Alma Subašić. Photo: Jasmin Agović

Alma Subašić: «I’m embracing the modern sounds, as long as I can hear the old soul among these new records»

Born in the beautiful city of Konjic, and an architect by profession, Alma is destined to become one of the reference voices of contemporary sevdalinka. At the age of 10, she surprised locals and strangers by winning the victory at a festival held in her hometown. Immediately, she was invited to record an album in which she showed both her vocal qualities and her courage in front of the camera and the public. Since then, she has participated in countless festivals such as the prestigious Sevdah u Lisinskom or the Ilidža Festival, and has stepped on stages in the United States, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Sweden, Austria… She has shared a microphone with figures such as Zehra Deović, Beba Selimović, Hanka Paldum, or Meho Puzić, and she is one of the promoters of the SEVDAH Foundation. She is currently preparing her next album

«What is common to all of us is the desire for sevdalinka to live, and it only lives if it grows and if the community grows as well»

«Aesthetics is certainly an individual thing, we don’t all like the same thing, but it would be more useful if we treated tradition with a little more respect»

«Women are probably yet to show all of our talents and infinite possibilities when it comes to music and Sevdah»

By César Campoy.

– You are preparing your next record. What phase is it in, and what can you tell us about it?

– A new album is on the way, that’s right. We are in the creative process at the moment, choosing our final song list, making arrangements and enjoying this whole creative process. I’m truly enjoying it, learning about our Sevdah treasure every day and hoping that we’ll finish it in the upcoming months.

– Who will accompany you? I imagine Damir Galijašević or Zanin Berbić, too.

– Of course, I wouldn’t want to do anything at this point without my brothers as I call them! Ethnomusicologists Damir Galijašević and Zanin Berbić. There will be other talented musicians too, including my brother Harun Subašić who plays piano.

– Will this new album sound in the traditional way, or will it incorporate modern elements?

– I believe it will be best of both worlds, even though I love and prefer more of a traditional sound. However, I’m embracing the modern too, as long as I can hear the old soul among these new records.

– You’ve been singing since you were ten years old. In fact, at that age you recorded your first album, Pjesme u srcu i duši desetogodišnje djevojčice, published by Song Zelex. What do you remember of those beginnings? If you could talk to that little Alma, what advice would you give her?

– Looking at that from this year’s distance, it seems unbelievable. I’m so thankful to my parents who guided me in that direction and other friends and musicians who helped me make these first steps. Making an album at that age is pretty amazing actually. I would play with my Barbie dolls, come to the studio, sing my heart out and actually enjoy and walk out gracefully and continue my play. Later on in life, you think about all other things and perception is completely changed. In that way, making an album becomes a hundred times harder, because life obligations multiply in crazy amounts. I can’t go back. But I carry that memory with me and I would tell that little girl that I’m really proud of her. 

– Let’s remember those early years. How did you begin to be interested in music, in general, and in traditional sounds, in particular? I think your father plays an important role.

– My father plays a crucial role in my music choice. He is an accordion player so I was simply surrounded with those sounds and I naturally started to sing all the beautiful songs I fell in love with. However, I did listen to all genres but I was mostly impressed with sevdalinkas. At some point, as a kid, I had a whole book of over 100 written sevdalinkas that I enjoyed singing.

– In all these years you have performed with great Sevdah ladies like Zehra DeovićBeba Selimović or Hanka Paldum. What did you learn from them?

– They’re divas and each one of them very authentic in their own way. Maybe that’s the best quality I learned from them. Just being my authentic self and building my own style in music and in life in general.

– Besides them, who have been your referents of Sevdah?

– There are many that I love besides them, including Zora DubljevićSilvana ArmenulićZekija SumanEmina Zečaj, etc.

– What sensations come to your mind when you hear the word «Sevdah»?

– Sevdah is pure love. All emotions at once. Happiness and sadness simultaneously. Music we can’t explain with words and we simply have to feel it.

– How would you explain to someone who knows nothing about Sevdah what it means and how it is lived?

– It’s the most valuable intangible heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina. A song that captures your heart, once you hear it. It’s a way of living and here where I live, in the heart of Sarajevo, among many Bosnian families, it can be felt and truly be experienced. 

– Together with other sevdalinka lovers and professionals, including members of new generations such as Damir Galijašević or Zanin Berbić, you are part of the Fondacija SEVDAH. How was this initiative born, and what are its objectives?

