Who hasn’t walked on a sad and grey day thinking about all the things that do not make sense. Who hasn’t felt, even if only one day, that in reality, nothing does, specially life, although sometimes it continues as if it had a life of its own as well. I suppose that it is the way Dragisa Nedovic, author and singer from the late 40s, felt when walking through the streets of Sarajevo and seeing how his life, along with that of hundreds of thousands people, was being taken away by tuberculosis.
Dragiša did what he best knew how, write to alleviate the pain that was consuming him and composed “Pluća su mi bolna” –“My lungs hurt”. The song, just a few minutes of notes and words, has been interpreted by his great friend Zaim Imamović, one of the best singers of “sevdah”, also afflicted by tuberculosis. Such was the impact it caused on the population, that it was banned in all stations to not worry the thousands of patients who heard the waves from the hospital.
Many years later, Zaim’s nephew, Damir Imamović, in his great book “Sevdah” (2017), compares this story with the prohibition of the song Gloomy Sunday, a cover of Szomorú vasárnap (Sad Sunday) from the compositor Rezsó Seress, interpreted in English by Billie Holiday in 1941 and also banned from the radio due to the increase of suicide cases that it was supposed to provoke.
Academy of Fine Arts
There is no doubt as to the power of music, whether it makes us feel good or terrible. Already in the fifteenth century, in the hospital of Edirne, Turkey, mental patients were treated by means of creative activities and musical therapy, using certain specific scales (makam) which were considered to heal, depending on the patient’s pathology. The connection between Turkey and Bosnia has lasted over 400 years. The influence of its makam – mekam in Bosnian – is impregnated in each of the musical notes of the balkanic country.
Mosque of Ferhad Bey
And if there were any remaining doubts about the relation between health and music, the example of the great Himzo Polovina greatly gives strength to this analogy, as always, in Sarajevo itself. Himzo, psychiatrist and singer of sevdah, introduced music-therapy as a means of concentrating, in just a few minutes, all of the pain patients may endure and get them to reach a catharsis which, by other means, would have taken years.
Sarajevo Ljubavi Moja – Sarajevo my love
I walk the streets perpendicular to Miljačka as if they were bridges in time, travelling beyond the meters, letting myself be carried through a week which is turning out to be a deep immersion in the city. I do not fail to listen in my headphones the songs which have been and are its soundtrack. I climb the stairs of a hill, which despite my treading through the city for 22 years, I did not know. Josipa Štadlera 1 is home to the Sarajevo Music Academy. Built in 1893, during the 1992-1995 war some students and teachers kept the institution alive. None of its departments was closed, despite the bombings and snipers. The musical life in Sarajevo played a very important role in the spiritual defence that its inhabitants carried out during the war. This was the collective catharsis that Polovina was talking about.
I think about what it would have been like for all of us without this divine present, music, whilst I replay time after time, in my mind, the visit I made only a few hours before to Sovrle Iljaš, some 30km from Sarajevo.
The upper floor of the house consists of various small rooms, a little bigger than 40 square meters. It has a wooden stove with which, in addition to cooking, the house is heated. The fog does not allow any view much beyond the window frame.
Future in the fog
Outside, the thermometer marks -2oC. In front of the main window there is a stable that holds a treasure. They are sheep, five of them. The house smells of home-made bread that Zekina bakes with the kind of attention that certain people know how to put into those things that matter. Her daughter is squatting next to the stove. She is listening carefully to Arijana whilst she translates her mother’s words. One can hear the water boiling with the beans that they will eat today. Zekina lowers her voice and whispers when remembering that the first time she went to the shelter her daughter was 6-month old. Her daughter resembles my daughter. She is blond, with pale skin, shy, she wants to be a driving school teacher when she grows up.
Zekina explains to me that she has had two happy moments in her life. Only two… One when her children were born and the other when she was given the five sheep that allowed her to start a small business and cease depending from the man that was hitting her during years. The cheese she makes and sells at the local market gives her autonomy not to depend from anyone. She says she lives with little, but that now she can take her daughters to school. She spent, during two periods, more than 18 months at the shelter house, hiding away. Her husband went crazy, if he was not already from the time he was born. Zekina lived her own war during years, longer than the siege of the city, without snipers, besieged by the hate of someone with whom one day she had decided to share her life with. During years there was no light, only a tunnel that could take her to a life far away from him. A tunnel that it took her a long time to cross. Zekina tells me that now she knows how to stop the suffering. 18 months of psychological assistance gave her the strength not to let herself be intimidated ever again.
Zekina and her sheep
Whilst taking notes in my notebook I come across numbers that I had written down the afternoon before during a meeting. Small numbers for the challenge of what it takes to maintain alive an intervention that can offer real opportunities to hundreds of women like Zekina. She keeps talking to me whilst in my head the calculator does not stop crunching numbers. I promise myself that the economic incentive and small businesses program will not be left out of our new project. It makes a real difference. They represent dozens of stories of improvement.
I concentrate and return to this small kitchen with its carpet covered floor. Zekina comments that she adores Dino Merlin. Her eyes lit up when she talks about the music idol born in the then still-existing Yugoslavia. She says she does not have a TV but does have a small radio that she listens to every day. I imagine her singing, letting herself be carried by the notes of the master Dino and healing, bit by bit whilst the words give sense to her existence: Noćas nešto ljepo treba da se desi –Something nice is about to happen tonight…
International Relations Coordinator
Translate by: Frederique Vilter and Francesc Alvarez