Amira Sings Balkan Sevdah at WOMEX 2013 (Video)

12/16/2013 01:24 pm ET | Updated Feb 15, 2014

Sevdah, or Sevdalinka, is a folk song form common throughout the former Yugoslavia, and has origins tracing back to Ottoman times, particularly in Bosnia. These songs have been handed down, over the five centuries, and are still a part of the culture of the area, and of late, new interpretations have arisen, placing these musical jewels into new settings. Although many of these melodies may have originally been sung a capella, it was also traditional for many years for the singer to simply be accompanied by a saz, or lute. (To hear what this sounded like, check out the impeccable Emina Zecaj here.)

Amira is certainly one of the best known of the new generation of Sevdah artists. Raised in Bosnia-Herzegovina, she learned most of the songs in her repertoire from her mother. She also displays the kind of bel canto interpretation that characterizes the form. Sevdah is not meant to be shouted or bluesy. Microtones may have possibly been an element at one point, but over time, what has remained are the sinuous lines and vaguely unresolved ends of melodies. It is a sophisticated, perfumed medium conveying longing, regret, and emotions unrequited. If this reminds you of the Portuguese saudade, you are not at all far off! The two words are actually related.

Amira sings a straight-ahead Sevdah. It is her backup band that sets her presentation apart, playing a jazz informed backup that never overwhelms the passionate reading of the songs.

"Zemi Me Zemi" is a song from South Serbia, and as Amira writes: "Both flirtatious and threatening, this song is an illustration of how a great desire can, if spurned, easily turn into hatred. How dangerous can love be?"

"Take me, marry me, why don't you take me?
If you marry anyone, it's me you should marry!
If you do not, then God will take you!"

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WOMEX is the World Music Expo that takes place in a different European city each year. For more about WOMEX, visit here.