Adis Sirbubalo: “Sevdah survived so many challenges and always found the way to attract new generations”
Born in Foča, and musically educated in Sarajevo and Chicago, he has been part of projects such as Zoster and Sarajevo Jazz Guerrilla, and collaborated with artists such as Eddie Gómez, Christian McBride, Chuchito Valdés, Dino Merlin, Boško Jović or Amira Medunjanin. Together with Božo Vrećo he became one of the fundamental pillars of Halka, an essential band to understand the Sevdah of the 21st century. Elegant style pianist and accordionist, arranger and member of the music production team of the Bosnia and Herzegovina public radio television (BHRT), he has just released his first solo album, via Gramofon, based on his own songs and classics of the Sevdalinka, performed live
“Through the traditional music of Bosnia and Herzegovina I discovered the history not just of my homeland but also the history of my family”
“No limits for the creation and experiments, and no borders, but there is a line between the bad taste and good music”
“We have always believed that Halka’s music continued the great tradition of Sevdalinka as popular music”
By César Campoy.
–I would like us to talk about the album recorded live, in Vijecnica, on the occasion of the Sevdah na distanci program, within the framework of the 24 Sarajevo Jazz Festival. First of all, about Sarajevske kajde and Bistre vode, two of your original compositions. They are very old? What do you think they show about you and your philosophy towards music?
-No, they are not old. I composed these two songs especially for the performance in Vijecnica. They show my deep interest in the traditional Bosnian music. Exploring traditional music of Bosnia and Herzegovina, brings me to my roots, not just because I grew up with this music as a background of my childhood and youth, but also because through this music I discovered the history not just of my homeland but also the history of my family. Some of the traditional songs, I heard first at home from my father when I was kid. My wish was that in the context of the solo piano, my compositions along with the traditional ones I perform, sound like a homogeneous and organic repertoire. In that sense, I probably brought my compositions closer to sevdalinka and sevdalinka closer to myself.
–The album is completed with the classics Kiša bi pala, Kad se jangin iz sokaka pomoli and Mislio sam svaki dan, which throughout history have been performed by great figures such as Himzo Polovina, Zaim Imamović or Safet Isović. Why have you chosen these songs?
-In the vast of the Sevdalinka repertoire, I have chosen these tunes because they were very interesting for my solo piano performance, with the unique melodies and form as a perfect match for my original songs.
–You’ve already recorded Mislio sam svaki dan and Kiša bi pala with Halka. Everyone remembers the piano intro to Kiša bi pala that you created. How have you dealt with these new reviews, now, without a voice?
-Obviously, when you play solo concert you’re alone, and only what you play people hear as a music. Besides of the big challenge to just be alone on the stage, being alone also means be with myself and piano. That is actually pretty good and inspiring company. The fact that I was very familiar with this song I felt free to give my own take on this beautiful melody.
–You have once again collaborated with sound technician Eric Bajramović, an expert in working, especially live, with many of the new figures of Sevdah. What does he bring to this kind of recording?
-Six microphones and Nagra digital recorder. He did great job as always. I would like to mention also ‘meister’ Johannes Wohlleben from Bauer Studios Ludwigsburg, who did mix and master for my solo, as he did for Halka and the other projects. These two proved to be a great combo.
–It has been almost ten years since Halka was born. How do you remember that project? How did you live that adventure that brought a breath of fresh air to Sevdah?
-I have great memories from those years playing and touring with my good friends and musicians from the band, and I am very happy that we managed to record two great albums with Gramofon label, which is also the record label for my solo album and also many other great sevdalinka artists. We always believed that our music continued the great tradition of Sevdalinka as a popular music.
–You were the arranger of many of those songs. How did you face the challenge of transforming classics of the genre and updating them? What was your goal?
-As I said, the idea was to continue the great tradition of recorded sevdalinka from 60’s to 80’s, in terms of not just a repertoire but the sound as well. The most important thing that we all knew these songs very well, we loved it and played it with the same joy.
–Do you think there was a future for that project, before Božo Vrećo started his solo career?
-Yes, I do!
–This is your first solo album after many years as an artist. Why did it take you so long to do this?
