Sarr e roma
Picture a café in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina – all the recent and ancient history of the place always there, implicit – where night after night some great acoustic, guitar-led music is played live. A café where a pared-down band of seasoned professionals is tearing down the roof with a carefully chosen selection of fantastic, indestructible, old tunes.
The band is great; seasoned pros, free of any pretense, genuine, and like the characters of their songs, somewhat ‘elegantly wasted’ – no strangers to drinking and a bit of debauchery. The place itself, imaginary or real, invokes those wonderful and almost forgotten institutions of the bohemian cafés as we used to know them. Worn and scrubby, brimming with history, personal or cultural, where writers and painters, actors and intellectuals would rub shoulders, with hookers and pickpockets – the places they all would call their second (sometimes first) home. Each one filled with stories, some painful, some wonderful, and their music of this band is the soundtrack.
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To duplicate that kind of atmosphere on the record, needless to say, was a tough task, but the Sarajevo’s Sarr e Roma and the producer Dragi Šestić, seem to have pulled it off on this album, giving it a fresh sound in the process. Their first task was to choose the right songs. And the choice is great – the tunes almost fighting against each other in their variety. The dynamics is everything here: opening with a couple of songs of up-tempo gypsy swing, then slowing it down with a heartfelt ballad, with some of those still impossibly beautiful, endlessly mysterious Russian gypsy classics, then, an odd Balkan gypsy gem loaded with energy and true madness; a few Bosnian Sevdah tunes, an authentic murder ballad with it pitch-black witty lyrics. To counter this and change the mood again, they throw in a song from the lowlands of Vojvodina – played in a double time with typically jovial, playful violin obbligatos, with an unmistakable Hungarian hue, giving us immediate sense of large, open spaces. When the atmosphere reaches the boiling point, the band slows it down again with a heart-wrenching fatalistic ballad written by Toma Zdravković, the great, tortured Yugoslav folk singer-songwriter. Expectedly, it picks up the tempo after that again.
A blend like that probably wouldn’t have worked if the band weren’t as good. We’ve said it already; the sextet is a really tight unit, yet there’s no doubt that the lead singer and guitarist Amit Karahasanović steals the show. A slight rasp in his rich baritone, his approach is refreshing – he sings with no pretense or exaggerated solemnity whatsoever, though he’ll inhabit the song when needed, ‘acting it out’ so to speak. One can imagine him stepping in front of the studio microphone, almost irreverently, just like every time he and his band took the bandstand during the countless gigs, and simply deliver every time. There is a sort of ‘shooting from the hip’ attitude here as well, in the way he moves from song to song, only adjusting slightly the pitch or the feel of the particular tune. Once he’ll croon like some Sarajevan Leonard Cohen, the other time he sings like a Gypsy wedding singer, with an audible joyful smirk, never taking himself to seriously. The band a well-oiled machine, as well as the guests with their contributions, seem to understand that perfectly and tunes with their playing: listen for example, to Nihad Krećo’s humorous and unexpected piano interventions during the Šaban Bajramović’s irrepressible classic “Guglo Kafava”, or that violin, played by Vanja Radoja, during the darkly funny “I Had Ten Women”; while Karahasanović sings about his wife who was “run over by a train” – defiantly mocking, like some Balkan’s Johnny Cash – the fiddle merrily responds by imitating the sound of the train horn – country style – just in case we might’ve missed it (!).
Sarr e roma - Sarayland
The guest who deserves a special mention is of course, Ljiljana Buttler, the veteran Gypsy diva who duets with Karahasanović in her own “Zvonija, zvonija”. Speaking of which; back in the eighties, in old Yugoslavia, Sarr e Roma were superstars, a band almost synonymous with a particular brand of Gypsy music. After a period of silence, the acoustic sextet, under the leadership of Karahasanović, the only remaining original member, reformed some time ago. This is their first international release, and with an album as good as this one, I can’t see them failing to win new audiences. But there might be yet another reason for that: after so many pitch-dark, heavy, moody records from the region, albums full of difficult personal stories, and with the ever-present collective history of the place always looming somewhere in the background, Sarr e Roma are bringing something else, something, both the music scene and the audiences are in a bad need of – a sense of fun, the fun of playing music, and of the good times their music never fails to put across.
The music has a light touch, it’s easy-going but never cheap, the band’s mileage is felt in every song and their delivery is effortless, yet there’s freshness and energy in abundance. There are no high concepts at work here, and still the music has a true depth and emotion; it can make you smile out of the sheer joy some of the faster songs and the musicianship radiate, and it can make you reflect and feel during the slower ones. It’ll certainly make you want to throw a party and dance. Above all, it’s – whisper it – romantic as very few records currently around. It’s music to fall in love to.
What more could we possibly ask for, these days?
Sarr e Roma are:
Amir Karahasanović – vocal and rhythm guitar
Nihad Voloder – solo guitar, electric guitar and electric bass
Nihad Krečo – piano
Vedran Čičak – berde bass, basprim
Muhamed Jusić – drums and percussion
Adnan Zimić – basprim and backing vocals
Suad Pašić – sax
Vanja Radoja – violin
Admir Djulančić – trombone
Aida Mušanović – backing vocals
Tjaja Mirando – cimbalom
Special Guest : Ljiljana Buttler
Produced by Dragi Šestić
Recorded in Sarajevo at “Studio Muzicke Produkcije RTV Bih”, June 2009
Studio engineers: Admir Djulančić and Denis Čabrić
Mixed by Milan Čirić and Dragi Sestic at “Sing-Sing” studio in Metslawier, Netherlands, July-September 2009
Mastered by Wim Bult at Inlinemastering , Netherlands, October 2009