Bosnian singer, songwriter and sevdah tradition–
bearer Damir Imamovic is a firm believer in the
power of song to connect and transport. On this
new album The World and All That It Holds he
performs original compositions and traditional
songs in Bosnian and Sephardic Ladino with
breathtaking emotion and conviction. Created
as a musical companion to Bosnian-American
author Aleksandar Hemon’s epic novel of the
same name, the songs tell stories of love and
loss, hardship and perseverance. Imamovic’s
music invokes the spirit of the cultural melting
pot that is Sarajevo, his lifelong home, reflecting
sevdah’s rich historical influences while invigorating
It wasn’t at all obvious that Damir Imamovic would become a musician, much less a visionary who would lead an insurgency within the world of Bosnian sevdah. Born in 1978 into a famous
Sarajevo musical family, the sounds and words of sevdalinkas (songs of sevdah) surrounded him during his childhood. But he at first resisted the family tradition.
The word sevdah comes from the Arabic rendering of the Greek melan cholos, which means, literally, “black bile.” The word also made its way into Portuguese (saudade) and Turkish (sevda) to express longing and love. Sevdah has its lyrical roots in South Slavic folk poetry from as far back as the 16th century which was embraced by the Romantic movement that arrived when Bosnia and Herzegovina became part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century. Its musical form emerged in the fin de siècle cafés of Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Travnik, and Mostar where Bosnian musicians blended Eastern influences from the Ottoman Empire with traditional Slavic and European melodies. Similar musical revolutions were taking place in urbanizing cultures the world over, giving birth to Portuguese fado, Argentine tango, and Greek rembetika.
Over the long months sheltering during the Siege of Sarajevo, Damir picked up the guitar and discovered old songs. After a few years away studying philosophy, a family project to catalog his grandfather’s repertoire brought him back to sevdah. Damir began performing regularly in 2005 and has been touring ever since, across the Balkans and Europe, and also to the United States, China, and Mexico. He has recorded seven acclaimed albums and his last, Singer of Tales, won “Best of Europe” at the Songlines Music Awards and the 2020 Transglobal World Music Charts.