Musical Journeys at Magaza: Sevdah (Part 1)

Sevdalinka – From Old Masters to New Interpreters

Contributor: Lisa Stewart


Sevdalinka, or sevdah, is a traditional genre of folk music that is specific to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and enjoys great popularity throughout most of Southeastern Europe. While this genre boasts a centuries-long legacy, young interpreters are working hard to keep this genre alive and shine a long-overdue spotlight on it. In fact, given its recent popularity, there has been some discussion in BiH about nominating sevdalinka music for inscription on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We’ll be sure to keep you posted!


Sevdah has been called “Bosnian blues,” and, as one begins to explore this genre, it becomes clear that the tone and melodies range from melancholic and despondent, to hearty and lively. As for the lyrics, a whole spectrum of emotions, sentiments and themes come to light: There’s love (often unrequited!) and longing, anticipation and sorrow; there might be praise for a beloved mountain, town or season; some songs tell of a journey or event that separates loved ones, and others share views on life or extol simple pleasures....


If you'd like to learn more about this rich musical tradition, or add some titles to your own collection, Magaza has plenty to offer in the way of books (see here) and CDs.


Also, if you happen to find yourself in Baščaršija, be sure to pay a visit to Art Kuća Sevdaha (Sevdah Art House) on nearby Halaći Street (Halaći 5). This museum is dedicated to sevdah and its many interpreters, and the courtyard café serves traditional varieties of tea and coffee, as well as many sweet and savory treats. More to come about this lovely attraction!


Enjoy your musical journey!





This masterful collection of BiH sevdalinka music is a production of the BiH Radio and Television Service, and is one of the most comprehensive collections around. Each volume contains more than ten songs and includes solo performances and duets, some of which are accompanied by folk, national or tambura orchestras, vocal ensembles and accordionists. 



Here’s a link to help acquaint you with some of “the greats” featured in this anthology, all of whom fill the annals of sevdalinka lore: Emina Zečaj, Zaim Imamović, Ljubica Berak, Himzo Polovina, Safet Isović, Hanka Paldum….


While this seven-volume set is the best way to go, some volumes may also be purchased separately on both CD and DVD (see here).




Another terrific collection of traditional Bosnian folk songs was put out by Croatia Records. This set of six CDs contains a total of 108 sevdalinka songs, and the cover of each one features colorful depictions of traditional Bosnian dress, scenes from days of old, and stylized motifs taken from Bosnian carpets, all of which add to the appeal of this authentic collection.




The Magaza Team has hand-picked this collection of CDs, and it is a real smorgasbord of contemporary sevdah music! This set shows the range of improvisations and interpretations that are out there on the sevdah scene, and it will definitely help you get to know some of the newer performers. You’ll find the following albums in this set: 







The cosmopolitan musician behind this album, Tayfun Kesgin, has put together an eclectic collection of new interpretations of beloved sevdah melodies like “Što te nema,” “Moj dilbere,” and “Kad ja pođem na bentbašu.” This CD was a joint production venture between Yaman d.o.o. of Sarajevo and the Goethe-Institut BiH, and features performances and arrangements by artists from several countries. One piece is even sung in German!





This special set of four very different CDs features songs by modern performers, musicians, ethno jazz artists and composers. This collection makes a terrific gift for those who love blues, traditional melodies, avant-garde music….


This set includes the following albums:



More to come on sevdah albums and sevdah-related books in Part 2 of Musical Journeys at Magaza. Click here to continue reading!

Photography by: Naida Kraljić
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