Amira: “It is important that musicians have knowledge about history of Sevdah, in order to properly convey a message to future listeners”
The Bosnian singer is one of the current top figures of traditional Balkan music. In 2003, Mostar Sevdah Reunion saw in her a worthy heiress of the great ladies of the Sevdah, and asked for her collaboration. A year later she left her job in the offices of the European Commission of Sarajevo and released a discography full of great works and collaborations with musicians from half the world. Now, just after publishing her Ascending, she arrives at the Palau de la Música in Valencia (October 13), within the Mostra Viva, to give a good account of that combination of elegance and vocal virtuosity.
“Ascending album should be my resume. To live a life in music is what I would like to continue, and I had to make a sort of recap”
“My music carrier started when I left the job in European Commission. If I stayed, I really would not function normally as a woman”
“In the past two years I have noticed younger audience on concerts of Sevdah singers or bands, which I am really happy about it”
By César Campoy.
-In Silk & Stone, as usual, you included songs from regions throughout the former Yugoslavia, but adding certain Turkish airs, with the participation of Yurdal Tokcan and Hakan Güngör. Damar, where the role of Boško Jović (who also participated in Silk & Stone) was greater than in that album, it smelled more, in some moments, to Flamenco. From Rosa until now, it was a long journey through different regions discovering the sounds of oriental influence. Now, at what point do we find Amira’s journey, with Ascending?
-Yes, you are absolutely right. It was a long journey. Now, when we talk about the album Silk & Stone, it was specific in many ways. First of all, I wanted to emphasize the power of women. You see, in the days when these songs were written, women did not have freedom to speak and do what they want. The songs were their channel to express themselves and to defy the strict rules. I have chosen the songs that show their power and defiance. Even though there is mixture of rural and urban songs. I was hoping that the idea will highlight what the women were striving for 3-4 centuries ago. Secondly, the whole idea was to involve as many musicians as possible from South East Europe. I was in fact very lucky in terms of collaboration with various artists. Their musical carriers are rooted or inspired by traditional music. So, we had a wonderful opportunity to bring East and West on one album. Finally, the oud and kanoon are amazing instruments, rarely used in this area, and I really enjoyed the entire recording session. As for Damar I wanted the music picture that would emphasize the momentum of life force. You know, we have eyes wide open only when we are in love. All our energy is focused on embracing and loving another human being. It is a sort of self-inflicted sacrifice that we all have been thru. And Ascending album should be my resume. To live a life in music is what I would like to continue, and I had to make a sort of recap. I hope that people would find it interesting.
-So, is it time to review 15 years of career and prepare for the future?
-That’s a good question. I never planned to be a musician. Long time ago, when I was a child, I dreamed to be a musician. But that was it. My music carrier started when I left the job in European Commission. If I stayed, I really would not function normally as a woman. To be honest, at that time, I did not know that music is my only occupation. So, after all these years nothing has changed. I am still on the same road and pursuing the same mission. The future? I do not know. I hope that I will continue to share the music with as many people as possible. That is all I wish for in the future.
–Damar was more naked instrumentally than Silk & Stone; less recharged. Now, you have decided to have the collaboration of an orchestra. Musically, what was your objective, your goal?
-It is a true. Subtlety of Damar songs was intentional, for the reasons I said earlier. It was that kind of story behind it. I started the preparations for the retrospective album two years ago. Since I did not want to make a sort of compilation of songs released on previous albums. Ascending is divided in three segments. Firstly, I have recorded few “old” songs with different arrangements. I thought that would be much better to give them a new life, sort to speak. On the other hand, couple of new tracks on the album we played on concerts, but they were never recorded before. Finally, I have chosen some beautiful new songs, so the people would have an opportunity to listen something that I was really happy about while working on retrospective album. I know it is kind of odd, but I find the standard compilations boring. And yes, I wanted to record the album in collaboration with TrondheimeSolistene string orchestra. It was a challenge, but I believed that this would be a proper thing to do. You know that in past 15 years, I have been performing with various philharmonic orchestras around the Region, and I really enjoyed every moment of it. It is totally different perspective. When I was at the final stage of preparations for the album, I was touring in Norway, where I accidentally met the TrondheimeSolistene ensemble. They had a proposal to play one song together at the concert. And instead of only one song, we played the whole concert. I was fascinated with their energy on stage and instantly I made the decision to record the album with them. You know that I have recorded five studio albums so far. And in some ways they are all different. This time, I wanted to arrange these beautiful songs with string ensemble, and to give them new colors. You know that the whole idea is to extend their life and to attract younger generation of musicians. I hope that this poetry and music will inspire them and give them a new insight in traditional music in general.
-Without a doubt, you are the Bosnian singer with the most international repercussion. Ascending, for its musical format and its list of songs, besides a way to celebrate your 15 years of career, is it a kind of Trojan Horse to consolidate, definitely, the figure of Amira internationally?
-As you know, my primary mission is to promote traditional music. Ascending is a retrospective album and in that respect it was not my intention to launch a serious campaign. What I would really like is to perform with the band (Bojan Zulfikarpašić, Ante Gelo, Zvonimir Šestak and Boško Jović) and Norwegian Soloists as much as possible. And there are still many places in the world that I we have never been.
