city for the aristocracy and for the amusement of the aristocracy, with the most beautiful equestrian club and parks. People came to Osijek from Budapest and Vienna to throw balls, enjoy themselves, and have a good time. Sociological differences were noticeable and a sort of a factor mostly in an intellectual sense. Money was never a means to determine status in society there, and that has stayed with me to the present day.

My first love

My first love was the daughter of a judge from Slavonska Požega, who used to work with my dad. Her name was Radmila, and she was the first person to make me feel that way when I was in the fourth grade. I remember that I was in love with my teacher Olga back when I was in kindergarten. Olga was a blonde "femme fatale" and the reason why I went to the kindergarten. I only had eyes for her.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Privatna Arhiva

Serving in the military

The time I spent in the military was just insane. I joined the military as a vehicle driver in Požega in 1988. I had a problem with belittling there, and I still do. That's what the military was like back in the day – if you got a corporal who disliked you, you had almost zero rights. I got into a fight with the corporal two weeks in, and cleaned the toilets as a punishment until the end of boot camp. Later on, my dad arranged for me to come to the General Staff in Belgrade, but the commander, Colonel Stanko Rančić, called me in and said I was being transferred to the Albanian border. He then showed me my boot camp report, which was a disaster. I got a 'F' in Marxism , and my behaviour was inappropriate. He explained to me that a soldier like that couldn't be at the General Staff. And then an incredible thing happened. Rančić couldn't understand how it was that my father was a neuropsychiatrist and yet my characteristics were inches away from totally insane. He then called up my dad and told him, "Professor Milić, your son is here, but his report characteristics are awful, and we cannot keep a soldier like that. I understand you're a neuropsychiatrist, what do make of that?" My father replied, "I don't know, he was sort of normal when he left home."

Top soldier

While they were still talking, I left and then saw a sign that said "Soldiers' Club". Right next to it was an invitation to an audition for an orchestra. I was feeling sad as it was, because I was supposed to go to the Albanian border the next day, so I opened the door and went in. The club was just beautiful, located in Dedinje. I saw a band there, so I introduced myself, said that I wrote songs, and they asked me if I could sing. I said I could and started to sing a song by Đavoli in a sad state of mind. The band started to play, and right in the middle of it all I realized that everyone had frozen, no one was looking at me. I was transported, sorrow just kept gushing out. I turned around at one point and saw Commander Rančić standing behind me. I thought he was going to put me before a firing squad. He was very authoritative, with a dark complexion and blue eyes, and spoke in a deep voice. He said, "Didn't I tell you to start getting ready? You're getting transferred tomorrow!" I explained that I just wanted to see the club and that now I was going to get ready. He told me then to come to his office at 7am on the next day. I couldn’t sleep that night at all and went to see him first thing in the morning. I had a problem with authority and many other issues, which made me sort of roll back the ranks, and I was aware of it. He just said to me, "I trust people like you the most. As of today, you will be the chief clerk at the General Staff, and you will have two months of training." And so, I became the top soldier at the General Staff. I kept the officers' records and their pickled food, I issued absences, and ended up having one year's worth of military service straight out of dreamland. I was at the same level as the officers, and all of them would come to my office.

Miligram
foto: Nebojša Mandić

Croatia's top prize

It was the International Women's Day on 8 March. I was nine, and all moms would come to school to receive a gift from their children. We would make mom figures from chestnuts and potatoes, and then there were dolls, flowers, the lot. I stood out in front of everyone without a gift, took out a piece of paper from my pocket, and read out a poem to women, which I had written for my mom on the occasion of 8 March. It went like this: "Women put up a lion's fight to win and keep right after right." Everyone just froze, they couldn't believe what they were hearing. This poem won first prize for children's poetry in Croatia, in the Swallow magazine. Ever since then, whatever was going on in my childhood, I would sit down every night and write poetry. I couldn’t live without it. My parents saw that I had the gift, so they enrolled me in a music school. My brother Ivan was a top pianist and held concerts, and I was the worst student in the history of the music school. I never ever practiced and acted like there was something wrong with me. However, I was always drawn more to making music that playing. Even now, I'm not much of a player, my musicians play better than I do. And so, soon enough, my mom and dad bought me a small music studio, where I started recording, and then I made three videos for Radio Television Osijek. I was 14. The songs became hits and got airtime on Radio Osijek and Radio Zagreb. After a couple of concerts at which I performed my own songs, people started seeing me as a good composer and a bad singer.

