Mostar Sevdah Reunion
The story of Mostar Sevdah Reunion is a story about success – against all odds. It’s a story about group effort and energy, but above all it’s a story about one man’s persistence. Dragi Šestić their producer, is one of those singular and yet somehow typical post-war Balkan characters: one of those people who came out of nowhere and, despite the fact that he had everything working against him, did something special and extraordinary. After surviving a bloody war and destruction, the people of Bosnia found themselves faced with a different sort of test: paradoxically, the post-war depression and apathy proved to be almost as challenging and difficult – especially for those involved in anything creative or artistic. Yet Šestić a non-professional musician and music fanatic, managed to put his band together – a group of people with completely different psychological, personal, and ethnic backgrounds; in other words, people with very little in common except for one thing – an endless love of music. And that, probably, was their saving grace, in more ways than one. For the last couple of years Mostar Sevdah Reunion have been sailing the unsure waters of the international music scene, becoming ever more successful.
Even more impressive than the success they have enjoyed of late, though, is that despite the above-mentioned differences the core of the band has remained intact all this time. The drive and the ‘fire’ were never an issue – this is a band of consummate pro’s – but one should keep in mind that the extra-musical matters in the post-war Mostar and Bosnia-Herzegovina are so discouraging, and apathy so overwhelming that just putting together a band was a move which was by many considered to be mad, given the obstacles of the so-called ‘transitional period’ the country found itself in.
They persisted, recording three successful albums in the process, and played many shows across Europe. At one point it seemed that the band, due to some personal problems, wouldn’t be able to hold together much longer; but common sense prevailed and now they’re still here, stronger than ever, with a brand new record to promote. Although their previous two works were successful, if somewhat ‘experimental’, collaborations with other artists (namely Saban Bajramovic and Ljiljana Buttler) it is good to see the band coming back to their original love and fascination – the ‘sevdah’ music, that authentic Bosnian music genre or, as the band would say, ‘a state of mind’. If their first album represented, in a way, a new beginning in both lives of the musicians involved and, on a larger scale, the modern Balkan culture – it meant a small victory over unfavorable circumstances and disadvantages at the time – then the new record, the splendidly titled “A secret gate”, confirms the musicians’ maturity and is a demonstration of new highs, artistically and performance wise.
Dragi Šestić – The producer of Mostar Sevdah Reunion at the Pavarotti Center in Mostar.
In following years they performed at the most prestigious festivals, concert halls, thaters, clubs like the Barbican Centre-London, Concertgebouw-Amsterdam, North Sea Jazz Festival/Netherlands, The Newsgate-Newcastle, International Gypsy Festival-Tilburg/The Netherlands, International Jazz Festival Moers-Dusseldorf, World Music Festival-Almeria/Spain, Sodra Teatern-Stockholm, World Music Festival Oslo, Film Festival Cannes, Film Festival Berlin and more. Standing ovations followed each performance. One of the greatest TV stations of the World, BBC made 1 hour documentary for the series about the greatest World Music bands. MSR is one to represent the Balkans and their music.
Kings of Sevdah (live album) - 2017
After many fan requests to make a live album, Mostar Sevdah Reunion has finally kept here promis, Titled Kings of sevdah, the name that suits these pioneers of Balkan blues, should satisfy everybody, who wanted to catch their unreal live energy. The album will consist of eleven songs that have been performed all over Europe in last seven years. Frenetic energy, rich sound, virtuoso playing skills and finest touch of sevdah standards make this album a thrilling ride and a real gem on the leading world music scene.
Tales From A Forgotten City - 2013
Mostar Sevdah Reunion – tales from a forgotten city – 2013
The forgotten city of this CD’s title is, of course, Mostar itself, once a tolerant city of Christians, Muslims and Jews, now a testament to the spiritual and physical effects of a vicious war, yet retaining some of its beauty and, in spite of everything, something of its soul. This new recording, by the band that arguably began Bosnia’s New Sevdah movement, is a deeply affecting tribute to the life of a city that may not yet be quite forgotten, nor completely lost.
