feels good and right to be in Seattle with my family and friends after
making music all over the United States the past couple of
months. Here are tales and photos from the road and other
memorable moments from the 2005-06 season.
SEVDAH INSTITUTE AMERICAN TOUR
Building on the summer 2005 residency at the Sevdah Institute in the village of Mulići, by Visoko a town about 30-minutes' drive from Sarajevo, I joined Omer Pobrić and his team of gifted singers Hasiba Agić, Nusreta Kobić and Esed Kovašević on a tour to the largest Bosnian communities in the United States. The experience was meaningful on so many levels that finding the best way to describe it, the best place to start, is challenging. Before diving in, however, I first want to acknowledge the time and effort Murat Muratović poured into planning and organizing the tour.
Though sponsored by the Bosniak Congress of North America, it was Murat who we have to thank for making it a reality. Due to a delay in getting the visas issued, that Murat was able to set up such an ambitious tour in a very small window of time is nothing short of a miracle. Murat, who lives in St. Louis, also holds down a full time job, is president of Dijaspora Bosnjacka, a Bosnian-American newspaper, and hosts Radio Behar (www.bosnianmediagroup.com). Why did he devote so much time, energy and take the financial risk to make this tour a reality? It reflects his constant commitment to Bosnian culture in America, his leadership, vision and love of sevdalinke. Murat has agreed to help establish and serve as President of the Sevdah Institute in America. Of course, Murat had assistance all along the way, but one of his real right arms was Fadil Velic who was Number One in Chicago. Fadil drove the team from Chicago to Grand Rapids and back, then from Chicago to Detroit. Fadil always seemed to be there to help in his calm way with whatever was needed. Hvala, Fadile!
During the three weeks in June we crossed the country from east to west several times: Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC, Jacksonville, Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and back to Chicago. In every city we were met by a kind group of people (correction - formerly known as people now as friends) who lavished us with hospitality. We ate so much delicious Bosnian food and drank so many cups of thick Bosnian coffee that I tipped the scale at a weight I haven’t seen since carrying my last baby! In every city there was one person or a small group of committed worker bees who arranged concerts, our accommodations, care and feeding, transportation, etc. Many heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you!
I met up with the Sevdah Institute team in Detroit where Rasim Nikočević organized the concert. I stayed at the Nikočević's; Nusreta and Hasiba stayed with Igbala (Rasim's sister) and Selman Medunjanin, while Omer and Esed stayed with yet another family. One of the really special memories of the tour is spending a fun day together Rasim's dear wife Ezreta "Ezzy," Igbala, Hasiba and Nusreta. We visited the Ford Museum, had a picnic, visited the monumental Islamic Center and returned to Igbala's for ™evapi that evening. During that time we do what women do – talk talk talk laugh laugh laugh and generally let our hair down. That's to dear Ezzy for that special day and for all the spiritual gifts she shared with me.
The team gave me a huge surprise at the Detroit concert by performing a song that Omer had written, "Mary the American sings sevdalinke like a Bosnian!" I was reduced to a puddle of tears. It was so kind and such an honor.
Another wonderful memory that night was meeting Adem Hamdić. Adem and I have been corresponding via email for about a year. He is a sweet senior who lives in Ontario and absolutely loves sevdalinke. Often he'll email me at night to tell me one of my songs is being played on Bosnian radio. He was in tears during most of the concert. This music hits hearts so deeply and centrally. Over the course of the tour we saw many tears and much joy. I was so touched that Adem came all the way by bus to attend the concert. Hvala ti, Ademe!
While in Detroit, Rasim drove me up to Windsor, just across the border in Ontario, for a radio appearance with Senad Aličehajić. Senad volunteers his time each Sunday and hosts a Bosnian show on 91.5FM (listen to him live or archived shows at www.cjam.ca). Senad is an extremely hardworking young man with a beautiful wife and baby girl. He has created the first collection of Bosnian books to be shelved in a Canadian library, holds down a full time job in mental health counseling, writes articles for Bosnian newspapers Sabah and Diaspora, attends Bosniak Congress conferences and more. Senade! How do you do it?
From Detroit we flew to Washington DC. You can imagine that performing at the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina was deeply important to all of us. We were welcomed at the Embassy with a lovely lunch including pita prepared by Ambassador Bisera Turković herself! We enjoyed some great conversation with Bisera and Mirza Hajrić of the World Bank. At the time, there was an interesting exhibit on the walls concerning the Hagada, the Jewish codex brought to Bosnia in the 15th century with Jews escaping from Spain. It is a source of real pride that it has been protected and preserved in Sarajevo through several wars. After lunch, we rushed back to the hotel to change our clothes and head to the White House and Capitol for photo ops. I had never been to DC and found it extremely poignant to see these American icons for the first time with my Bosnian friends. We all gathered in front of the White House gates, Omer with his accordion. He pulled open the bellows and I expected he would launch into a moving sevdalinka. Instead, I heard "When the Saints Come Marching In!" Though we wanted to see more sights, we had little time so had to rush back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for the concert that evening.
