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Sevdalinka (pronounced [seʋdǎliːŋka]), also known as Sevdah music, is a traditional genre of folk music originating in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sevdalinka is an integral part of the Bosniak culture,[1][2][3][4] but is also spread across the ex-Yugoslav region, including Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia.[5] The actual composers of many Sevdalinka songs are unknown because these are traditional folk songs.[6]

Sevdalinka songs are characterised by their slow or moderate tempo, elaborate structure, and intense, emotionally potent melodies. The singer will often impose a rhythm and tempo into the song, both of which can vary throughout the piece. Traditionally, Sevdalinkas are considered "women's songs", often addressing issues of longing and love, often unfulfilled and unrequieted, some exploring women's physical desires for their loved ones, and some even having a range of comedic elements.[7] However, there are Sevdah songs written and sung by men as well. Traditionally, they were performed without any instruments, hence their elaborate melodies. As with most old folk styles, what the sounds of the original melodies would have been like rests on conjecture, as their interpretations are now closely aligned, in part due to the historically increasing role of accompanying instruments, with the Western chromatic system (which stands in contrast to Oriental modes, which often use intervals smaller than a semitone). Modern interpretations of Sevdalinka songs are usually accompanied by a small orchestra featuring the accordion (as the most prominent instrument), the violin, the nylon-string guitar and/or other string instruments, such as the upright bass, the saz or šargija and occasionally the flute or clarinet, and the snare drum. In modern interpretations, an accordion or violin solo can almost always be heard between the verses.[8]


The word "Sevdalinka" comes from the Turkish "sevda" which, in turn, derives from the Ottoman Turkish "sevda" and refers to the state of being in love, and more specifically to the intense and forlorn longing associated with love-sickness and unfulfilled and unrequited love. This is related also to the Persian word (سودازده), meaning both "melancholic" and "enamoured". It was these associations that arrived with the word when it was brought to Bosnia through the activities of the Ottoman Empire. Today, it is a richly evocative Bosnian word, denoting "to pine" or "to long", whether for a loved one, a place or a time, with a sense of joy and pain, both being at the emotional core of Sevdalinka lyrics.[4][8]

The people of Bosnia employ the words "sevdalinka" and "sevdah" interchangeably as a name for this sort of music, although the shared Bosnian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serbian loanword "sevdah" can also be used in other contexts. Saudade, a central term in Portuguese Fado, is of the same origin, emerging from Arabic medical discourses and used for centuries in both Al-Andalus and the Ottoman empire.[4][8] In turn, the term "melancholy" or "melancholia" is of similar medical origin, arising from the ancient Greek term for black bile" or "melan kholé".

Origins and history[edit]

The origins of Sevdalinka are not known for certain, although it is known to date at least as far back as to the arrival of the Ottomans in the medieval Balkans. Their melodies and the venerable lyrical figure of "Aman, aman" hint at a Sephardic and Andalusian influence, which can be explained by the arrivals of Sephardic refugees into Ottoman Bosnia, or more likely attributed to an Ottoman Turkish signification which translates into "have mercy".[4]

The first historic appearance of Sevdalinka is considered to be "Bolest Muje Carevića" ("The Illness of Mujo Carević"), which is believed to have been written around the year 1475. Another early written document that refers to the Sevdalinka is the work of an Italian man passing through the Bosnian city of Visoko in the year 1574, who has heard what he described as "sad songs sung by the locals" that made him feel melancholic.[9] In the early 16th century, a duke from Split also mentioned what was probably a Sevdalinka song about the forbidden love of a Christian girl named Mara Vornić and a Muslim boy named Fadil or Adel/Adil (accounts vary).[10]

The earliest known female Sevdalinka poet was Umihana Čuvidina, who wrote mainly about her deceased husband.


A couple of significant singers of the Sevdalinka in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s were Rešad Bešlagić and Vuka Šeherović. Towards the end of World War II, Radio Sarajevo was founded and signed some of the most prominent "Sevdalije" (or Sevdalinka performers), among them Zaim Imamović in 1945, Himzo Polovina in 1953, Beba Selimović in 1954, Safet Isović in 1955, and Zehra Deović in 1960. Nada Mamula was signed to Radio Beograd in 1946. Others, such as Silvana Armenulić, Emina Zečaj, Nedžad Salković, Hanka Paldum and Meho Puzić, were signed to record for such production companies as Jugoton, Diskoton or other Yugoslav labels.

Although sung predominantly by traditional Bosniak singers, the Sevdalinka made its way to many "mainstream" musicians. Sevdalinkas have as such been covered by Josipa Lisac, Željko Bebek, Ibrica Jusić, Jadranka Stojaković, Toše Proeski and Zdravko Čolić, among others.