The style of the band has changed since its early days, along with many of its members. Guitar and piano have joined violin and accordion as lead instruments, while a younger generation of singers has taken over as vocalists, but the music remains fluid, thoughtful, and an effective reminder that there is more to Balkan music than the high-octane brass bands and drunken stomping of popular imagination. There are settings of poetry by Serb Aleksa Anti, including his famous ‘Emina’, and Muslim Osman Jiki, whose ‘Djela Fato’ is performed with a transatlantic swing that contrasts happily with the otherwise elegiac tone of the album. ( Kim Burton )
The freshness of sound is incredible, thanks to the changes in line-up recently undergone by the band. A few young musicians, full of hunger and with an impressive command of their instruments and voices, have taken the place of some of the more senior members, and have thereby pumped new blood into the band.
By bursting into the light, they bring the energy for a much-needed revival, both musically and in an even broader sense, by evoking the best of a past through beautiful songs. Many listeners are familiar already with the ache and passion of those songs, but now they will hear them played and sung like never before, with a singular delicacy and refinement that makes this album a love song; a dedication to beautiful and troubled Mostar. Their no longer forgotten town.
Mostar Sevdah Reunion - Cafe Sevdah - 2007
Mostar Sevdah Reunion – Cafe Sevdah – 2007
Bosnia-Herzegovina’s recent history is a sad one; shrouded in the tragedy of a vicious war for independence in the early 1990s which horrified the world and left the country in tatters.
Producer Dragi Sestic first formed Mostar Sevdah Reunion at the height of the conflict in 1993, vowing that the world would get to hear what beauty could come from the nation’s people once the fighting was over. Understandably, it took until 1998 for the group to release their self-titled first album, but there’s little doubt he’s succeeded in his mission ever since.
Bosnia-Herzegovina’s diverse ethnic melting pot of Serbs, Croats and Bosnian Muslims has been the cause of many of its problems, but it has also given birth to a rich, varied musical tradition that has few equals in Europe. Sevdah, the country’s national music, originated around 400 years ago when the Turks occupied much of its territory, and the blend of eastern and Slavic influences on Café Sevdah is subtle yet delicious.
What’s more, there are also more contemporary flavours in the mix here. ”Otkako je Banja Luka postala” is a classic, yearning sevdalinka (love song) with wonderful vocals from Nermin Aluhic Cerhez, but the following track, ”Cije je ono djevojce” would not sound out of place on a Ry Cooder record with its jazzy piano and vivacious female backing vocals.
The tempo changes again on ”Ali-pasa na Hercegovini” – a slow, meditative chant with strong Arabic textures. Throughout, the musicianship of the group’s veteran performers is impeccable – wonderfully fluent, sinuous and brimming with passion. While the overall feeling may be melancholy, it’s a beautiful kind of sadness that leaves the listener inspired rather than depressed. This reviewer is not the first to label Mostar Sevdah Reunion as the Balkans’ answer to Buena Vista Social Club, but lazy journalism or not, the comparison is apposite and well earned.
Mostar Sevdah Reunion - A Secret Gate - 2003
Mostar Sevdah Reunion – A Secret Gate – 2003
Mostar Sevdah Reunion have already put itself on the map of World Music with two outstanding recordings – one with Bosnian Sevdah songs and another with the most famous Gypsy singer in the world, Saban Bajarmovic, a Gypsy legend. Sevdah is a traditional style of Bosnian music that goes back some 300 years or more. The name, from Arabic, means love, desire or ecstasy. ‘Mostar is sevdah the greatest poets of sevdah were born in Mostar,’ says Dragi Sestic (the band’s producer) ‘it is deep within our town’.
