THE PIONEERS OF 21st-CENTURY SEVDAH
Mostar Sevdah Reunion is an exquisite group of artists who share the same passion. Some might say that they live for Sevdah, and that could be the only reason for their existence. Decoding and representing this over 400-year-old traditional music from Bosnia and Herzegovina is a challenging task to undertake. Despite all obstacles, MSR kept going.
The story begins in 1993 when Dragi Šestić, the producer and founder of the band, recorded an audiocassette with a couple of tracks that were distributed in limited edition among their friends. Those were the times of war in the Balkans, and the reason for recording was just a getaway episode to momentarily forget all the atrocities and suffering. Then, they made the promise that “the whole world will know about Sevdah” – one day when the war would come to an end. They fulfilled the promise and recorded their first album, “Mostar Sevdah Reunion,” in 1998. Since that day, they have been captivating their audiences wherever they go.
Diversity in musical backgrounds and individual virtuosity in a collective that never performed two identical gigs in a row make them unique in the World Music scene. Working and recording with Saban Bajramović – “A Gypsy Legend,” Ljiljana Buttler – “The Mother of Gypsy Soul,” Esma Redzepova – “The Queen of Gypsies,” Boban Marković, Naat Veliov, and Amira Medunjanin, they intend to showcase the variety of Balkan music and give due respect to the finest and uncompromised authors of genuine Gypsy music.
The style of the band has evolved since its early days, along with many of its members. Guitar and piano have joined the violin and accordion as lead instruments, while a younger generation of singers has taken over as vocalists. However, the music remains fluid, thoughtful, and an effective reminder that there is more to Balkan music than the high-octane brass bands and drunken stomping of popular imagination.
After their acclaimed 2013 concept album, “Tales From a Forgotten City,” entirely dedicated to the beautiful and troubled Mostar and her poets and singers, they now come back with something different, in line with the tradition of discovering and presenting forgotten and new talent. “The Balkan Autumn” (2018) features one of the best-kept musical secrets of the region: Milutin Sretenovic “Sreta,” an incredible 70-year-old crooner from Serbia who mixes Sinatra-like jazzy vocals with Spanish flamenco and Oriental maqams. Another new voice at Sreta’s side is 27-year-old Antonija Batinić, the latest star of Sevdah music, whose vocal abilities seem to be without limits.
After Sreta’s death in the summer of 2021, the young Antonija became the main vocalist of the band.