Sevdah – Bosniak Blues

For this post I’m starting with an example of Sevdah, as I feel it’s better to experience it than to talk about it. You can learn more about this performance below.

Sevdalinka is a genre of music. It is considered the heart and soul of the Bosniak culture, but is also spread across the ex-Yugoslavia region, including Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia. The term Bosniak refers to people who live in or come from the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina AND who are Muslim. They are Slavs whose ancestors converted to Islam in the 15th and 16th centuries. Within Bosnia and Herzegovina (population 3.5 million) all are sometimes referred to as Bosnians. However 51% of the population (1.8 million or) are Bosniaks, with the remaining 30% being Serbs, 15% Croats, and 4% Other. In addition, there are approximately 1.2 million Bosniaks living outside Bosnia, including 350,000 in the USA.

Quoting Wikipedia on Sevdalinka:

“The word itself comes from the Turkish sevda which, in turn, derives from the Arabic word sawda (meaning black bile, from the root s-w-d, “black”), which in earlier times was used by doctors to denote one of the four humors purported to control human feelings and emotions. In Ottoman Turkish sevda doesn’t simply mean black bile; it also refers to a state of being in love, and more specifically to the intense and forlorn longing associated with love-sickness and unrequited love. This is connected with the related Persian word (سودازده) meaning both “melancholic” and “enamored”. It was these associations that came with the word when it was brought to Bosnia by the Ottomans. Today it is a richly evocative Bosnian word, meaning pining or a longing (for a loved one, a place, a time) that is both joyous and painful, being the main theme of Sevdalinka lyrics. Thus the people of Bosnia employ the words “Sevdalinka” and “Sevdah” interchangeably as the name of this music, although the word Sevdah can also be used in other meanings.”

“In a musical sense, Sevdalinka is characterized by a slow or moderate tempo and intense, emotional melodies. Sevdalinka songs are very elaborate, emotionally charged and are traditionally sung with passion and fervor. The combination of Oriental, European and Sephardic elements make this type of music stand out among other types of folk music from the Balkans. Just like a majority of Balkan folk music, Sevdalinka features very somber, minor-sounding modes, but unlike other types of Balkan folklore music it more intensely features minor second intervals, thus hinting at Oriental makams and the Phrygian mode. As a result, the melodies are noted for leaving a strong melancholic feeling with the listener.

The singer will often impose the rhythm and tempo of the song, both of which can vary throughout the song. Traditionally, Sevdalinka’s are women’s songs, most addressing the issue of love and longing, unfulfilled and unfortunate love, some touch on a woman’s physical desire for her loved one, and some have various comic elements. There are Sevdah songs written and sung by men as well. Traditionally, they were performed without any instrument, hence their elaborate melody. As with most old folk styles, it is pure assumption what the sound of original melodies were like, as in modern days their interpretations are fully aligned to the Western chromatic system due to instruments used for accompaniment (whereas Oriental modes often use intervals smaller than a semitone). Modern interpretations are followed by a small orchestra featuring the accordion (as the most prominent instrument), the violin, nylon-string guitars and/or other string instruments, occasionally (such as oud, saz or šargija), the flute or clarinet (occasionally), upright bass and the snare drum. In modern interpretations, between the verses, an accordion or violin solo can almost always be heard.”

A documentary about Sevdah. More follow, mixed with the Sevdah songs. Caption: Stories of Sevdah – The Balkan Blues.
A highly dramatic documentary, beautiful to look at and listen to about an extraordinary music giving expression and identity to a people in the face of a long night of barbarism. Sevdah is one of the worlds great undiscovered musical styles, equal in its beauty to Portuguese Fado and Argentine tangos. It is a sinuous, seductive music with equal attraction for all ages. Sevdah is a Turkish word which means love. It is influenced by Ukrainian, Greek, Romanian, Gypsy, Sephardic Jewish and especially Ottoman Turkish forms which merged in the cross-cultural melting pot of the Balkan towns, particularly in Bosnia. While it is known in all these regions, its particular Bosnian fusion creates a distinctive sound and relies upon texts often written by urban poets. Whatever its exact definition, it is a music which, after only a few notes, makes your heart feel too big for your chest.

