Tag: Bosnian immigrants in the U.S.


Music as Medicine: Sevdalinka Songs Help Bosnian Immigrants and Refugees Remember and Heal

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – Second of two installments.
Mary Sherhart sings sevdalinkas at a Bosnian celebration in New York. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

Mary Sherhart sings sevdalinkas at a Bosnian celebration in New York. (Photo: Jelena Kopanja)

The name of Bosnia and Herzegovina –a small, heart-shaped country in the Balkans– is rarely associated with love.

The country made headlines in the mid ’90s as a place where ethnic hatred resulted in the death of 100,000 of its people and the exodus of many more. In addition to the photo albums and coffee grinders refugees packed in their suitcases as they fled, they also brought with them parts of their culture including sevdalinka, a traditional Bosnian song of love and longing for all that was left behind.

Now as Bosnian communities strengthen their roots in the United States, England and elsewhere, younger generations are growing up having little contact with their parents’ homeland. For these children, sevdalinka is perhaps a way to maintain a link. Mary Sherhart, director of Sevdah North America –a cultural organization dedicated to the study and preservation of this music– has seen the powerful connections sevdalinka can make.

“The little girls especially are enamored with it,” she said. “When those kids go home and hang out with their parents –in particular with their grandparents– the grandparents start singing, it gets them thinking about their youth. It is so healthy for these elders who feel particularly traumatized and isolated, as they often do not speak English.”

Listen to “Tamburalo Momce u Tamburu” (Youth was playing tamburitza) by Mary Sherhart, John Morovich and Balkan Cabaret:


From the CD “Somewhere Far Away” (2006)



Sevdalinka, a Melancholy Soundtrack for Bosnian Immigrants and Refugees in the U.S.

By Jelena Kopanja, FI2W contributor – First of two installments.

NEW YORK – When Mary Sherhart first sang the traditional Bosnian songs known as sevdalinkas at a concert in 2004, a woman stood up and started weeping. Her bare arms, emblazoned with scars from the war that ravaged Bosnia in the early nineties, rose toward the ceiling.

Mary Sherhart, the president of Sevdah North America. (Photo: www.marysherhart.com)

Sevdalinka is “a bridge to home,” says singer Mary Sherhart. (Photo: www.marysherhart.com)

At that moment, Sherhart knew that to be a “responsible artist” she would need to learn more about this song and its people, as the music extracted from her audiences the most private of emotions.

The emotion was evident on the faces of those who came to listen to Sherhart and Sakib Jakupovic, a Bosnian musician, this past April in Queens, NY at the tenth-anniversary celebration of the Bosnian-American Association. At midnight, grateful guests lined up to personally thank Sherhart for coming. Many of them were older Bosnian men and women, self-conscious about their broken English, but nevertheless eager to express their gratitude.

Sevdalinka is a song of love in all its manifestations, but for Bosnians living outside their country, one feeling predominates — nostalgia.

“Sevdah takes a new meaning in the diaspora,” said Sherhart, who is the president of Sevdah North America, an organization dedicated to the preservation and study of this music. “It is a bridge to the time when they were happier, a bridge to home, a bridge to their children for whom those ties are not as strong.”

Listen toSnijeg Pade na Behar na Voce” (Snow has fallen on blossoms, on fruit) by Mary Sherhart and Omer Pobric:


From the CD Srce Puno Bosne, Amerika i sevdah, Mary i Omer

(2005, Institut Sevdaha)