-You have always been considered a lady of the Sevdah, but your art has gone further, and you have explored other cultural paths of the region, including the Macedonian, Serbian or Ladino culture. Where is Amira headed in the future: toward expansion or towards looking more to Bosnia and Herzegovina?
-We will see. I have many ideas and I will need some time to think about it. As you know, Sevdalinka is a song about love, and love songs can be found everywhere. I had an opportunity to work with many musicians and I always find some songs from their cultures that inspire me. I guess from that point I would go towards expansion.
-You are still counting on production with the direction of Bojan Z (Zulfikarpašić). It has been a big amount of years working together. What does Bojan bring you?
-Well, Bojan is an artist with impeccable music career. We have been working together for more than ten years. I have learned a lot from him. He is a brilliant composer and arranger. When we were recording last album, he wrote strings arrangements for a beautiful song from Macedonia. But, Bojan, as a producer, helped me to understand that side of music production. His ideas are quite remarkable and having in mind his genius as a pianist, I would underline his immense creativity as a producer.
-What differences are there in producing between Bojan and Dragi Šestić, the first person that produced a record of yours?
-It is quite difficult to compare. The first album, Rosa, was recorded in Mostar 15 years ago. At that time, I just wanted to record an album to pay respect to Sevdah. It was sort of homage to music and some of the greatest voices of Sevdah. To be honest, it was one off project. I have recorded four albums with Bojan and he was involved as a musician, arranger and producer. The way he works is really unique, because he knows both sides of a coin, so to speak. Innovative way of looking at things is what I really appreciate. And the collaboration will continue, probably on the next project.
-Your relationship with Boško Jović also comes long. What do you like about the way he plays guitar?
-Oh, we, as a duo, played hundreds of concerts together. Many days we were on the road and we never had any quarrel whatsoever. He is a great human being and exquisite guitar player. His playing perfectly matches the songs we perform. I guess that people can hear it. By the way, Boško released his new album Voyage, this year and I do recommend it. It is a very good record.
-In Damar you counted with compositions of artists like Damir Imamović (Pjevat ćemo šta nam srce zna), and now, this work was with Vladimir Kočiš (Oj meglica). How do you usually work with the people who compose for you?
-Unfortunately, I do not have enough experience to give you proper answer. So far, I had two collaborations. In both cases, you mentioned above, the composers suggested songs and fortunately for me, songs were beautiful. I was really happy with their work and I had to record them.
-In what great female voices do you like to look at to create your image, philosophy and art: Silvana Armenulić, Nada Mamula, Zehra Deović, Beba Selimović, Zora Dubljević…?
-I do not know whether I am inclined to a style of some of the singers mentioned. I guess, people would give a better answer to your question. But all these female voices are truly great and unique.
-Fortunately, the Sevdah has each day more international projection, and every day more people are discovering it and enjoying it. At what point or phase is the genre, both locally (BiH, Balkans) and externally?
-Well, people in Balkans are familiar with Sevdah music genre. And in the past two years, I have noticed younger audience on concerts of Sevdah singers or bands, which I am really happy about it. As for Europe, I hope that promotion will continue on the same pace as it was so far. The story of Sevdah is spreading and every artist should give his or her best wherever they go. Nevertheless, there is still lot of work to do.
-In that process of internationalization of the music of the Balkans, in general, and the Sevdah, in particular, do you think it has to be based on continuing to recover traditional songs, composing new songs, or combining both options?
-It’s a good question, especially for new generation, since Sevdah is not a popular music genre. In order to preserve all traditional songs and to continue their life, it is important that musicians have knowledge about history of Sevdah, in order to properly convey a message to future listeners. On the other hand, new compositions inspired by Sevdah are equally important. In my opinion, new songs will enrich the legacy and create a new foundation for artist that will continue the mission.
-Under your point of view, what names will shape the future of Sevdah?
-I am counting on a new generation of artists. And I am really eager to hear what they have to say. I have heard about some young artists that are working hard at the moment. I sincerely hope that they will have public appearance soon.
-Please, tell me about your next projects?
-I am on a tour in Europe until the end of the year. Then, we have a series of concerts with philharmonic orchestras and I will be going to Australia for the first time. As for the albums, I have few things on my mind. But, it is still in preparatory stage. I guess that some new thing will not happen before the end of next year.
-You have worked with Catalan musicians like Jordi Savall. Would you like to do this with Valencian musicians? Do you know something about our traditional music?
-Absolutely. I have some ideas that I would like to realize. Unfortunately, I am not that familiar with your traditional music, but now I have a chance to find out about it.
-Who will play with you at the Valencia show?
-You know that I will be playing in Valencia for the first time. Frankly, I did not have many concerts in Spain lately. So, I am excited that I will perform with Bojan Z on piano and Zvonimir Šestak on double bass. Since it is our first performance in Valencia, we will try to give a comprehensive insight into Balkan’s soul. I hope that audience will find it interesting.
–Rosa (Snail Records, 2004)
–Zumra / With Merima Ključo (Gramofon, 2008)
–Amira Live (Gramofon, 2009)
–Amulette (Harmonia Mundi-World Village, 2011)
–Silk & Stone (Aquarius Records, 2014)
–Damar (Aquarius Records, 2016)
–Ascending / With TrondheimSolistene (Croatia Records, 2018)