The film is filed with contemporary Sevdah artists mostly from Mostar (considered the epicentre of the music) and Sarajevo. There are several well known actors who speak about what Sevdah means to them, numerous instrumental pieces and songs performed by professional and folk musicians revealing the importance of this music to post war (1992-1995) Bosnian identity. From the traditional saz to the relatively new accordion the viewer is treated to its seductive melodies.
Directors: Robert Golden
Producers: Robert Golden, Jasmina Basic (Bosnia) Tina Ellen Lee
Style : Balkans, Released : 2009

Featured artists; Mustafa Santic, Goran Simic, Amira, Ilijaz Delic, Jasmin Elezrovic, Alina Ferovic, Merima Kijuco, accordion; Rade Serbedzijla, Salem Berberovic, Aidan Burke, Senad Basic, Nigel Osborne, Mehmed Gribajcevic, saz player; Alma sings “Emina”, Damir Imamovic, Amela Saric, Kristina Koric, Omer Pobric, Accordion; Monica Brett-Crowther, Andy Morton, Robert Rice, Merima,

Update: Balkan Song by Nada Miljković

I’ve just discovered a detailed, thoughtful presentation on Sevdalinka, its meaning and position in world culture – linking Sevdalinka to Fado, Saudade, Samba, Blues. It was part of a Masters of Fine Art thesis submission by Nada Miljković, a Yugoslav-born Muslim now living in the USA. The paper focuses on how sevdah encapsulates the condition of women in Ottoman (and current Muslim) society.

An example: “As mentioned above, Sevdahlinke are complicated both in performance and historical background, as well syntactically. The lyrics of Sevdalinkes are written from both the male and female point of view and sung by either, without changing the lyrics or gender. For example, the song “Moj Dilbere”, a very popular Sevdalinke known throughout the Balkans, including Turkey, is definitely from the female point of view and yet is sung by men. From the beginning, the music was distinguishable between women and men not by the lyrics but by the delivery. Women sang the songs as more internal expression, subdued, subtle and refined. On the other hand, the men sang the songs loudly, lewdly and with abandon. This performance can be seen as a metaphor of the two different power positions. It is emblematic of the all-powerful male, cavalier in his actions, and the subservient docile female. A woman sang these songs because her heart forced the song out of her throat so as to not drown. A man sang it with zealous abandon.

Sevdah was sung and performed by the elite for the elite. It began with cloistered urban women living in an extreme patriarchal culture singing these songs. They sang quietly for themselves or the other women of the family inside walled compounds that were their homes. The exception was when they were brought out to sing and enrapture a wealthy man who the father or patriarch wanted his daughter to marry. Many times these women were often forced into marriages and had no opportunities for escape. These women lacked choices due to combinations of factors from “economic resources, illiteracy, cultural expectations, family obligations, war…” Once married, it was possible that the bride was shipped off to another compound and bound the husband’s family to be treated as they wished. Some of the saddest of Sevdah songs are those sung at the wedding preparations by the mother of the bride. She essentially is losing her daughter, sometimes forever.

Today, men and women sing Sevdalinke, the songs of Sevdah. When the men sing, the style is louder with dramatic affectations as means to encourage dramatic behavior. Also there is a cultural norm that allows for men affected by listening to the music to behave violently and masochistically through cutting. This cultural phenomenon is found throughout the Balkans. As mentioned above, they are prominently found in Emir Kusturica’s filmic language. Andrei Simić writes of it as “ritual containment of machismo in the Balkans.”

The strict separation of women, imposed by Islam ethics, reflected in the Muslim urban environment, and the culture of living that was partially transferred to the entire urban population: wealthy households had separated female and male rooms or even constructed separate buildings, selamluk and haremluk as well as female and male court-yards, with high walls or a wooden fence around it, in order to protect female faces from the glimpses from outside, but also to hide the maidens from their own cousins, grown men. A more moderate separation of girls that was practiced among the majority of the urban population, led to a special form of love encounters, ašikovanje , a gradual love acquainting with precisely established rules of love declaration, according to which, place, time and circumstances of the lovers’ meetings were rather precisely determined: it took place mostly on Friday afternoons, but also on other days and in different times of the day, at the gate or ašik pendžer , mušepci ... On days determined for flirting, boys used to walk in the streets in groups, and girls used to stand in ašik pendžer or to peer out through a half-open courtyard door. One of the typical ways of understanding each other in this love dialogue was sevdalinka, which represented a unique form of communication between the female voice singing behind mušebak, the courtyard wall, and the male voice singing on the other side of it

Examples of Sevdah Songs

There are well over 100 ‘traditional’ Sevdah songs, and new ones are being written. Each has MANY YouTubes. Consider this a random sample.


