My favorite travel chat on twitter was on the topic of SOUNDS this week, and it made me finally want to write about a force that drives me in my everyday life like almost non other – music. When it comes to music and travel, the sounds of the Balkans have left a deep and lasting imprint in my heart
When I visited Bosnia on my Balkans trip, I fell in love with the city of Mostar. There, one of my favorite hostels in Europe, Hostel Majda’s, was offering amazing tours of the Hercegovina region. As we were dashing along Bosnian freeways through sometimes meagre, sometimes overflowing landscapes, our wonderful tour guide Bata would put on this song:
It is called „Miljacka“, which is the name of the river that flows through the Bosnian capitol Sarajevo, and is sung by Bosnia’s king of folk, Halid Bešlić. It is essentially a love song that tells of missing someone and wanting to be with them, and about betrayed love:
Jednom si rekla, nisi porekla, da sam za tebe jedini.
Mene si zvala, a srce dala drugome, da ga isprosi.
Once you said, and you didn’t deny, that I’m the only one for you.
You called to me, but you gave your heart to another, when he asked for it.
The lyrics are corny to a degree that I can only take in Slavic languages, and they really don’t correspond much with the feelings the song triggers inside of me. It transports me right back into the midst of green rolling hills, to rivers of an unearthly green-turquoise colour, to never-ending blue skies, whitewashed houses and pebbled streets in medieval old towns. All my love for Bosnia & Hercegovina washes over me when I hear this song.
I went to Mostar three times on my Balkans trip in 2010 alone (and I’ve returned there since, if only once). During my second stay, I took a day trip with a Canadian friend I had made in Mostar to the nearby town of Blagaj. We wanted to spend some time in the Tekija which, I swear, is one of the most spiritual, peaceful and truly indescribable places I have been to in my life. But before we treated ourselves to the peace of mind that we knew we would find there, we climbed up the steep hill to the old fortress of Blagaj which used to accomodate the rulers of Hercegovina. It is in ruins today, but it is still mighty and proud. If you know me, you can guess what happened when I got up there. I felt an overwhelming urge to sing. And I did.
And I sang this song:
It is called „Đurđevdan“, St George’s Day, and it was written by famous Yugoslav artist Goran Bregović. Like „Miljacka“, it is about missing the one you love.
Evo zore evo zore
Bogu da se pomolim
Evo zore evo zore
Ej đurđevdan je
A ja nisam s onom koju volim
Here’s the dawn, here’s the dawn
That I might pray to God
Here’s the dawn, here’s the dawn
Oh, it’s St George’s Day
And I’m not with the one I love.
Singing out in nature is one of my favorite things to do. You should try it sometime. It is so liberating.
My third time around in Mostar I hardly could tear myself away from the magic of the place. More posts will have to be written on it. When I finally had made a decision to leave, Bata came to me and told me that there would be a concert the next night by a famous Mostar based band called Mostar Sevdah Reunion, and that I was surely going to love them. Bata knew me well already at that point. Even though I had never heard of the band before, I was sure that if he said I was gonna love them, it had to be true. I extended my stay for the concert and never regretted it.
While the song „Miljacka“ is typical Balkan folk, and „Đurđevdan“ is essentially an old gypsy song that has been modernized and, well, balkanized, the music style you have here, in the song „Čudna jada od Mostara grada“, is very specifically Bosnian. It is called Sevdah – hence the name of the band – which is a Turkish loan word in Bosnian meaning a variety of things ranging from love over caress to longing. The song’s title means „Strange pain from the city of Mostar“, and it is again about disappointed love. In the song, a girl says:
“Mene boli i srce i glava,
Jer moj Ahmo s’ drugom razgovara!”
„There is pain in my heart and my head
Because my Ahmo is talking to another!“
The girl’s mother then tries to curse Ahmo, but the girl won’t let her because she still believes in his promises. It is all very endearing, and granted, the range of topic isn’t huge in Balkan music – it is always, always, always about love – but the drive of melody, the variety of instruments and the spirit that runs through the songs in unmatched elsewhere, I think. Seeing the Mostar Sevdah Reunion live, in Mostar at that, open air, and dancing under an endless starry sky, made the beat of the songs and the beat of my heart melt into one another. The rhythm of Sevdah has never left me since.
If you are on twitter, you should join my favorite travel chat #RATW, which stands for Reality Abroad Talk Wednesday, when you next have a chance. It is a weekly chat on Wednesdays 12 pm EST which makes it 5 pm for me in Berlin and a convenient end-of-work-day activity. It is hosted by the lovely folks of Reality Abroad who make everyone feel like family and are absolutely worth a follow!