As in all our concerts, Omer's comments were not translated into English. Despite that, the many people who did not speak Bosnian loved the concert and the impromptu after party! After partaking of the delicious food and beverages at the post-concert reception, Omer put his accordion back on and a big crowd stayed on into the wee hours singing away, including Ambassador Turković! Amra Alirejsović from Voice of America filmed the concert and conducted interviews with each of us. The program was broadcast for several days in Bosnia. Omer received many text and phone messages of congratulations. This experience ranks among the highlights of my musical career.
The next morning we hopped an early morning flight, this time to Jacksonville where we enjoyed meeting new friends in this tropical locale. We spent many happy hours in the home of imam Ahmed Efendija Ceric enjoying delicious food and great conversation. The main organizer in Jacksonville was Elmir Slavić, a young man who has definitely 'made it' in America as a real estate agent and distributor of Tahitian Noni Juice (www.elmirslavic.com). We enjoyed swimming in the luxurious pool at Elmir's condo, as well as the stunning view from his deck. One evening he and his family hosted a party for us atop the building. In attendance was an American violinist named Beverly Chapman who entertained us playing sevdalinke. Elmir and friend Alma Clausen organized our concert at the Bolero Restaurant.
Alma also kindly put me up in her beautiful home singing with her love bird. where I enjoyedAlma had a tough time of it during the war. We spent an evening talking together late into the night. After having heard so many horrible stories these past years and seen the remnants of war in Bosnia, it is even more heart breaking to know that people are suffering in the same way in the Middle East today. What is this confounding capacity in humans to rain violence upon each other, while at the same time being such wells of kindness?
A highlight while in Florida was our visit to St. Augustine, the historic Spanish settlement established in 1565 on the coast. The main purpose of visiting St. Augustine was to film 'spots' that will be shown in Bosnia. Spots are, basically, music videos in which we lip sync from a recording being played on a boom box. This time the spot featured one of Esed's gorgeous melefluous tunes.
This is the home town of Murat Muratović, the tour planner, organizer and manager. He and his friend Rusmin Topalović pulled out all the stops for us in St. Louis. We stayed in one of St Louis' finest hotels. My room even had a view of the arch! After dropping off our bags we went directly to Grbić Restaurant in the Bosnian neighborhood of Bevo. This was a dying area of St. Louis, but the B-H refugees brought it back to life. There are approximately 60,000 Bosnians living in St. Louis!
It was so good to see Suljo and Emina Grbić again. I had been at their restaurant the year before with Balkan Cabaret and again this April to sing for a fund raising event (see story below). The Grbićs and their kids have created a real center for the Bosnian community. The atmosphere, the food, the obvious love they pour into everything – well, I just can't praise them enough. After the concert we returned to Grbić Restaurant for an incredible spread. I'll never forget the line of cooks parading out with platter after delicious platter of food!
We also visited Imam Muhamed Hasić at the Islamic Community Center in St. Louis. During our brief visit to his office, crowded with papers and books, a number of people came in to ask for assistance with myriad issues. There were many children running around the facility, as well, having just finished class. The facility pulsated with community life.
Hasiba, Nusreta and I spent a wonderful day with the Memić family in St. Louis who are old friends of Hasiba. Senada made us a delicious lunch and demonstrated how to make a pita from scratch. First she made the dough from flour and water, stretching it over the table top so it was paper thin. She then adeptly cut and folded it in on itself again and again, sprinkling oil as she worked. This was a plain pita served with sour cream, but often they are filled with cheese, spinach or meat. Pita is completely delicious and can be applied directly to one's waist and thighs! Their daughter Emina was as sweet as she could be. On a shopping expedition to buy gifts to take back home, she bought each of us a gift. Mine is a gold choker necklace, as well as a zipper purse for my daughter and t-shirt for my son. Emina is only 9, but look how she already embodies the core values of generosity and hospitality so central to Bosnian culture. Bravo, Emina!
The concert in St Louis was held in a very beautiful facility. I would guess there were about 500 people there seated at round tables. The emotion in the room was particularly high. So much joy, so many tears. I was very happy to see my friends Barbara and John Uhlemann in attendance. They were blown away by the singing and emotion in the room. John hosts a weekly Balkan music radio show at 4pm on Saturdays (www.kdhx.org). Barbara and John have brought Balkan Cabaret to St Louis for several events. Great people! Another person I was thrilled to see was Edin "Dido" Alunović and his wife. Dido is an incredible drummer who has played with everyone who's anyone, Denis Saleš (bass) and Semir Melkić (accordion). I recently watched a DVD of Dido playing with singer Halid Bešlić in Hollywood. WOW! Dido, you are awesome!