Possibly the most popular, most recorded Sevdah song.

Sung in the documentary above by Alma Bandic, Emina’s great-granddaughter.

Himzo Polovina sings “Emina”
MUSICa Sevdah Experience “Emina”
MoRS Blues Band “Emina”

Emina” (Cyrillic: Емина) is a poem by Bosnian poet Aleksa Šantić that became a popular sevdalinka song, covered by many prominent singers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and other parts of former Yugoslavia. It was first published in 1902 in the Serbian literary journal Kolo. The subject of the poem is Šantić’s neighbor, a Bosnian Muslim girl named Emina Sefić. It is one of the most well-known sevdalinka songs of all time.

Šantić's lyrics:     
     Serbo-Croatian 	                                        English translation

    Sinoć kad se vraćah iz topla hamama,   Last night, returning from the warm hamam  
    prođoh pokraj bašče staroga imama.     I passed by the garden of the old Imam
    Kad tamo u bašči, u hladu jasmina         And lo, in the garden, in the shade of a jasmine,
    s ibrikom u ruci stajaše Emina.               There with a pitcher in her hand stood Emina.

    Ja kakva je pusta! Tako mi imana,          What beauty! By iman I could swear,      
    stid je ne bi bilo da je kod sultana.         She would not be ashamed if she were at the sultan’s!
    Pa još kada šeće i plećima kreće,           And the way she walks and her shoulders move...
    ni hodžin mi zapis više pomoć' neće!      -- Not even an Imam’s amulet could help me!

    Ja joj nazvah selam. Al' moga mi dina,    I offered her salaam, but by my dīn,
    ne šće ni da čuje lijepa Emina,                Beautiful Emina would not even hear it.
    već u srebrn ibrik zahvatila vode,           Instead, scooping water in her silver pitcher,
    pa niz bašču đule zaljevati ode.              Around the garden she went to water the roses.

    S grana vjetar puhnu, pa niz pleći puste  A wind blew from the branches down her lovely shoulders
    rasplete joj njene pletenice guste.           Unraveling those thick braids of hers.
    Zamirisa kosa, k'o zumbuli plavi,             Her hair gave off a scent of blue hyacinths,
    a meni se krenu bururet u glavi!              Making me giddy and confused!

    Malo ne posrnuh, mojega mi dina,           I nearly stumbled, I swear by my faith,
    al' meni ne dođe lijepa Emina.                  But beautiful Emina did not come to me.
    Samo me je jednom pogledala mrko,       She only gave me a frowning look,
    niti haje, alčak, što za njome crko'!          Not caring, the naughty one, that I am crazy for her!

Many artists have covered the song, but the version by fellow Mostar native, Bosnian singer Himzo Polovina, remains the most popular. Upon hearing of the death of Emina Sefić, Polovina went to poetess Sevda Katica’s home in the Mostar neighbourhood Donja Mahala. He found her in the yard of the family home, informed her of Emina’s death and she shuddered with grief and spoke the verses:

    Umro stari pjesnik, umrla Emina          The old poet has died, Emina has died
    ostala je pusta bašća od jasmina         The empty garden of jasmine was left behind
    salomljen je ibrik                                  The pitcher is broken
    uvelo je cvijeće                                    The flowers have withered
    pjesma o Emini, nikad umrijet neće.    The song about Emina, will never die

Himzo Polovina recorded the song and added Sevda’s new verses. Some have suggested adopting the words from “Emina” as the lyrics for the wordless Bosnian national anthem, due to its connection to Bosniaks, Croats, and Serbs (the three main Bosnian ethnic groups) alike. Source for information and lyrics of Emina – Wikipedia

Divanhana – Ermina

Što te nema

Jadranka Stojakovic sings (1981) “Sto te nema” (Why Aren’t You Here).
Amira Medunjanin and Boško Jović “Što te nema” live

The lyrics are excerpts from a poem by Aleksa Šantić. A Herzegovinian Serb, his poetry reflecting both the urban culture of the region and the growing national awareness. The most common themes of his poems are social injustice, nostalgic love, suffering of the Serb people, and the unity of the South Slavs. He was the editor-in-chief of the magazine Zora (1896–1901). Šantić was one of the leading persons of Serbian literary and national movement in Mostar. In 1914 Šantić became a member of the Serbian Royal Academy.

