Nostalgia and longing suffuse an impassioned night of bewitching Bosnian blues at Malmö's Viktoria Teatern
Malmö is a city on a mission. Its stated goal is to become the first in the world to register all 193 UN-recognised nations among its 300,000-odd citizens. This place is undoubtedly Sweden’s most diverse, and one of the more prominent communities is the Bosnians.
They have brought with them sevdah – the Bosnian blues, as it is sometimes known, a traditional song with echoes of Portuguese fado and Spanish flamenco. The band Sevdalini released their latest album in January 2020, and in September 2021, the world being what it is, it finally got its live debut.
Viktoria Teatern is a beautiful art deco theatre – small and intimate with little circular tables spread around the floor in front of the stage, and a balcony above. The light was low, the atmosphere Pigalle-esque. Customers can bring their own food and wine, and soon the tables were groaning with baguettes, salamis, cheeses and wine bottles. It felt like an indoor jazz picnic.
Onto the stage came the double bassist, the cellist, the violinist, the clarinettist, the guitarist and the percussionist. When they were finally joined by Mehmed Jakic, frontman and singer adorned in black beret, pink braces, a raffish dark beard and a single earring that gave him the vagabond air of Dexys Midnight Runners’ Kevin Rowland, the Parisian vibe was complete.
The repertoire was mostly traditional Bosnian sevdah, plus a couple of Serbian and Macedonian numbers and a Heinrich Heine poem set to music. They were classics of the genre – from ‘Razbolje se Šimšir List’, an ode to a tender box hedge withered by the tears of a maiden crying from her bedroom window, to ‘Voljelo se Dvoje Mladih’, a tale of beautiful Fatima longing for quinces from Istanbul.
Jakic was a brooding, passionate and sometimes anguished figure. You felt he was suffering for his art, like all great folk singers. He conducted the musicians with light, delicate fingers. The guitarist’s flamenco training brought a distinct Iberian quality to the sound, while the Macedonian clarinettist Blagoj Lamnjov danced dizzy melodies, working the crowd like a snake charmer.
Every musician was given a moment to shine, with instrumentals from the guitarist and percussionist, and from the cellist and violinist. Meanwhile, the multi-talented Jakic pulled out a mandolin, a harmonica and even a French horn.
Many Bosnians came to Sweden during the Yugoslav Wars in the 90s. This exile to an often cold and dark corner of northern Europe lent an extra poignancy to a sevdah performance. Music and song, so achingly redolent of the passionate warmth of southern Europe, was given a further lacquer of nostalgia and longing by the experience of emigration.
In a former incarnation, a young, hirsute Jakic was a contestant on the 2009 edition of Sweden’s version of Pop Idol. Before the show, I watched a hilarious take of ‘Summertime’ followed by a blast of deadpan operatic singing from this charismatic guy, all before the panto-like Swedish judging panel. To see him on stage this evening, turning inward, back to his homeland and his roots, revealed much about the contemporary story of Europe, of migration and of identity.