The idea of forming “Mostar Sevdah Reunion” started in the summer of 1993, during the worst war destruction of Mostar [Mostar is located in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the center of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton of the Federation]. Dragi Sestic was working as a music editor at the local “war radio station” in Mostar. One evening he visited one of many candlelit concerts, which were performed for a small audience trying just for a moment to forget the war. For the first time in his life he saw and heard Ilijaz Delic, who had spent most of his career and life in Belgrade performing in the most famous bars and restaurants of the city. Amazed by Delic’s interpretation of sevdalinkas (traditional Bosnian songs), Sestic made contact with him and went back to the radio station to share his impression with friend, journalist Faruk Kajtaz. A few days later, Delic came to the radio station to perform some songs for the program (in those days his accordion player was Elmedin Balalic). After that concert Sestic and Kajtaz, impressed by Ilijaz’s singing, had a pretty crazy idea for those days to make a big world star of Ilijaz.
In October 1993, Sestic recorded one audiotape with Ilijaz “Biseri Sevdaha” (The Pearls of Sevdah), which was released in limited edition because of war circumstances. One month later, in November 1993, Mustafa Santic, a great friend of Ilijaz, came to the radio station. There he met Sestic and Kajtaz. Mustafa was already known as a big virtuoso on the accordion and the clarinet. After their performance of sevdah, the fundamental basis of the future band was clear – the fantastic vocal of Ilijaz Delic and the virtuosity of Mustafa Santic.
After the end of the war in Mostar, Sestic went to the Netherlands. Slowly, the idea of a band of world-class quality performing traditional Bosnian music was frozen. Everybody was busy with his own life and career. A few years later, in September 1998, Sestic returned to Mostar for a holiday, bringing some of the recent CDs of the world music to his friend Kajtaz. After listening to those CDs, they concluded that it was time to renew the idea of starting a band with the name Mostar Sevdah Reunion.
They met very supportive people in the Music Center Pavarotti, who had a great sense for sevdah music – David Wilson, the director of the center and one of the establishers of the “War Child” organization and Eugene Skeef, great percussionist and in those days a musical therapist and also a man who gave strong support and spiritual power to the whole idea. Senad Trnovac, excellent rock-jazz drummer from Mostar, joined the band and they made the first demo tracks. Because of the connections of the Music Center Pavarotti with world music stars, somehow those demo tracks ended up in the hands of the famous producer Brian Eno, one of the donors and coordinators of the whole project in Mostar connected with “War Child”. Sometime at the end of October 1998, Eno came to Mostar to visit the music center and he had a meeting with Sestic and Kajtaz.
After a few hours of “inspiring” conversation with Eno, Sestic and Kajtaz knew that they were on the right musical track. Eno left them with the promise that he would do as much as possible to help release the CD. After a few months of waiting, Sestic and Kajtaz decided to finish all of the material for the CD. They went back to the studio in January 1999, but with four more musicians: Amir Karahasanovic -guitar, Miralem Basic & Adnan Zimic -bassprim, and Kosta Latinovic -berde bass.
With completed material, Sestic went back to the Netherlands to search for the publisher and record company. After making many contacts, he chose Dutch record label World Connection, which was supporting the new recording budget. Sestic then invited Miso Petrovic and Sandi Durakovic, a virtuoso guitar duo from Mostar that was living in the Netherlands, and Branko Petkovic, a famous violin player from Sarajevo to join the band. World Connection sent Esma Redzepova – “The Queen of the Gypsies”- as a special guest to perform two songs on the CD.
The final material was recorded in July 1999 in the studio of Music Center Pavarotti in Mostar, under the direction of Dragi Sestic and Faruk Kajtaz. The CD, Mostar Sevdah Reunion, was released in October 1999. The dream of a summer war night became a reality.
In 2000, Mostar Sevdah Reunion performed at the Amsterdam Roots Festival and Belgium’s Sfinks Festival and in 2001 in Stimmen-Lorach, Germany and the famous Nice Jazz Festival. On that special evening entitled “Blues Around The World – B.B. King and Friends”, Mostar Sevdah Reunion brought the Balkan Blues to the roots of American Blues in front of 50,000 people. With lead vocalist Ilijaz Delic and remarkable instrumentalists Mustafa ?antic on accordion and clarinet, Nedjo Kovacevic on violin, and guitar virtuoso Miho Petrovic, they performed alongside some of the greatest Blues artists: B.B.King, Van Morrison, Dr. John, Bill Wyman, Keb Mo, and Marva Wright.