    Translation based on a performance by: Amira Medunjanin
    Also performed by: Alkonost Of Balkan, Bosnian Folk
Što te nema, što te nema                 Why are you not here, why are you not here,
kad na mlado poljsko cvijeće            when on fresh field flowers
biser niže ponoć nijema?                  the silent midnight is stringing a pearl?
Kroz grudi mi želja lijeće.                  Desire is flying through my chest.
Što te nema, što te nema                 Why are you not here, why are you not here,
a...što te nema?                                ah, why are you not here?
Kad mi sanak pokoj dade                 When daydreaming gives me good rest,
i duša se miru sprema,                     and my soul is prepared for peace,
//kroz srce se glasak krade              //a voice is sneaking through my heart,
što te nema, što te nema                 why are you not here, why are you not here,
a...što te nema?//                             ah, why are you not here?//
Procvjetala svaka staza                    Every path has blossomed
k'o što bješe divnih dana.                 like they were in brilliant days.
Po ružama i sad prska                      Now on the roses is sprayed
bistra voda šadrvana                        clear water of the fountain,
a...šadrvana.                                     ah the fountain.
Ispod rose zumbul gleda,                 From under the dew a hyacinth is watching,
iz behara miris vije,                           and from the blossom fragrance spreads,
a za mene k'o da cvili                       but for me it's like it's moaning,
i u bolu suze lije                                and in pain pouring out tears,
a...suze lije.                                       ah pouring out tears.
I u času bujne sreće                         And in this moment of exuberant happiness,
i kad tuga uzdah sprema,                and when sorrow is preparing a sigh,
//moja ljubav pjesmu kreće              //my love is starting a song,
što te nema, što te nema                 why are you not here, why are you not here,
a...što te nema?//                             ah why are you not here?//

Submitted by lakojelakoje on Mon, 09/03/2015 - 11:47
Last edited by NatoskaNatoska on Sat, 29/10/2016 - 19:05
Found here:

U Stambolu Na Bosforu

U Stambolu Na Bosforu (In Istanbul on the Bosphorous) sung by Zaim Imamović
U Stambolu Na Bosforu (In Istanbul on the Bosphorous) Sung by Safet Isović
U Stambolu na Bosforu (English translation)  

    Artist: Safet Isović
    Song: U Stambolu na Bosforu
    Translations: English, Russian
Bosnian                                                                     English translation
U Stambolu na Bosforu                                             In Istanbul at the Bosphorus
U Stambolu na Bosforu bolan paša leži,                   In Istanbul at the Bosphorus the pasha lies sick.
duša mu je na izmaku, crnoj zemlji teži.                    his soul is on the decline, and yearns for the black earth.
molitva je njemu sveta,                                              prayer for him is holy,
dok mujezin s minareta uci glasom svim:                  when from the minaret, the muezzin calls out:
"Allah illallah, selam alejkjum"!                                  "allah ilallah, salaam aleikum."!
"Dok ste vjerno sluge moje služili moj harem,           "Since, my servants, you have faithfully served my harem,
neka od vas svako uzme sedam žena barem".           let each one of you take at least seven wives."
iz oka mu suza kanu,                                                  a tear dropped from his eye,
pa na minder mrtav pa´nu,                                         and he fell dead on the divan,
stari musliman.                                                            the old muslim…
"Allah illallah, selam alejkjum"!                                   "Allah illallah, selam alejkjum"!
Kad je čula pašinica za tu tužnu vijest,                      When the pasha’s wife heard about this sad news,
da se paša preselio na ahiret svijet.                           that the pasha had moved onto the afterlife,
iz oka joj suza kanu,                                                    a tear dropped from her eye
pokraj paše mrtva pa´nu,                                           and she fell dead on the divan,
ljubav pašina.                                                             the pasha’s beloved…
"Allah illallah, selam alejkjum"!                                   "Allah illallah, selam alejkjum"!
Submitted by trulextrulex on Wed, 05/12/2012 - 11:37
Last edited by FaryFary on Thu, 21/02/2019 - 18:02

Ten misconceptions about Sevdah

Damir Imamović talks Sevdah.

Snijeg pade na behar na voće

Damir Imamović & Sevdah Takht.

