2006 ended with a bang! All in December: Guest appearance in Turk Fest with Elvir Becic. Guest appearance with Peter Lippman in Magical Caravan. Wonderful reunion singing with Ruze Dalmatinke at Town Hall. A 2-week trip to Bosnia the day after Christmas to record two new cd's and dvd's with Mr. Omer Pobric at the Sevdah Institute. Here are some highlights from Bosnia, as well as news of Balkan Cabaret. Highlights from 2006 including touring in the US with Mr. Pobric are described in this page from 2005 here.
EVO ME OPET! HERE I AM AGAIN!
Mr. Pobric contacted me in November 2005 to return to the Sevdah Institute to do additional recordings of sevdalinke, traditional town songs so rich in poetic imagery, history and culture, set in a framework of gorgeous melodies. Thanks to the willingness of my husband Chris to handle the home front, I flew off on December 26 and landed in chilly Sarajevo on the 27th.
The next two weeks found Mr. Pobric and I focused with an intensity that is difficult to describe. We had to be push ourselves to complete the recordings and dvds in the short two weeks available to us. I still can't quite believe we accomplished so much: two new cd's of sevdalinke (one in Bosnian and one in English) and a music video to go with each of the over 30 songs. Squeezed into that were numerous interviews and appearances on radio and television aired across the world and some all too brief time spent with friends.
The title track of the new recording is "Evo me opet u dragoj zemlji" (Here I am again in this dear land) composed by Omer Pobric. This CD is a follow up to our first one, "Srce puno Bosne" (Heart Full of Bosnia), recorded in July 2005.
The recordings of sevdalinke in English are part of a project by the Sevdah Institute in which sevdalinke are recorded in German, Spanish, Chinese and English. I was skeptical about this project. Won't something elemental to sevdah be lost in translation? How can one capture the nuances, the cultural information, the flavor of sevdah in another language? Listening to the finished recordings, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Some are quite wonderful. These recordings will be a great bridge into sevdah for children of refugees in America who may not know Bosnian well and for English speakers who do not speak Bosnian at all. The accompanying book with notation will provide a valuable learning tool, as well.
Translating Bosnian sevdalinke into English presented a wonderful intellectual challenge. Not only must they be true to the content, but they must also 'sing' well. There were occasions when the translation had to be modified slightly so a good vowel could be sung on a long note, or a word had to be replaced with another that could syncopate rhythmically more effectively. Dr. Semir Vranic and I worked together on the translations, constantly discussing the balance between poetry, rhythm, singability, etc. His fluency in English and encyclopedic knowledge of sevdalinke were invaluable.
Recording the Bosnian versions held a different challenges. Having worked together in 2005, Mr. Pobric and I developed a good efficient and fluid system. Still, Mr. Pobric works people up to and sometimes beyond their margin of capability. I was happy that Seattle's Sevdah Enemble director Denis Basic visited us one day and witnessed the demands I faced. Mr. Pobric constantly works to elevate sevdah intellectually. One method he uses is to modify rhythm so that sevdalinke are sung in a rhythm that closely reflects the spech. To this end, he stopped me during recording countess times to add a syncopation to a phrase. It is challenging to relearn songs I've sung a hundred times, but in almost all cases the change was extremely effective, setting off phrases or adding emotional emphasis. There were times, though, I just wanted to be able to sing through a verse, however, when working with a European master, one must submit oneself to the greater goal. I made copious notes on my music to follow his modifications, however filming the video spots presented another challenge.
Two wonderful cameramen Esmer Pita and Haso filmed video spots for each of the over 30 songs. A CD player just off camera played while Mr. Pobric and I lip sync'd. Each song was filmed 2-4 times to provide editing options. One evening we filmed in the cardak which was full of smoke from the adjoining smoke house. The village of Mulici where the Sevdah Institute is located, is known for its smoked meat. No one seemed to care about the smoke, however, saying it was worth it if it meant there would be smoked meat. Great priorities! The last day, however, we were all SO exhausted that we were down to one or two run through's per song. The films meant make up, about 15 wardrobe changes (thanks to Nusreta Kobic for providing some beautiful dresses for the spots!) and keeping in mind all the new syncopations from the recording, not to mention text, text, text. By the end of the four days of shooting, I was beyond my limit. At one point I erupted in tears and Esmer caught me on camera saying, "Ne mogu vise!" (I can't any more!). My favorite point in all the filming was when the little dog of the house jumped on my lap in the middle of a song. Unfortunately, I was told sevdah and dogs don't mix, so that scene was cut. It's a dear memory, though.
