Songs of yearning are intimate, and must be felt intimately. Bosnian singer Amira Medunjanin knows this: She learned Bosnia’s evocative songs of secret love and sublimated melancholy, sevdalinke, at home from her mother. She and her fellow Bosnians use these songs to cope, to heal, much in the way American singers use the blues.
Which is why she only sings what moves her. “They have to move me, and touch me in a certain way,” muses Medunjanin. “It’s a physiological response.” It’s the heart of sevdah.
Medunjanin strives to give outward expression to this potent inner state, sharing sevdah’s pulse on Damar (World Village/PIAS; release: November 18, 2016 ), an album two years in the making. Featuring several newly composed songs that extend the five-hundred-year old tradition, Damar speaks to our shared experiences of longing, sorrow, and hope, as well as to Sarajevo’s striking resilience and sevdah’s recent revival, a renaissance inspired in part by Medunjanin’s profound ability to interpret even the simplest folk song.
With a quintet that suggests everything from flamenco to contemporary jazz–a flourish of guitar here, a provocative piano solo there–Medunjanin transforms tradition into a powerful emotional statement, one that suggests her homeland but is not limited to it. “It all combined when I listened to these songs as a whole. The only thing that came to my mind was, this is really beautiful,” she reflects. “It was what was in our hearts and we gave it all, we expressed it. They are dear songs, like anthems of my homeland.”
Medunjanin and her ensemble will be touring the US & Canada this autumn.