On the 24th of August 2002 the first Bosnian Music Awards (Davorin) took place in Zenica. Mostar Sevdah Reunion received a special award for bringing the traditional Bosnian music to the rest of the world. That same year, Mostar Sevdah Reunion recorded their new CD with Ljiljana Buttler – “The Mother of Gypsy Soul” and the most famous Gypsy Serbian trumpet player Boban Markovic.
A Secret Gate was recorded in 2003, in a great acoustic environment. Also that year, Mostar Sevdah Reunion received the Bosnian Music Award “Davorin” for the best ethno Album of year 2002 for Mostar Sevdah Reunion – Ljiljana Buttler’s The Mother of Gypsy soul.
The BBC & European Broadcast Union (BU) began making a documentary in the spring of 2003 about Mostar Sevdah Reunion and Ljiljana Buttler. The film crew has followed the band on their tours and visited the members of the band at their homes. More awards followed in 2003. At the Bosnian Music Awards “Davorin” Mostar Sevdah Reunion received the award for the best Album of the year 2003.
Chris Nickson, Rovi
Already big in their Bosnian homeland, Mostar Sevdah Reunion won several awards with this album, which originally appeared in 2003 and is just now seeing American release. Their music aches with passion, taking its cue from the old form of the sevdah, which dates back to Ottoman times — perhaps Balkan blues is an apt analogy (the local sargija sounds remarkably like a slide guitar). Lyrically, the words deal in symbolism of unrequited love. A lot of the material comes from the tradition, but tweaked with the band’s special charm, as on “Cudna Jada Od Mostara Grada,” which is shifted from a 2/4 to a 4/4 beat to make it funkier. As with all their other albums, the playing is superb throughout, emotive and touching, fiery yet restrained. It’s very different from most Balkan music, but that’s fine; it comes as a delightful breath of fresh air.
Garth Cartwright FRoots Magazine-UK, 2004
“And the overall flavour of the album is that of a soulful melancholy, music made by people touched by tragedy, yet determined to keep on living. Very highly recommended.”
John Lusk, Froots Magazine-UK, November 2003.
“Mostar Sevdah Reunion does have an embarrassment of talented musicians. It’s is no surprise that comparisons have been made between them and the Buena Vista Social club.
The Guardian – december 2007
“Sevdah is the ancient, often pained and passionate music of Bosnia, but in the hands of its best-known exponents, the Mostar Sevdah Reunion, this Balkan answer to the blues is transformed and updated by being matched against contemporary blues and jazz influences. In the process, what at times may be an often solemn, sadly soulful style suddenly becomes far more varied and unpredictable. The band consists of local musicians who first recorded eight years ago and have developed a sophisticated approach to their music by matching sturdy vocal work against unexpectedly inventive playing. So a traditional song like the witty “The Beautiful Hajrija Fell Ill” matches straightforward, declamatory singing against a flurry of rapid-fire, gently stomping fiddle and ragtime guitar, while on “Who’s Girl Is That?”, the 70-year-old veteran Fevzija Sarajlic-Fevzo is backed by a female chorus and piano work that veers between eastern Europe and Latin America. Then there are the bleak and bitter laments, from “This Red Rose”, transformed by an inventive accordion solo, to “Old Jusuf Sits By the Window”, a tragic story of old age with delicate guitar and piano work. A subtle and intriguing band.”
BBC – WORLD REVIEW MUSIC/Album
08 January 2008 – Throughout, the musicianship of the group’s veteran performers is impeccable – wonderfully fluent, sinuous and brimming with passion. While the overall feeling may be melancholy, it’s a beautiful kind of sadness that leaves the listener inspired rather than depressed. This reviewer is not the first to label Mostar Sevdah Reunion as the Balkans’ answer to Buena Vista Social Club, but lazy journalism or not, the comparison is apposite and well earned….