Meeting Brega

And then, in 1989, something crucial happened. I was 18, and a friend of mine, Tedi, who was friends with Goran Bregović at the time, took me to see him and play some of my songs for him. I remember very well the moment we stepped into Goran's apartment. There was almost no furniture, and it all struck me as incredibly creative. I brought the material on a tape which I dropped when Goran said to play it, so I spent the next two hours rewinding it and cursing myself for being such a jinx. Still, we managed to listen to about ten songs, and Brega told me, "I think you should continue with music." That meant a lot to me at the time.

The Sarajevo days

The cast of the TV show The Surrealists (Nadrealisti) brought me to Sarajevo. I lived with Šiber, Ogi, and Zen. We had an apartment in Koševo that belonged to Šiber's dad, so we stayed there during the first year, and then I spent some time in trailers in Ilidža. Word spread around Sarajevo that a good songwriter had arrived, and that was a watershed moment, marking the beginning of my music career. That's when I got to know the quintessential Sarajevo, which opened me up creatively and changed my pretty conservative notions about life and career. Around that time, a state-of-the-art music studio opened in Ilidža. We would sleep in some kind of bungalows in the student halls, and the owner of the studio, called Bata, originally from Kula, told me that I had to record something and that he would allow me to use the studio free of charge. Music stars started to show up. I remember that the first one to come was lyricist Fahrudin Pecikoza. I heard later that when he left the studio, he met up for coffee with Dino Merlin and said to him, "Look, Dino, some kid from Osijek has come in, he'll leave us all unemployed."

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Privatna Arhiva

At Raka's coffeehouse

Back in the day, I used to frequent Raka Marić's Estrada coffeehouse, where everyone used to go. I really miss that sort of place now. Whenever you didn't know where to go, you could go there and always run into musicians and music stars. Bregović, Tifa, Hari, Milić Vukašinović, Indeksi – all of us would be there every day. It was amazing, the entire Sarajevo went there. Incredible energy and ideas that you would dream up there. One morning, I was there drinking my coffee, aged 19, when Dino Merlin approached me. I was in awe. We had coffee, and he told me that he had heard my song-writing work and that I could come to him if I needed anything. That was a great compliment for me. I saw pure energy in him, which is quite rare in showbusiness, where there's a lot of ego. I've never worked with him, and I regret it. However, I have worked with Hari Varešanović. He was at the studio then, and we struck up a friendship. The first song that we worked on together, I Don't Drink, a duet with Haris Džinović, sold millions of copies. Afterwards, Diskoton hired me for Jasna Gospić as well. That's when I recorded my first album, which had a hit song, When It Isn't Meant To Be. My band was called Milly the Kid, and everyone thought it was going places, but then the war broke out, and I stopped the whole thing. I left and came to Belgrade in 1992.

Driven out of Osijek

When that unfortunate war started, it was the first great tragedy in my life. The nationalism, the escalation of conflicts, and the divisions among people based on nationality – for me, that was an absolute failure, both personal and the failure of everything that I had learnt, seen, and known. It started in Croatia, so I moved to Sarajevo, and then it happened there as well. The war and everything else really hit me hard. I left Sarajevo for Belgrade, literally without a penny to my name. My family had nothing. The local politician Branimir Glavaš moved into our apartment, but when it comes to such things, you need to look ahead – looking back only prevents you from making any kind of progress. We never pressed charges, there was no need. The apartment has a different owner now, as far as I know. The place where we used to live was set on fire, so all our family memories were gone. That's why I have no childhood photos, it's all gone. We repaired it afterwards, and then my parents left for Belgrade, because my father wanted to visit my uncle. I was in Sarajevo at the time, and Ivan was in Italy. The situation in Osijek escalated, there were casualties, and they were told that it was no longer safe to return there. So they stayed in Belgrade, with only the clothes that they had brought to last them two days, for the rest of their lives. My dad started to work and got a job straightaway. Later on, the government of Zimbabwe called him and invited him to run a clinic in Africa, so my parents left and spent ten years there. I'd go all the time, at the start of fall and winter here, which was spring and summer there. Back then, we could only afford a house in Rušanj, 30 km away from Belgrade, so I moved to my sister Milica's place. It was a small apartment, and I slept by a stove. I also had a three-string guitar, which I used for two years, wrote all the hits, and didn't want to change it.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Privatna Arhiva

