"Lady Sings The Balkan Blues" - MOSTAR SEVDAH REUNION



One of the greatest sevdah standards
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Mostar Sevdah Reunion’s twelfth album! One could think “What else is there of sevdah and sevdalinka to be heard, that we haven’t already heard?!”. After albums like Secret Gate, Café Sevdah, Tales from Forgotten City and so on, a passionate sevdah and MSR afficionado could be led to think that it has all been said, sung and played already. That the best of sevdah has been heard. That would be a misconception, and misconceptions mostly do harm.

This misconception is easily broken. It is enough to listen to just a half of the first song, the one that opens the album, “Woe Is Me, in Sarajevo Lonely, Me”. Just a half!

In “Stories of Sevdah”, a film by Robert Golden, sevdah was called “The Balkan Blues”, and in a BBC documentary “The Bridge of Bosnian Blues”. I’m not sure how appropriate those comparisons of sevdah with blues, or any other musical genre, are. If the intention was just to emphasise the value of sevdah and the genre’s uniqueness that also blues has, and not to imply the similarity of the two in their essence, then that would be much closer to the truth.

Sevdah is, like blues and flamenco (primarily its “cante jondo”, “deep song”, it being the closest to kara-sevdah*), characteristically sad. However, the sources of sadness, in the origin of the articulation, differ. This space, of course, does not allow further elaboration, but in accordance with what we generally know about the origin of the above mentioned musical articulations, superficially it could be defined that blues is the voice of an enslaved human, flamenco is the voice of a refugee, and sevdah, the voice of a serf to love. Naturally, with the development of the musical genres, they thematically developed further, but the primary themes remained dominant.

Almost all songs on the “Lady Sings the Balkan Blues” album corroborate that. They speak about loneliness, a girl that “lonely lies down and lonely gets up”, about growing old while waiting for the loved one, about “the first one that caught her eye”, unwanted arranged marriage, wishes and dreams… about deep love desire and longing.

Some of them were already buried under the veil of time. Those are predominantly Bosnian sevdalinkas and some songs that were written in the past century in the style of Bosnian sevdalinka, so the BBC’s name “Bosnian Blues” would be more than suitable to be used in the name of the album. However, the intention of the production is to express the cross-border nature of the genre, and a wider contribution to the development and representation of sevdah.

Thematically, we have a kara-sevdah album here, a certain sub-genre with the deepest emotions and a particularly demanding performance.

And who would be the “Lady” that brought this album to life with her voice? Antonija Batinić is a young lady from Kupres, a girl who became popular by singing rock, jazz and blues, and who has been performing with Mostar Sevdah Reunion in concerts throughout the region and the world. And she has left no one indifferent. Rock, jazz – and sevdah? As I said, misconceptions can only do harm. Antonija’s voice is such that she can deliver the most demanding kara-sevdah songs confidently, genuinely, and authentically.

And the orchestra that sounds so well? In this album, it is enough to say that the regular MSR lineup played: Mišo Petrović (solo-guitar), Sandi Duraković (rhythm-guitar), Senad Trnovac (drums), Vanja Radoja (violin), Gabrijel Prusina (piano), Marko Jakovljević (bass), and the special guests, Boris Vuga (accordion), Ivan Sušac (trumpet) and Orhan Maslo (percussions) .

Mostar Sevdah Reunion is a project that, despite all the struggles, continues its mission which started in the now distant 1998, and the mission is to present sevdah, an autochthonous musical expression of this area and an important element of our culture, as well as our exquisite artists, to the whole world. Dragi Šestić, the founder of MSR, when he looks back, can be proud of his mission’s achievements, that he managed to put together a magnificent mosaic from shatters of a segment of this country’s culture whose allure got a global recognition.

These fellows have been digging out jewels from a devastated land and putting them onto the international map of musical treasures, extending a hand to both unfairly and unfortunately underrepresented talented people, and they have been bringing them out to the spotlights of the worldwide stages, showing and proving to the world that we are special by beauty as well, earning ovations and sighs for the gift of this country and this land from those who do not know us. It has been my great honour to be a tiny part of this project.

After many MSR’s albums, this one has moved further on and raised the bar. It has brought the ampleness, better quality, new value. And it has brought awe, that in a small country such as Bosnia and Herzegovina and its geographically small, but truly great, town of Mostar, something like this can be made. The mystery of Bosnia and Herzegovina! Something that will find its place in the vaults for the world’s cultural heritage.

As I said in the beginning, and as a candy ad says, try eating only one… try listening to only one song from the “Lady Sings the Balkan Blues” album. You won’t be able to do it. Pause is not an option.

We are obliged to mention that the last song on the album is a new, authored song, recorded in memory of the late MSR singer and friend, Milutin Sretenović Sreta, with whom they were supposed to record a new album. The song "When the Music Ceases" probably can not be considered as sevdah, but it, indeed, carries the characteristics and spirit of sevdah, and it is a certain adornment to this album, with a special, unfortunately mournful symbolic.

Rusmir Pobrić

*kara-sevdah :(Turkish) dark love (meaning – endless or blind love)