You can imagine how excited I was to have Omer, Hasiba, Nusreta and Esed in my home town (yes, I'm one of the rare Seattle natives). Having been so generous to me in Bosnia, here was a chance to offer Omer and company some hospitality and have them meet my family and dear friends. I kept asking people to pinch me to see whether I was dreaming. Imam Abdulah Polovina was the main organizer of the events in Seattle along with Dr. Muhamed Sarašević. Omer praised their efforts many times during their days in Seattle.
Beautiful Kerry Park overlooking downtown Seattle was the sight for filming a number of spots in Seattle.
I arrived late to our performance because it was also my son's graduation from elementary school. Never a dull moment! I could hardly contain my excitement as I drove to the theater for I had a big surprise in store for Omer. Mayor Greg Nickels proclaimed June 16, 2006, "Omer Pobrić Day" in the City of Seattle. It was wonderful to be able to present this to him. Edina MiŁut translated into Bosnian as I read the proclamation in English. Edina, by the way, is Vice President of Behar, a local Seattle dance group which is on a performance tour in Bosnia (www.baca-seattle.org). On July 17 they performed in the Baščaršiske Noći Festival in Sarajevo. I was very touched to receive a thank you plaque from the Islamic Community of Bosniaks in Washington for my help in helping to preserve and promotion Bosnian music and culture.
Early the next morning with no sleep, we boarded a plane for our concert in Atlanta that night. I was completely impressed by the quality of the team's performances despite long flights and little sleep. These people are pros! Our time was very short in Atlanta. Basically, we arrived, performed, slept for two hours an and flew away. Mustafa Kurtić was the main organizer there and did a great job finding us a nice hotel, feeding and transporting us. I hope to have the opportunity to spend more time with this wonderful community. It was too short!
Another early morning flight brought us back to Chicago and the loving Fehratović family who met us at the airport and took us to their beautiful home where we stayed. During the Sevdah team's first concert in Chicago they had met the Fehratović's and couldn't wait to see them again. I understood why immediately. Elvira and Samir are exceptionally warm and wonderful people. In general, Bosnians love to joke, but these two took that to a new level. It was one constant laugh. Their sons Ammar and Ahmed were very sweet, as was Elvira's mom ‹ida. I won't even start in about all the delicious food they prepared for us. My tight waistebands are a daily reminder!
This, the final concert on the tour, was held again at the White Eagle, the same venue as the 100th anniversary of Bosnians in America (see Balkan Cabaret story below) which was the first concert of the tour. So much had happened during those intervening weeks. We had so many unforgettable experiences, but were definitely ready to go home.
It was so hard to say goodbye at the airport as I flew west and they to the east. I look at the photos and my heart tugs. 'Ako Bog da,' we will meet again soon to create more beautiful music!
Fund Raiser for Bosnian Children's Library in St. Louis
Organized by Daniela Saleš, this event was held in a packed Grbic Restaurant in St. Louis. It was a truly memorable evening with the excitement running high and the walls vibrating. Many thanks to both Mensur Hatić and John Uhleman for inviting Daniela and I to be guests on their radio programs! It was a joy to see Marvin Moehle, Sean Donaldson and other good friends. The previous year Marvin's mother gave me a beautiful white hankie crocheted with sequins which I use frequently in gigs around the States. Thanks momma! It was a real honor for me to sing with Denis Saleš (bass) and Semir Melkić (accordion) and Edin "Dido" Alunović (drums). Daniela and her team made some money and a good time was had by all. Daniela is one of many community heros who constantly work for their community and culture.
Here are some highlights of Balkan Cabaret's 2005-2006 season. Click for more photos.
BC Midwest Tour
Thanks to Eddie Cordray and Leslie Hyll in Dayton, Ohio, Balkan Cabaret made their second Midwest tour in June. Eddie was financier, chauffeur and sound engineer for the tour.
Our first gig was at A World Affair, the 33rd annual Dayton International Folk Festival. This home grown grassroots event is a long tradition in Dayton. It is held in the convention center over the course of a weekend and reflects the many cultures represented in the Dayton area through displays, vendors, performances and lots of delicious food. Because it is in one building participants and attendees necessarily rub elbows very closely, the result being a really rich human tapestry and unforgettable images like the Scots taking a drumming lesson from a Kenyan. For all the photos click here.
Leaving me at home nursing a sore throat, the BC guys went over with their instruments one day to serenade the workers at the South Slavic booth. Man, was I sorry I missed that. The guys came back floating on air as they helped create a big scene of singing and dancing around the booth. Magic!