At Raka's coffeehouse

Back in the day, I used to frequent Raka Marić's Estrada coffeehouse, where everyone used to go. I really miss that sort of place now. Whenever you didn't know where to go, you could go there and always run into musicians and music stars. Bregović, Tifa, Hari, Milić Vukašinović, Indeksi – all of us would be there every day. It was amazing, the entire Sarajevo went there. Incredible energy and ideas that you would dream up there. One morning, I was there drinking my coffee, aged 19, when Dino Merlin approached me. I was in awe. We had coffee, and he told me that he had heard my song-writing work and that I could come to him if I needed anything. That was a great compliment for me. I saw pure energy in him, which is quite rare in showbusiness, where there's a lot of ego. I've never worked with him, and I regret it. However, I have worked with Hari Varešanović. He was at the studio then, and we struck up a friendship. The first song that we worked on together, I Don't Drink, a duet with Haris Džinović, sold millions of copies. Afterwards, Diskoton hired me for Jasna Gospić as well. That's when I recorded my first album, which had a hit song, When It Isn't Meant To Be. My band was called Milly the Kid, and everyone thought it was going places, but then the war broke out, and I stopped the whole thing. I left and came to Belgrade in 1992.

Driven out of Osijek

When that unfortunate war started, it was the first great tragedy in my life. The nationalism, the escalation of conflicts, and the divisions among people based on nationality – for me, that was an absolute failure, both personal and the failure of everything that I had learnt, seen, and known. It started in Croatia, so I moved to Sarajevo, and then it happened there as well. The war and everything else really hit me hard. I left Sarajevo for Belgrade, literally without a penny to my name. My family had nothing. The local politician Branimir Glavaš moved into our apartment, but when it comes to such things, you need to look ahead – looking back only prevents you from making any kind of progress. We never pressed charges, there was no need. The apartment has a different owner now, as far as I know. The place where we used to live was set on fire, so all our family memories were gone. That's why I have no childhood photos, it's all gone. We repaired it afterwards, and then my parents left for Belgrade, because my father wanted to visit my uncle. I was in Sarajevo at the time, and Ivan was in Italy. The situation in Osijek escalated, there were casualties, and they were told that it was no longer safe to return there. So they stayed in Belgrade, with only the clothes that they had brought to last them two days, for the rest of their lives. My dad started to work and got a job straightaway. Later on, the government of Zimbabwe called him and invited him to run a clinic in Africa, so my parents left and spent ten years there. I'd go all the time, at the start of fall and winter here, which was spring and summer there. Back then, we could only afford a house in Rušanj, 30 km away from Belgrade, so I moved to my sister Milica's place. It was a small apartment, and I slept by a stove. I also had a three-string guitar, which I used for two years, wrote all the hits, and didn't want to change it.

Marina Tucaković, Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Filip Plavčić, Ana Paunković

Marina Tucaković

Gordana then took me to Marina Tucaković. I remember it like it was yesterday. When we met, she was sitting down and had a cigar. It was a case of music love at first sight. I picked up the guitar, and she said, "Alright, my love, let's see what you can do. Goga says you've been doing a good job, play something for us." So I played one song, and then another, and another. At which point Marina says, "Look, you've sold all three." One of the songs, called "As Long As I Keep Sane", was for Zoran Kalezić, and the second one was for Džej – a lark called "From My Point Of View". These three songs took Marina and me on a music journey that lasted from 1994 until she fell ill. In the 20-odd years, we made 23 albums, whole projects they were, and embarked on each as if we were playing at the French Open, followed by the US Open. No one was ever in front of us, we always had to triumph over ourselves. To me it seemed like a perpetuum mobile of sorts, that was never going to go away. It was the best and most productive period in my career. We used to spend five or six hours on the phone and just blather on until we had a chorus. We would often fall asleep on the phone while we worked. There were no cell phones back then, so we kept the landlines off the hook, and the lines were busy until one of us woke up. Marina would sometimes wake up at 3pm. We also tried to outwit each other, drank, and called people up at 4.30am so that they could hear what we had. For 20 years, Marina and me set up camp on a music cloud, where the sun always shone.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Luka Šarac