– The SEVDAH Foundation is a cultural, research and archival organization that deals with the preservation and affirmation of Sevdah and sevdalinka as a spiritual recognition of Bosnian life, and whose main goal is to nurture the Bosnian spirit in musical art, with a special emphasis on sevdalinka. The SEVDAH Foundation gathers like-minded people; creates a large archive fund consisting of writings about sevdalinka, sheet music, texts, memories of sevdalinka interpreters and photos from their private legacies; encourages the production of new recordings of sevdalinka in the interpretations of top performers of all generations, and encourages the writing of new publications, research reports, books and collections of poems, taking into account their reference. We came up with the idea together, out of the need to have our own platform for the promotion of different quality content, and it turned out to be an extremely valuable project and breakthrough.

Alma Subašić. Photo: Jasmin Agović

– The foundation has released recordings (some of well-known figures such as Sejo Pitić), held concerts in tribute to great legends of the genre… What are the plans and activities programmed, in the short and medium term, by the Fondacija SEVDAH?

– We are currently working on new releases, preparing concert activities that we will certainly announce on our social networks. What is about to come soon are Sarajevski sevdalijski susreti (Sarajevo’s Sevdah meetings) in April and it’s a three days event on different locations, with many different interpreters, musicians, authors, writers, ethnomusicolosists and others who will gather together to exchange knowledge, new foundings on Sevdah music, and share live músical experiences at concerts. At the same time, we’re celebrating our second birthday and preparing exhibiton together with a concert for that occasion. 

– I sense that the foundation also wants to be a link for all Sevdah lovers, and a meeting point for performers. Are you on the way that all of them, members of the old guard and the new generations, go together in the same direction?

– The goal is for the Sevdah Foundation to be a link and a synonym for unity in the musical world of sevdalinka. What is important is that we have the support of eminent artists and educated individuals in the field of ethnomusicology. What is common to all of us is the desire for sevdalinka to live, and it only lives if it grows and if the community grows as well.

– Fortunately, since the end of the 90s of the last century, there is a revival of the genre. There is even talk about the New Sevdah, with international projection, thanks to figures like Mostar Sevdah ReunionAmira MedunjaninDamir ImamovićBožo Vrećo, Divanhana… Do you think that Sevdah is experiencing its best moment since the golden age of the 60s?

– Absolutely yes. All the mentioned artists bring something fresh and unique to traditional music, and connecting it to the world music is a great way to make more people pay attention to sevdalinkas. If people are interested, they’ll start digging and find out how actually old it is and who were the most prominent artists that we all still look up to.

– In addition to the new generation of performers, the number of researchers on the history of Sevdah is also growing. This helps to bring order, as well as to dignify the world of sevdalinka, don’t you think?

– Well said. It is amazing to see people around the world studying and researching on Sevdah, and it was absolute pleasure to meet you, César, who I’ve met in Valencia in the past month. I’m reading your book and all I can say is: it’s amazing.

– Do you think there has to be a limit when it comes to experimenting and modernizing the genre?

– Of all bosnian traditional musical forms, sevdalinka is by far the most prominent. The reason for this is primarily its exceptional adaptation to any time and space. Can it be considered modernization, but every time has always had its own performance style. Nowadays, there are several of them: this form, which today is considered traditional, and which is actually, according to the definition of Prof. Dr. Tamara Karača Beljak, a radio performance style, i.e. a style created according to the standards of radio Sarajevo and Belgrade, and the new, so-called modern Sevdah. Both performance styles have their audience. Any adaptation to the current time context certainly helps sevdalinka. It would certainly be more useful if new interpretations were based on old recordings, as well as recordings of texts and melodies, so that we would have a greater critical sense of interpretation. Aesthetics is certainly an individual thing, we don’t all like the same thing, but it would be more useful if we treated tradition with a little more respect.

– Are the old generations understanding this process of modernization of Sevdah?

– It really depends on who you’re talking to. People related to the science of music absolutely understand the need of sevdalinka to grow and change, yet some fans of the traditional music would say that any change is degradation. Tastes are different among people and that’s okay, we don’t like same things.

– In this revival of sevdalinka, women are playing an important role. Do you think so? How far is left to go?

– Women made difference then and are making difference now. The only change is how world is changing rapidly and circumstances are different for sevdalinka now than they were in the Golden Age of Sevdah. I hope that young people in general will take their role in reviving Sevdah as much as they can nowadays. 

– Do you think that we are close to seeing as something normal that women can, in addition to performing, also compose or produce sevdalinkas?

– I don’t think women are limited to just doing one single thing. We can do as much as we want to, of course having required skills for such things. In my case, when working on my music, together with my colleagues we make decisions and work on entire product, which requires producing and eventually composing. We, as women are probably yet to show all of our talents and infinite possibilities when it comes to music and Sevdah.

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