Sevdalinka (pronounced seʋdǎliːŋka) - the traditional Bosnian urban song, can only be described as a musical and philological phenomenon. It’s art at its finest, a grand display of magnificent beauty that always invokes an array of emotions and something to talk about.
Etymology aside, the core of sevdalinka is something so simple, yet so powerful: the ubiquitous feeling of love, explored through various nuances in music and literature. Usually, the focus is on the love (often tragic) between the young boy and girl, intertwined with local and cultural ambiance. As such, today it’s a celebration of both the material and spiritual life of Bosnian-Herzegovinian people from half a millennia ago to this day.
How sevdalinka came to be
In its traditional form, sevdalinka originated within ordinary people, as a form of lyric poetry that took its cues from the medieval Bosnian culture. Often formed as a sort of monologue, it was a solo piece without musical support. Subsequent Ottoman rule added saz, an Arabic guitar, which typically followed the singing of the person in love and became a very popular interpretation of sevdalinka.
Although it stems from the deepest desires of the soul, sevdalinka also depicts a glowing and intellectual feat of a man and a woman as a whole. The exploration of sevdalinka carries with itself an intense, intimate process of sorting out the complex emotions that arise, as well as the examination of the meaning of life. This venerable art of syncing your thoughts and emotions with those detailed in sevdalinka is delicate and often elusive, yet always strong and gladly received.
The beginning of the 16th century saw the rise of numerous urban settlements, a huge part of the inspiration for the music and lyrics of sevdalinka. From the very neighborhood or „mahala“ to cobblestone streets or „kaldrmli sokaci“ that go through it to „kapidžici“ as in balconies that extend out into the street for prime-time courting (that of Romeo and Juliet variety) to „tekije“ - isolated monasteries, „ćuprije“ which are bridges that arch over rivers, and even bazerdžans - there are numerous mentions of these everyday parts of life that put a heavy accent on the material background of sevdalinka.
The makings of a phenomenon
While sevdalinka previously existed in the oral lore of local population, it arguably came into full existence when the Islamic civilization knocked on doors in Bosnia and Herzegovina, seeping into every pore of the society back then. In particular, this relates to the Slavic population that accepted the oriental culture of Islam, arguably one of the main reasons why sevdalinka in Bosnia and Herzegovina is engraved in the hearts of everyone, not solely of the Muslim people. The social phenomenon is a part of all Bosnians and Herzegovinians as a form of a birthright, growing up and fully embracing it as their own, a part of their being.
Centuries of sevdalinka’s modus operandi earned it the recognition and intellectual value beyond the BiH borders, spreading into neighboring Balkan countries and further south. The all-embracing and all-inclusive strength of its emotion and appeal made it possible for sevdalinka to travel across the globe, finding a place in many corners of the world and attaining well-deserved respect for its intrinsic and artistic value.
But what makes sevdalinka so loved, even far beyond its geographical origins? For one, it's hard to resist it. You are sucked into the world portrayed by words, far away from everyday trials and tribulations, and emerged into the deepest desires. This is largely thanks to real-life origins of many sevdalinkas, making a stark contrast to other types of European folk poetry whose focus is largely abstract storytelling. Unlike its European counterparts, sevdalinka reflects a true feeling of yearning, a desire for the embrace of the one that the soul craves for.
Keeping the tradition alive
The entry of Islam, from which sevdalinka largely shaped and formed its motifs, and the subsequent 450 or so years of Turkish rule, were the catalyst of what sevdalinka was and is today on this soil. About a century and a half ago, it was far more than a folk tradition: people actually lived within the song tradition as the song lived through them. Those days are long gone, evoking vivid images and the sensuality and allure of the past exotic world, as well as former life based on aesthetic and moral values of an even older tradition that goes hundreds of years back.
These days, there are very few places you can turn to experience everything sevdalinka has to offer, particularly in a more interactive way, as opposed to browsing through history books. The significance of sevdalinka for development of the cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina is massive, one that’s best remembered and preserved through Art Kuća Sevdah (Sevdah Art House), THE place for all-things-sevdalinka. This genuine home of sevdalinka is where you can find every bit of information relating to this literal and musical expression through visualization of sevdalinka and multimedia presentations of its characteristics.
We’d be remiss to fail to mention sevdalinke.com, the largest online archive of all-things sevdalinka, run by Semir Vranić. There, you will find hundreds, if not thousands of sevdalinka-related things, from original songs to news clips of events that led to the creation of some of these gems.
Arguably, sevdalinka has reached the pinnacle of its artistic expression through various authors and interpreters that are an important part of BH cultural identity. As for Bazerdžan, we try to do our part in keeping that identity alive and kicking, however small in comparison it may be, as it is our duty to cherish this gift from our people and our country first to ourselves, and then to the rest of the world.
The image above, as well as other clothing-related images in this post, feature dresses made in collaboration with women from folk ensemble "Modrački mornari" located in the village of Šerići near Živinice. This is a traditional Muslim wear from Podrinje, dating back to the first half of the 20th century. The dresses are 100% handmade out of knitted linen, with geometrical floral patterns also crafted by hand in a traditional manner using a cotton sewing thread. As for other sevdalinka-inspired items, we must mention Werkstatt rings, made out of zink and engraved with lyrics from select sevdalinkas.
We’ve previously talked about why collaboration is vital to what we do so you may already be familiar with women from Šerići and their craft. You also may already know that the actual happiness of people we work with is close to our heart, especially when it's about hundreds of years of local tradition and heritage.
In terms of sevdalinka, modernization is suppressing it to strictly popular forms. We may not know for certain how sevdalinka sounded back 300 or 400 years ago, but what we do know is its message, emotion, and core intent. An art form in which passion, reason, and hedonism so intricately blend together is rare. Much like sevdalinka, inside each one of us is something unique and individualistic and it's our duty to keep this permanent piece of BH culture alive.