Ceca Ražnatović

Working with Ceca was a concept decision. Everyone was eager to collaborate with me at the time, and "Leave While You're Young" had come out in 1995, but I wasn't the sort of person who liked to change the atmosphere. I knew that I wasn't meant to work with everyone, because I would lose my way in that sort of fog and be bored with it quickly. So I decided to take on a project. Back then, Marina said to Ceca that I was the only one who could pull this off, because Futa didn't want to work at the time. I decided to take a single career in my own hands, saw what exactly was missing and where it could go, and started to be involved in her career alone, from the album "Emotional Fool" on. I was the first to add the so-called world music sound into commercial music, and this defined Ceca's career. I had each of her albums planned out even before they appeared, in the sense of the direction in which they needed to go. Back in 1995, I had an intuition about what her concert in the Confluence concert area should look like, and felt inspired by her voice. As early as her 2006 album, titled "London Mix", I took rappers to see Ceca in London, and had them record on her songs. The whole process with her required a lot of effort and investment. A broken business relationship between the two of us meant a broken atmosphere, because I am the sort of person who keeps holding on to the promises I make . In 2006, Ceca and me stopped our collaboration.

Lepa Brena

We didn't work for six years, and that's when Lepa Brena, who I consider to be the best singer in the history of our music, came to the studio. Even though what she can do with her voice is impressive, she is easy to work with in the studio. Although she does have that sort of guard and defence wall, she listens and adapts. Whatever you tell her, she gives it her absolute best. That is the mark of great singers. Our collaboration started with the album titled "Feel Free To Come In". I told her too, "One or two more of my albums, and getting a packed house at the Confluence is going to be a slam dunk." After a while, the energy that we had sort of switched and became unproductive, so it was better to say good-bye to each other and stop the collaboration. Those were the ugliest and most difficult moments in my career, these professional breaks. That said, whenever negativity emerged, it was unavoidable. I was never the sort of person to suck up to anyone for personal gain. We're working as agreed, and when it no longer works, it's time to say good-bye.

Miligram
foto: Kurir Štampano

Miligram Music

I was engaged on the biggest project of my life in parallel with working with Brena. There has never been a faster and greater success story in the history of music than Miligram. I got the idea from Santana – making an album with ten different performers. The album featured Severina, Jelena Rozga, Željko Joksimović, Tifa, Milena Vučić, Željko Samardžić, Kaliopi, and Emina Jahović. There was someone from every former Yugoslavia's federal unit, which is what I was going for. Miligram is a word denoting music; it's not a band, even though it has elements of a band. It's a name for music that I've been making for 25 years now. Since the beginning, this music has been so different from anything else that it has a name for itself. That's why, when you hear a song that I've written, you can hear that something is off straightaway – that's all Miligram. Everyone's tried to copy it, but they're not authentic. I think there's 50 times more songs that have been stolen from me than I've written, and I find that impressive. Miligram Music is so powerful that it can fill up the Confluence concert area, the Rajko Mitić Stadium, Zagreb, Slovenia, or Banjaluka… When I was making songs, I never gave any thought to who will perform it. The music was never purpose-built, I was in a world of my own, the kind of world in which songs I write end up being performed at stadiums. Miligram Music is stadium material, the power of rock'n'roll. I even took Ceca from the Pionir Hall to two Confluence and Rajko Miitć Stadium concerts. With Miligram, I sang before a packed house in Zetra in just six months… Of all the stars featured on the first album, the song "Pear" stood out, sung by then unknown Alen Ademović, who had played with Brega but the general public didn't know him. He parted ways with Goran afterwards and asked me to help him. I thought that he could be the main vocal on the second Miligram album, titled "Belgrade By Night". That's when I realized that the market was divided into the urban (pop-rock) and the rural (folk singers), and thought that was great, because it left so much space in the middle for a project to bring together the urban and the rural. And that's how the Miligram band came to be. I founded the band in October 2012, and six months later we had a packed house in Zetra, Banjaluka, the Arena in Belgrade, and Slovenia… We had 180 concerts a year, something that had never happened before in the history of music in these parts. For me and Marina, working on Miligram was a heaven-sent opportunity. We enjoyed ourselves, and nothing can come near it. Miligram is our brainchild, we made it from scratch, and that's why there's no doubt that it is the best moment in both Marina's and my career.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Privatna Arhiva