There were lots of television, radio and newspaper interviews which were broadcast on satellite and via the internet. Omer received notes from people all over the world. I conducted several of the interviews in Bosnian with no translator. I am making slow progress on the language! Informal conversation is getting easier. It's the least I can do considering how many Bosnians struggled to learn English!
The one day I had off from recording, I took the train to Hercegovina to visit Mostar and environs. Omer transferred me from his care to Jasmin Odobasic's at about about 6:30am at the Sarajevo train station. It was a breathtaking ride of about two and a half hours through tunnels and over switchback tressels providing stunning views of mountains, villages and lakes. We ran into this old gentleman on the train. Before retirement he was a railroad worker and said he loved his work so much that he still dreams about it every night.
In Mostar we first went to the office of Jasmin's counterparts in the county office of the Missing Person's Office. Jasmin works in the federal office. In both offices, I was struck by the close relationship of these co-workers, their warmth toward one another. God bless them for the work they do and the risks they take. Mostar was particularly savaged during the war and still shows a lot of damage. It was quite sobering after having only seen Sarajevo last year which has been repaired quite extensively, being the capital of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Bero Cvitanovic drove Jasmin, Sanja Mulac and I to Stolac, where Sanja lives. We stopped at her house briefly where I met her two dogs and saw the beautiful fountain her husband had built in their yard. Stolac is the home town of two of my friends in Seattle: Edina Misut and Merima Adee, so I was thrilled to be going there. Stolac is a beautiful town, despite the destruction of the war, lying along the clear Bregava River, nestled under the fortress of Vidoska (built in the 14th century). Stolac is also home of the beloved poet Mak Dizdar whose "Kameni Spavac" (Stone Sleepers)
After dropping Sanja off, we got back in the car for the short drive to the dervish monastery (tekija) built in the 1500's outside of Blagaj. The setting is truly breathtaking at the cave from which the River Buna flows at the base of a 200m cliff wall. I had seen photos, but nothing prepared me for the reality of this exquisite, deeply calm place.
Upon returning to Mostar, Jasmin and I went to television and radio Mostar where we met two singers Eledin 'Titi' Balalic and Mr. Selimotic who head up the Sevdah Institute in Mostar. It was wonderful to sing together on air and off! We walked around old town, stopped for a delicious meal overlooking the "new" old bridge and then said our goodbyes. Not nearly enough time together, but hopefully there will be many more times together. Jasmin and I had a wonderful meal with his family Zineta and Sead Efica in Mostar. Sead once broke his shoulder jumping from the old bridge in his youth, and had a trophy to attest to his feats. All too soon, Jasmin and I headed back home on the train to Sarajevo through the darkness, full of impressions from our intense day.
Despite the demands of recording and filming, there was a lot of fun. I stayed in the Pobric home since it was too cold to stay in the cardak as I did last time. It was so fun to spend time with Mrs. Pobric, their daughter Zlata, her husband Hajrudin, and children Esma and Ali.
It was a very special time of year to be in Bosnia, to experience "kurban bajram." Here is an explanation published in the SFOR Informer #159, March 6, 2003: "Islam celebrates two great festivals annually, Aid-el-Fitr and Aid-El-Adha. The first is the one that follows the month of Ramadan, when the fast is broken. The second is celebrated on the tenth day of the month of 'Haji’. The Muslims sacrifice a sheep - or some other animal - in commemoration of the great act of devotion performed by Prophet Abraham in showing his willingness to sacrifice his son, Ismael, many centuries ago. 'Aid' is an Arabic word derived from 'aada' that means a recurring event. In Islam it denotes the festivals of Islam. 'Adha' means sacrifice. So, the Aid-el-Adha commemorates the spirit of sacrifice in memory of Abraham's great act of faith. Islam has prescribed a simple yet graceful way to observe this happy day. It is mandatory for all the Muslims to share the meat of the sacrificed animal with the poor and destitute. Thus those people may enjoy the day along with others, and may not worry about earning their livelihood at least on that day of happiness. In Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a Turkish word for naming the Aid-el-Adha: the 'Kurban Bajram'. It, of course, comes from the times of the Ottoman Empire."
I went one morning to the butcher in Mulici who was surrounded by vast quantities of meat, tubs of organs and hanging carcasses. Omer's nephew came from Sarajevo to purchase meat as well. Omer filled his car's trunk with plastic tubs of meat which he took home where Munevera prepared it to be bagged in individual portions to be given to friends, family, neighbors and the poor. Omer's long time family friend from his home town of Tesanj, Dr. Smailbegović, helped Omer bag the table full of meat while we visited and sang sevdalinke. For three days the Pobric doorbell rang with children bringing them meat. In return, Munevera gave them candy and snacks. Omer's phone rang every minute with bajram greetings, including a call from Safet Isovic who he worked with for years.
