By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – First of two installments.
NEW YORK – When Mary Sherhart first sang the traditional Bosnian songs known as sevdalinkas at a concert in 2004, a woman stood up and started weeping. Her bare arms, emblazoned with scars from the war that ravaged Bosnia in the early nineties, rose toward the ceiling.
At that moment, Sherhart knew that to be a “responsible artist” she would need to learn more about this song and its people, as the music extracted from her audiences the most private of emotions.
The emotion was evident on the faces of those who came to listen to Sherhart and Sakib Jakupovic, a Bosnian musician, this past April in Queens, NY at the tenth-anniversary celebration of the Bosnian-American Association. At midnight, grateful guests lined up to personally thank Sherhart for coming. Many of them were older Bosnian men and women, self-conscious about their broken English, but nevertheless eager to express their gratitude.
Sevdalinka is a song of love in all its manifestations, but for Bosnians living outside their country, one feeling predominates — nostalgia.
“Sevdah takes a new meaning in the diaspora,” said Sherhart, who is the president of Sevdah North America, an organization dedicated to the preservation and study of this music. “It is a bridge to the time when they were happier, a bridge to home, a bridge to their children for whom those ties are not as strong.”
Listen to “Snijeg Pade na Behar na Voce” (Snow has fallen on blossoms, on fruit) by Mary Sherhart and Omer Pobric:
From the CD Srce Puno Bosne, Amerika i sevdah, Mary i Omer
(2005, Institut Sevdaha)