I give my children baths

It was only when my children were born that I became a bit more mature, which I'd never suspected I had in me. My character is at odds with this stage in life. I was born to have a level of seriousness of a butterfly. I remember once, just before my daughter Mia was born, I realized that my child was going to enter the house, that things needed to be strictly organized, and that – because of the level of responsibility – as few things as possible should be up to me. So I organized everything: who drives the car, who brings food from the market, everything. The only thing that I did was give my daughter and son, Markus, baths. I alone could give them baths in the first six months. A midwife showed me what to do once, and then I took it upon myself. My wife Nina was in charge of everything else.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Luka Šarac

My love with Nina

I met my wife Nina through her friends, who I socialized with. It was a crew of about 10 or 12 people. Back then I lived in Užička Street, in a 3,000-sqm villa which used to be the residence of the Chinese ambassador. I set up a studio and a living space there, with the living room taking up 250 square meters and the fireplace alone six metres in length. I also had my own park and security detail, which shocked a bunch of French reporters, who wondered who could live like that from music in Serbia. A friend of mine had made the villa available to me because I had helped him financially. The twelve of them kept coming in, and we would listen to music, watch films, play games. I rarely left the villa – even today, I only head out three or four times a year. I love my space, and I don't like to change the energy. They talked about me a lot, and Nina studied at a university in Italy at the time. I then lost the villa because someone had bought it, and moved into a small, 15-sqm studio in Dorćol. They were telling Nina stories of me as a cool guy living in a villa in Dedinje, and I was staying in a run-down studio. One of her friends, Maja Zagorac, came to my place to get a song for a festival in Herceg Novi. Nina came with her, and as soon as I saw her, I knew that one day she would be my wife. She was supposed to go back to Italy the next day, to continue her studies. I told her friends, "The day Nina flies in, I need to know." Six months later, she came back for the New Year's, and we spent the 2004 celebrations together. I said to her that we were having dinner on the next day, and then we went to a coffeehouse that I liked. I asked her if she had a boyfriend, and she said she did. I immediately told her, "Look, here's the plan: call him up tomorrow morning and tell him that you and him aren't happening because that just isn't it. I'll call you around noon and pick you up, and then we won't ever be apart again." She thought it was funny, but that's what happened, and it was only the second time we had seen each other. Since then, we've had the most perfect marriage possible, I couldn't have dreamed up a better one myself. I couldn't have met a more beautiful and intelligent person. She went back to Italy for six months, and I lived in Monaco three months a year, so we went there by car as soon as she returned from Italy. We got engaged there, and had a big wedding a year later. My daughter Mia was born in 2006, and my son Markus a year and a half later. The two of them have been the centre of our world ever since.

Miligram

My old age

I'm sure that people will remember me by my art, my songs. I'm not even halfway through my career. I have yet to show what I can do. For me, the biggest compliment is the fact that my songs – Miligram Music – have no shelf life. In my old age – but, increasingly, now as well – I see myself in nature. Communicating with nature lifts me up, and I'm less and less drawn to urban environments. I guess that's only to be expected – as you get older, you get closer to primeval things, emotions, and persons. My biggest mistake in life is trusting the wrong people. Everything else I've done well, even my mistakes were perfect. I have no regrets. When you trust someone and they disappoint you, I no longer look for a mistake in them but in myself, because I probably expected too much from that person. I accept all my other mistakes and would gladly make them again.

Aleksandar Milić Mili
foto: Luka Šarac

Kurir.rs/Aleksandar Panić

Bonus video:

Mili na izložbi u Veneciji
01:35

Mili na izložbi u Veneciji

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