Another highlight was attending a Bajram celebration and ceremony at the Rijaset Islamske zajednice in Sarajevo organized by Bosnian's Islamic leader Reisu-l-ulema dr. Mustafa Cerić. It was attended by Sarajevo's elite - business, political, government and religious leaders. Dr. Ceric was warm and welcoming to me, and his intelligent speech provided a message of moderatation. He fluidly switched between Bosnian and English. I also had the opportunity to speak with Haris Silajdzic, the Bosniak member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was quite poetic in his expression about sevdah, and made the comment that the finest poetry about an ocean would be written from the desert.
Rather than partying, new years eve saw us working hard in the studio again. Guns and firecrackers were heard throughout the village most of the day. After calling it a day, we channel surfed through holiday programming - big orchestras, scantily dressed women, show biz glitz. I am told that plastic surgery is very big among singers. Still, the voices were fantastic.
Omer is a wonderful story teller who has led an amazing life. Throughout the two weeks he regaled me and the many visitors with tales from working with all the greats. Here are a few. He shared a story about recording with Himzo Polovina. Himzo, in his quiet way, refused to record until he had eaten an apple, so Omer sent out for apples. Himzo calmly ate one, but again refused to record. "Why?" Omer asked in frustration, "You had your apple." "It was the wrong kind of apple!" answered Himzo. Himzo carried a mouth harmonica in his pocket and frequently checked pitches if he felt he was off, being very concerned with accuracy. Omer told of going to a village with Nada Mamula to visit her family. Her grandma shot off a rifle and was answered by a hail of rifles telegraphing her arrival. Omer's idea to make a sevdah anthology came from seeing the Beatles Anthology when on a tour!
Omer is a man of strong will and opinions with a bigger than life personality. He's got a big appetite for activity, goals, laughter, food. He tears up when singing particular songs or retelling stories from the war and gets angry when he senses disloyalty or obstacles to his goals. When he gets to feeling nostalgic his stories go on and on in a rich and entertaining way. It was a real gift to be in his presence. The final evening was a testament to his generosity and example of his many wide reaching friendships. He invited about 30 guests to a "sijelo" (get together) in the cardak to share a meal, music and stories as a send off for one weary American singer.
The morning I left, Sarajevo was socked in with fog so all flights were delayed for hours. I went upstairs to have a cup of much needed coffee having woken up at 5am. In a wonderful twist of fate there was only one empty seat in the coffee shop, at a table with a woman reading a magazine. I asked if it was free and she invited me to join her. It turned out she was the mother of Danis Tanovic the director of "No Man's Land," the award winning film. She was en route to visit him and his family in Paris. Mrs. Tanovic herself is a retired music theory teacher at the music academy in Sarajevo. We had a wonderful visit, but finally passengers were called to go to the gate. There I ran into Musan Imamovic, one of the people who had organized the performance to celebrate 100 years of Bosnians in America in Chicago where I performed with Balkan Cabaret, Omer Pobric, Hasiba Agic, Nusreta Kobic and Esed Kovacevic. He immediately had a gaggle of very nervous first time travelers around him, as he offered to help them negotiate their travels. On the flight from Munic to London, I was serenaded with sevdalinke by an older gentlemen the entire flight.
Friends have asked how this trip was different from 2005, whether I saw Bosnia in a different light. Yes, absolutely. Going in winter one sees more clearly how difficult life still is there. Overall, health is poor and made worse during the cold, longer days. The ubiquitous cigarette smoke, coal smoke, diesel and pollution exacerbates health problems. Still, the housewives create cozy clean environments, the people gather constantly to talk, joke, laugh, drink coffee. They still turn situations of raw terror into funny stories like the one Fetha told. She was crouching under her sink while her house was bombed in Visoko. Her brother ran to the house to see whether she survived and found her crouched there. She asked, "How did you get in? I locked the door!" "But you don't have a door!" he exclaimed. Munevera and Fetha being caught in Hamza's garden as bombs started falling with nowhere to hide except under some leaves. A neighbor walking past asking, "What are you two women doing under that big leaf?" The resiliency and humor in the face of fear remains a marvel to me and is surely the saving grace of all humans caught in conflict.
Leaving London, it really felt like I was going home. It had been an very hard working trip. I was exhausted, fulfilled, satisfied and very homesick for my family. Still, I hate to leave Bosnia and my dear friends, and have shed more than a few tears for them. This longing is called sevdah…..
Click here for all of the wonderful pictures from this trip.