-I got the offer to perform opening concert of the 24 Jazz Fest Sarajevo which was a honor and great opportunity for me. The fact is that everything happened in the middle of pandemic. Suddenly after so many years I really had enough time to dive deep into my musical dreams and so many things I always wanted to do as musician and composer. I am very happy that everything went very well. Very inspiring ambient of the National library and the beautiful instrument I played on, and the fact that I was playing live solo literally alone for the audience without audience, have created kind of magic.
–Let’s talk about your instruments. What can the piano bring to the universe of Sevdah?
-I am about to discover it.
–You are also a virtuous accordionist. When a musician faces traditional music, in general, and Sevdah, in particular, what differences does it make to do it with the accordion and with the piano?
-They are both tampered instruments, so in that terms it is the same. Difference is in the sound and technique. Also, the most of the Sevdalinka repertoire of 60’s to 80’s have been recorded with the accordion, opposite to the piano which was very rarely recorded. So playing sevdalinka especially newly composed songs written in the spirit of the sevdalinka, accordion is very common and natural instrument, so it was easy for me because I was standing on the shoulders of the giants which have recorded hundreds of songs in a beautiful manner.
–Also within the program Sevdah na distanci, you and Zanin Berbić performed at the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo, separately, and together, reviewing more classics such as Gledaj me draga, Ah, što ćemo ljubav kriti or Snijeg pade, drumi zapadoše. The accordion, the violin and the saz sounded, this time. What instrument or instruments do you think are capable of transmitting, with the greatest feeling, the essence of Sevdah?
-Traditionally the saz is very important but also accordion and the violin, but also clarinet or any other instrument you can imagine. Beside the fact that they are traditional instruments for some music, that doesn’t mean that should be a rule in that sense. I really don’t know how many solo piano recordings exists with the sevdalinka as a repertoire. So the only rules which I can imagine are knowing very well repertoire you play and learning your instrument very well.
–As an accordionist, what have you adopted from the style of people like the Petković brothers, Ismet Alajbegović, Radojka and Tine Živković…?
-I feel very grateful for the work musicians you mention. I learned so much from them as I learned from so many others.
–How would you explain Sevdah to someone who knows nothing about it, its meaning and how to live it?
-“If you have to ask, you will never know”.
–It seems that the genre has been doing very well in the recent years. Where can we find the future of Sevdah?
-Sevdah survived so many challenges and always found the way to attract new generations, so I’m not too worried about the future of Sevdah and Sevdalinka; I am worry about the future of humanity.
–Is there a limit on experimentation and modernization of the genre? Where is the red line, if it exists?
-No limits for the creation and experiments, and no borders, but there is a line between the bad taste and good music.
–What do you think you are bringing to the Sevdah all that new generation of musicians that has emerged in the 21st century?
-I am not thinking about it, I am playing.
–You have collaborated with other artists like Dino Merlin. When you work for other musicians, where do you strike a balance between contributing your ideas and doing what is asked of you?
-It really depends. It is different world from the one in which I create my own music. When I write arrangements it is always natural based on the given song, and also ideas of the given artist. The rest of it is my work. In some cases after I complete my arrangements the process continues, when sometimes artist or producer continues to work on it. In the end what you hear in my arrangements sometimes it is less sometimes is more me. But that’s how some productions are made these days.
–Let’s look back: What did you learn in those first steps in music as a member of Zoster, a group that obviously played in another league?
-I really enjoyed to be a regular member of Zoster for so many years now. Zoster is really a rock and roll band, hence band and hence rock and roll. We are all rock and roll kids.
–If I’m not mistaken, Sarajevo Jazz Guerilla, the band with musicians like you, Dino Šukalo and Edvin Hadžić, as well the great percussionist Amar Češljar, is preparing a new album. What can you tell me about it?
–Sarajevo Jazz Guerrilla is older band than Halka, and this is a band which is based on long years of friendship and love for the same music. We have just completed our first album after so many years of playing together. I am very proud of the result and I am even more proud we also recorded some the original songs and we have featured many regional great artists from pop and rock scene. What actually happened in the process and preparing this album that we jumped few levels up in terms of repertoire, arrangements and in general ambitions. I am looking forward for this upcoming album.
–Finally, please tell me about your plans for the future with this album. When and how do you plan to present it live? What repertoire are you preparing for that tour?
-When it comes to my solo piano plans, I should play my premiere concert on the 31st July at the 62 Jazz Fest in Ljubljana, and some more shows later this year in the region. But my next big solo plan is to record a studio album this year, including my old and new original compositions and some traditional songs.