Il’ je vedro, il’ oblačno

Bekha i Ljuca.
Alma Bandic
Emina Zecaj.
Lyrics in Bosnian 	                English translation 	

Il' je vedro, il' oblačno,           It's either clear, or clouded
Il' je hladna noć,                    Or is it a cold night
Il' je sunce, il' je mjesec,        It's either the sun, or the moon
Il' je b'jeli dan?                       Or is it a white day?
Nit' je vedro, nit' oblačno,      It's neither clear, nor clouded
Nit' je tamna noć,                   Nor is it a dark night
Nit' je sunce, nit' je mjesec,   It's neither the sun, nor the moon
Nit' je b'jeli dan,                      Nor a white day,
Već je ono Sokolović,             Instead it's Sokolović,
Mlad Ibrahim-beg.                  Young Ibrahim bey.
Zanio se, unio se,                   Got carried away, carried into,
U svoj golem nam,                  His immense intent,
Sto on ljubi sultaniju,              That he loves sultana,
Sultan Zulejhu!                        Sultana Zuleyha!
"Reci Zulko, reci dušo,           "Tell me Zulka, tell me my love,
sta sam tebi ja?"                     what am I to you?"
"Ti si, Ibro, alem sunce,          "You are, Ibro, the jewel Sun,
sto nad nama sja!"                  that glows upon us!"

Oj, golube, moj golube,

Electric Sevdah Group featuring Marija Šestić. Moj golube (My dove)
Oj, golube, moj golube,                           Oh dove, my dove
ne padaj mi na maline, goro zelena,        don't fall on my raspberries, green forest
ne padaj mi na maline, ružo rumena!      don't fall on my raspberries, red rose! 

Maline su još zelene,                               The raspberries are still green,
maline su još zelene.                               raspberries are still green.
Kad maline budu zrele, goro zelena,       When the raspberries become ripe, green forest,
kad maline budu zrele, ružo rumena.      when the raspberries become ripe, red rose. 

I same će opadati,                                   They will fall themselves,
i same će opadati,                                   and they will fall themselves,
kao suze djevojačke, goro zelena,           like a girl's tear, green forest,
djevojačke i momačke, ružo rumena       a girl's and a man's, red rose!

Sejdefu majka buđaše

“Sejdefu majka buđaše” Scene from the Turkish TV series “Suleiman the Magnificent”
OriginalEnglish translation
Sejdefu majka buđaše
ustani kćeri moja, Sejdefo
Zar misliš majko
da ja spim
ja ti se mlada s dušom dijelim
zovi mi majko komšije
i prvo moje gledanje
što smo se majko gledali u šajku lađu na more
Sejdefa’s mother wakes
her Rise, my daughter Sejdefa!
Do you think, mother
that I’m asleep?
At this young age, I’m parting with my soul.
Call the neighbors, mother
And my first love. The one whose eyes met mine
On a boat out at sea.

Ah moj doro

Pedrag Cune Gojkovic.

A song about a conversation with a horse!

Bosnian:                                    A Google translation:
Ah, moj doro, dobri doro,         Ah, my doro, good doro,
šta je tebi dodijalo:                    what bored you:
Lahko sedlo šimširovo,             Light boxwood saddle,
il' uzdica pozlaćena,                 or the bridle guilded,
il' kamdžija biserlija?"               or a whip of pearls? "
"Ah, moj gazdo, dobri gazdo,   "Ah, my boss, good boss,
nije meni dodijalo                      I didn't get bored
lahko sedlo šimširovo,              light boxwood saddle,
nit' uzdica pozlaćena,               nor is the bridle gilded,
nit' kamdžija biserlija!               not a whip of pearls!
Već je meni dodijalo,                I'm tired of it already,
svake noći putujući,                  traveling every night,
kad ti ideš u mejhanu,              when you go to the mejhan,
mene vezeš pred mejhanu,      you tie me up in front of mejhan,
grizem travu iz kor'jena,           I bite the grass from the roots,
pijem vodu sa kamena,             I drink water from a rock,
to je meni dodijalo!"                  that bored me! "

Moj Dilbere

The legendary Nada Mamula. Moj Dilbere will have its own posting soon.

Pokraj Save bagrem dvo raste

EMINA ZECAJ … “Pokraj Save bagrem drvo raste”

Insights from Nevan Tunjić and Lejla Ćatić of Divanhana and Lejla Jusić.

Nevan Tunjić and Lejla Ćatić from Divanhana, and Lejla Jusić. Featured songs; “Ermina”; “Il’ je vedro, il’ oblačno”;

Aj mene majka jednu ima


Here’s a source for Sevdah CD’s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: