Words by Garth Cartwright
Supple sevdah from young, gifted Sarajevans
Divanhana were formed in 2009 by a group of students at Sarajevo Music Academy. Their contemporary instrumentation of brass, piano, bass and drums complements the traditional accordion and vocals in a way, they claim, is opening the Sephardic, Balkan and Turkish elements of sevdalinka to a new jazz sensibility. Up front is vocalist Leila Catic, backed up by six instrumentalists.
Divanhana are a young band but a very confident one: this, their second album (their debut not having had a UK release), proves they can play sevdah with the right mix of dynamic pace and epic melancholy. Leila Catic is a real find, her vocals possessing a gorgeous, honeyed tone; she displays excellent breath control as she caresses notes during ballads, then leads the band into fast dance numbers. However their toted “jazz sensibility” is largely wishful thinking (beyond a little brass). Divanhana are closer to Mostar Sevdah Reunion’s lead in using the band format to push sevdah towards a bigger sound, so capturing a wider audience. The six instrumentalists do this with real confidence. That said, the absence of any truly striking new arrangements means the album gets less interesting as it progresses. However, Divanhana are –alongside Sarajevo rockers Dubioza Kolektiv – a Bosnian band to watch out for in 2016.