In the 1990s, the band Mostar Sevdah Reunion was assembled in Mostar, and in the early 2000s rose to prominence on the world music scene, receiving prominent awards for their lively interpretations of Sevdalinkas (which fused Sevdalinka with contemporary musical styles such as jazz, funk and rock) and introducing many people outside of Bosnia to the genre of the Sevdalinka.[7][11][12] Equally popular today are songwriters/performers Damir Imamović and Amira Medunjanin, dubbed by the music journalist and author Garth Wainwright as "Bosnia's Billie Holiday".[7]

Notable songs[edit]

Some famous Sevdalinka songs
  • Il' je vedro, il' oblačno (It's either clear (no clouds in the sky), or clouded)
  • Ah što ćemo ljubav kriti (Why Should We Hide Our Love)
  • Da Sam Ptica (If I Were a Bird)
  • Moj golube (My dove)
  • Emina
  • Grana od bora, pala kraj mora (A Branch of Pine, Fell by the Sea)
  • Karanfile Cvijeće Moje (Carnation, My Flower)
  • Kraj potoka bistre vode (By a Stream of Crystal Clear Water)
  • Omer-beže na kuli sjeđaše (Bey Omer Sits on the Tower)
  • Razbolje se lijepa Hajrija (Beautiful Hajrija Became Ill)
  • Razbolje se Sultan Sulejman (The Sultan Suleiman Became Ill)
  • Sejdefu majka buđaše (Sejdefa's Mother Wakes Her)[13]
  • Snijeg pade na behar na voće (Snow Fell on the Blossom, on the Fruit)
  • Što te nema (Why Aren't You Here)
  • Sve behara i sve cvjeta (Everything Blossoms and Everything Blooms)
  • Tekla rijeka potokom i jazom (The River Flowed Through the Stream and Divide)
  • Teško meni jadnoj u Saraj'vu samoj (It's Difficult for Me, a Poor Girl Alone in Sarajevo)
  • U Stambolu Na Bosforu (In Istanbul on the Bosphorous)
  • Zapjevala sojka ptica (The Blue Jay Bird Sang)
  • Zaplakala šećer Đula (The Sweet Rose Wept)
  • Zaplakala stara majka (The Elderly Mother Wept)
  • Zmaj od Bosne (Dragon of Bosnia)
  • Zvijezda tjera mjeseca (The Star Chases the Moon)
Other Bosnian folk songs often mentioned as Sevdalinka-s
  • Crven Fesić (Little Red Fez)
  • Čudna jada od Mostara grada (Strange Wretch from the Town of Mostar)
  • Djevojka sokolu zulum učinila (The Girl Perpetrated Cruelty on the Falcon)
  • Došla voda od brijega do brijega (The Water Came from Hill to Hill)
  • Karanfil se na put sprema (Karanfil Prepares for a Journey)
  • Ko se ono brijegom šeće? (Who Is Walking on the Hill?)
  • Lijepi li su Mostarski dućani (Mostar's Shops Are Beautiful)
  • Mila majko, šalji me na vodu (Dear Mother, Send Me to the Water)[14]
  • Moj dilbere (My Darling)[15]
  • Mujo kuje konja po mjesecu (Mujo Shoes the Horse in the Moonlight)
  • Sinoć ja i moja kona (Last Night, My Neighbor and I)
  • Tamburalo momče uz tamburu (The Boy Played the Tamburica)
  • U lijepom starom gradu Višegradu (In the Beautiful Old Town of Višegrad)
  • Vino piju Age Sarajlije (The Aghas of Sarajevo Drink Wine)


  • Anadolka
  • Kad ja pođoh (Guitar) (Flute)
  • Ne Klepeći Nanulama
  • Što te nema (Hasanagin Sevdah)
  • U Stambolu na Bosforu
  • Žute Dunje


  1. ^ Buturovic, Amila; Schick, Irvin Cemil (26 September 2007). Women in the Ottoman Balkans: Gender, Culture and History, 2007, p 80. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781845115050.
  2. ^ Slobin, Mark (1996). Retuning Culture: Musical Changes in Central and Eastern Europe, 1996, p 123. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822318474.
  3. ^ Hemetek, Ursula (2004). Manifold Identities: Studies on Music and Minorities, 2004, p 197. Cambridge Scholars Press. ISBN 9781904303374.
  4. ^ a b c d Alfred KUEPPERS (8 November 2014). "The Story of Sevdalinke, Part I: The Saz". Balkanist. Retrieved 15 December 2023.
  5. ^ Dragiša Živković (1971). Živan Milisavac (ed.). Jugoslovenski književni leksikon [Yugoslav Literary Lexicon]. Novi Sad (SAP Vojvodina, SR Serbia: Matica srpska. pp. 479–480.
  6. ^ "Sevdah u Narodnom (19.12.2018.)". YouTube. 13 February 2020.
  7. ^ a b c Alfred KUEPPERS (8 November 2014). "The Story of Sevdalinke, Part III: The Music Today". Balkanist. Retrieved 15 December 2023.
  8. ^ a b c Alfred KUEPPERS (20 September 2014). "The Story of Sevdalinke, Part II: The Musical Evolution". Balkanist. Retrieved 15 December 2023.
  9. ^ "Geologija pesme". Vreme. 7 December 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  10. ^ "Bolje da ne pevaš". dw.de. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  11. ^ "Mostar Sevdah Reuninion - Zapjevala Sojka Ptica". YouTube. 17 September 2013.
  12. ^ "Mostar Sevdah Reuninion - Vranjanka". YouTube. 17 September 2013.
  13. ^ "Stručnjaci tvrde: "Sejdefa" ne može biti dio srpskog muzičkog nasljeđa". 2 November 2012. Archived from the original on 5 December 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2013.
  14. ^ "Josipa peva sevdalinke u Beogradu". Blic. 2 November 2010. Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  15. ^ "Smithsonian Folkways - Moj Dilbere". Retrieved 13 May 2013.

External links[edit]