Thirteen years ago, with the Balkan conflicts raging, sweeping all culture into their gaping and destructive maw, it might’ve seemed more than fanciful to think that a band of traditional Bosnian musicians would rise out of the war’s ashes, but spread the popularity of its music around the world. Eight years into the career of Mostar Sevdah Reunion—the all-star assembly of musicians dedicated to sevdalinka music’s preservation—it’s hard to imagine there was ever any doubt.
With the band’s first U.S. tour set for the spring and summer of 2007, after a 2006 tour was aborted because of visa difficulties, Trade Root Music has released two of MSR’s more recent albums in the U.S.: The 2005 collaboration with gypsy-music legend Ljiljana Buttler, The Legends Of Life, and the band’s 2003 album, A Secret Gate. And while each displays Mostar Sevdah Reunion’s firm attachment to sevdalinka’s 400-year-old roots, the discs also show the willingness to carry this music into the 21st century that has made MSR’s concerts the closest thing to rock-star blowouts that strings-and-accordions Bosnian folk music might hope to attain.
Take The Legends Of Life’s “Karanfile Cvijece Moje,” in which clarinets spiral around the harmony vocals and guitar picks squeak off of strings, somewhere between ancient tradition and modern jazz. Or A Secret Gate’s “Nema Ljepse Cure Od Malene Djule,” which disregards sevdalinka’s frequently funereal pace in favor of a fierce stomp.
Mostar Sevdah Reunion’s musicianship is rarely rivaled in modern folk music: When even the rhythm guitar, supplied by Sandi Durakovic, warrants specific praise–his percussive flair is such that even the rhythm contains a melody within–you’ve reached the pinnacle. That these recordings are widely available in the States, and that perhaps their creators will visit these shores as they’ve done most of Europe for years, calls for rejoicing.