2005 Dani Articles
As tranaslated into English by Sanja Mehmedinovic. Also see original print version.
-by Eldin Hadzovic
Once Sarajevo Blues is in the CD player, you do not want to stop listening. And do not forget the most important fact: from the first to the fifteenth song, every hair on your body stands straight. And then you listen all over again: “War/ and nothing’s going on…”
Jewlia Eisenberg (the Charming Hostess leader) wrote music
for poems written by Semezdin Mehmedinovic, one of the most important
Bosnian writers in the new generation. In the CD of Sarajevo Blues,
Semezdin’s texts, sang simultaneously in English and Bosnian, get
a completely new and unexpected dimension. With their touching vocal interpretations,
the Charming girls paint an apocalyptic picture of besieged Sarajevo—a
place ruled by death and destruction, but where spirit lives, and people
live, work and love.
“I met Semezdin Mehmedinovic at a bar in Berkeley, hanging out with some other poets. We had a conversation about the avant-garde cinema and rock scen€ in Bosnia that made me want to read his work. In 2002, ten years after it was written, I read Sarajevo Blues, Sem’s poems/micro-essays/journalistic entries are about the siege of Sarajevo, conducted by Serbian nationalist from the hills above the city. But Sarajevo Blues is also about how a poet and his posse love, resist, work, go to cafes and live….Following the news, critically, gives us a political base of understanding. From there we look to music or poetry to create an emotional tie-between people and between cities, over temporal and spatial separations. For Charming Hostess, the Sarajevo Blues project is based on hope, a hope shared with Sem,” Jewlia says, explaining the motives that guided her in the process of creating this masterpiece.
Who is Charming Hostess after all? Jewlia, Marika and Cynthia- three girls with an extraordinary and unusual sense of harmony, energy and intelligence—and an amazing sense of production! Their work could be described as a mix of styles that ordinarily do not co-exist: Jewish traditional songs, Sufi music, Balkan harmony, and ferocious vocal noise, similar to ganga. Sometimes it sounds like Galt MacDermot, and sometimes it reminds of the sensual and loud vignettes of Lydia Lunch. But in the next moment the singing will remind us of melodies characteristically for Islamic spiritual song- illahias.
This beautiful piece of music should be in possession of
every citizen of this country who holds any dignity. Without commercialization
or patronization, Sarajevo Blues means so much. It is a final touch
of a sculptor on a monument of human tragedy, victims suffering, but also
the beauty of life, painted by the voices of angels.
I met Jewlia Eisenberg, who is actually the alpha of a very unusual band from Oakland, four years ago. I was in San Francisco. Before we met, I was listening, in a rented car, to the first CD by Charming Hostess and driving across Bay Bridge. I enjoyed a discovery: there are musicians in America that are incorporating in their work a surplus of emotions known in Bosnia as dert.
That recognition was the reason to tell my friends a simple wish- since we are already here- that I would like to meet Charming Hostess. So it happened that one afternoon we spent at a bar in Berkeley, talking about music forms from the Balkans and about Walter Benjamin. Those who read carefully what I wrote know that the central role in my understanding of the world is occupied by essays of this philosopher from the first half of the 20th century. “Americans, drink American beer”, said Jewlia, quoting Benjamin’s sentence. Everything was the same as in the original, except that that in One-way Street, it concerned Germany of the 3o’s.
I had almost forgotten our meeting when, two years later I got Jewlia’s CD, Trilectic, addressed to me. Trilectic is completely based on the Moscow Diaries by Walter Benjamin, with songs in German and English. There was a letter in the same package, with a suggestion that she would like to do the same thing – if I agreed- with texts from Sarajevo Blues. It made me happy, of course.
And that would be, I guess, the whole story.
Last June, in San Francisco, a reading with Aleksandar Hemon. Hemon and I read, and after that, three Charming Hostesses sang. It would not be enough to describe myself as happily astonished with what I heard- and saw. Because of the way Bosnian and American music forms are connected, two different cultural codes were harmonized—and for me, a new light was shed on the essence of Sarajevo Blues. Beside that, their performance felt much to me as a dervish zikr. You ask yourself—how could there be that feeling of recognition, such a degree of understanding, in an American decoding of my Sarajevo story? I have no answer to that.
In the end, I remember an unusual experience of translating:
sometime in the 80’s, Miljenko Jergovic and I were translating,
very loosely and honestly amused, one of Tomaz Salamun’s poems.
We did it this way: we incorporated some Slovenian words (not ones that
Salamun used) into the Bosnian translation, and called the whole thing
a translation from Slovenian into Slovenian. I think that is the method
Jewlia used; her Sarajevo Blues is a translation from Sarajevan
and to Sarajevan.