Believe it or not, we also played at a local Applebee's, mostly for a very exhausted group of dancers from Živio Ensemble who had performed and worked at the festival all weekend. It was great to see them kick back and enjoy the tunes. The first day we arrived in Dayton we went to the Applebee's to check it out. While there we met waiter Dimitar Popov, an 18 year old from Macedonia. He brought his father and friends to our show there a few days later and actually sat in on hand drum for a couple of lesnotos. A very bright kid, Dimitar is graduating from high school and going off to a full college scholarship. At Balkan Cabaret's folk dance party performance, the Popov's brought us gorgeous prints which Alexandar Popv, a relative, had created. They portray stylized women harvesters and men dancers, as well as sketches of points of interest in Macedonia. Gorgeous and an enduring reminders of our time together! Merci mnogo!
In addition, we played for a folk dance party held at the Czech Slovak Club. Great floor. Plenty of room. Tables. It was wonderful to meet Enisa Trako who is the sister-in-law of Mensur Hatić, a popular singer and radio show host in St. Louis. I had the pleasure to be on Mensur's show to promote the children's library fund raiser in April. Thank you again, Mensur! Thank you, Dayton!
It was a pretty easy drive over to Chicago where we played at the Jovial Club in the heart of the old Slavic neighborhood of Chicago. This club is tamburica centrale, the place where all the biggies have played for decades. The interior resembled a movie set. Low ceilings, dark, tough, the feeling of decades of good and bad life. If walls could talk there would be some real stories here. Several musical friends were quite surprised Balkan Cabaret was playing the Jovial Club since our music doesn't fit the typical style there. Well, we had a really good in. Dear Milan Opacich was kind enough to put a good word in for us. It is an honor to know Milan who we met during our last tour. He is a recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship Award, the nations highest cultural award recognizing his accomplishments as a musician and master instrument builder. His recently published book, Tamburitza America published by Black Mountain, is a must for anyone interested in American tamburica.
Ed Sambor, who books the bands at Jovial, filled a table with fun folks. Milan and Roslyn Opacich were there. Some crazy guys at the bar added spice. Old time tamburica players came to check us out. We really had the feeling of – Who is this unknown group of non-Slavs from Seattle? I guess we made a good impression because we have a standing invitation to return! We hope to!
On May 27 our tour intersected with that of Omer Pobrić and the Sevdah Institute team at the 100th anniversary of Bosnians in America concert in Chicago. Balkan Cabaret was extremely honored and proud to perform before over a 1000 Bosnians from all over America and beyond. What a thrill to sing for this gathering. We did a short set at about midnight after enjoying a huge meal and many speeches. The warmth (no air conditioning so I'm talking really warm!) and enthusiasm we received touched our hearts. Of course, it was a special thrill to show off Balkan Cabaret to Omer and company!
It was very exciting to watch Seattle's Sevdah ensemble directed by Denis BaŁić perform (www.sevdahlije.com). More specifically, to see the crowd's reaction. Sevdah blew their minds! The dancers were wilting while waiting in the hot room in costume for a couple of hours, but when they performed they were all pro. The crowd was very impressed by their dance ability, their museum-like costumes and the artistic creativity in Denis' choreographies. Bravo Sevdah! Bravo Denis!
Balkan Cabaret's final concert was in Long Grove, an affluent suburb of Chicago. This concert was organized by Rich Thomas' old friend Tobin Fraley. They danced together in San Francisco's Westwind Ensemble thirty years ago and had many a wild youthful adventure. Today, Tobin is renown as a photographer and has many other creative gifts (www.tobinfraley.com). Tobin and his wife Rachel Perkel run a fabulous gallery, Woodland Grove Gallery, and are leaders in their community. I treated our family to a new piece of gorgeous art from their gallery (tiles set in a wooden frame with three lovely songbirds singing their hearts out) which will be an enduring memory of them and our time together. Their home and lives reflect the love of art, friends and quality.
I stayed with their friend Jackie Jaffe and her two dogs Lilly and Baxter in a nearby community. Jackie spoiled me rotten! She even sent home treats for my dog Spottie & cat Sassy! Not only that, she Fed X'd the dress I had forgotten in her closet in time for my tour with Omer! Tobin, Rachel, Jackie and I shared one of the finest meals I have ever eaten - in a French Bistro in a strip mall. It was like walking through the Looking Glass going from Illinois and stepping into Paris.
The show in Long Grove was intimate. Tobin introduced a few moments of silence in observance of Veteran's Day. People danced and sang to the moving and peppy tunes of Balkan Cabaret. Just before the final bow I had a coughing fit and had to run into the bathroom where I'm sure my coughs echoed around the room. Well...bodies and mother nature keep us humble.
Arriving in Seattle at the end of the tour, Balkan Cabaret went our separate ways, back to "real life" of jobs and families, facing the constant challenge of balancing our artistic and personal lives. We thank our spouses and children for being so supportive as we take music into the world. I truly believe that we are bringing not only joy, but healing to hearts which have endured more than anyone should endure.