Tickets: $40 at pmg97.simpletix.ca
Amira Medunjanin has been described as Bosnia’s answer to Billie Holiday. And, on her fifth studio album Damar (out Nov. 18), the Sarajevo-raised accountant-turned-vocalist sings the blues — specifically, a spare, evocative style of song called sevdah (Turkish for “amorous yearning and ecstasy of love” that dates back hundreds of years. We talked to the accountant-turned-singer, who’s in Vancouver with her three-piece band Nov. 12, about coming to North America, going underground during the siege of Sarajevo, and bringing a taste of the Balkans to new audiences.
Q: Is this your first North American tour?
A: This is my first North American visit ever. You can just imagine how I feel. In addition to being jet-lagged, there are two excitements — having a concert, and visiting a country for the first time.
Q: Are there any historic musical landmarks you want to visit?
A: Well, everybody tells me that I should visit Nashville. I love country music. The sound is very close to me. I have a friend who lives in Sarajevo at the moment who is originally from Nashville. I’d like to go to a place, like I’ve seen on television, where people are sitting in a bar and playing country music. Nothing fancy schmancy, you know what I mean? Really just in a pub or bar, for a touch of local feeling. That’s what I’d like to experience.
Q: During the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996), there was apparently an underground music scene. Were you part of that?
A: Well, we were all part of an underground musical scene because we were trying in every possible way to entertain ourselves in those trying times. There were many concerts happening, whenever we had a chance, with candles. I would sing with my friends, you know. Not professionally. I wasn’t thinking of becoming a singer at that time. Many bands that were remaining in Sarajevo would put on a gig for all of us. It was fun.
Q: Was there a lot of anger in the music? Was there a lot punk rock?
A: It was a lot of punk rock, yeah. But at the same time, when we would socialize, and there was shelling outside, we would be in a shelter playing sevdah.
Q: For people far from home, hearing these traditional songs at your concerts must be emotionally overpowering.
A: It is, wherever we go, wherever we play. We bring a little bit of home and those previous lives back to them. For me it’s emotional. Even if I’m not far away from home. Just remembering certain things in your life — it doesn’t necessarily have to be related to home-longing or nostalgia. It’s just like a collection of different kind of memories in each song. People remember certain things, and certain people, and in the same way, it touches me. It’s not just geographical. I hope I’m making sense!
Q: You are. Thanks Amira, we’re looking forward to seeing you in Vancouver!
A: I have to say one thing. Coming to Canada is also a very special thing for me. During the bad times, back in the nineties, my best friend was from Ottawa. He was always saying, “Amira, this (Canada) is the best country in the world.” Next year, I think we’re going to go to Ottawa. I still keep in touch with him and his family. It’s a fantastic friendship we have. So it’s a special excitement to be visiting Canada for the first time.