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VA - MOSTAR SEVDAH REUNION (1999)

During the Bosnian war, musicians in Mostar met by candlelight to quietly perform the bluesy Turkish-influenced café songs called sevdah. After the war, vocalist Illijaz Delic, accordionist Mustafa Santic, and other musicians recreated the spirit of the wartime concerts for Sevdah Reunion. The sevdah genre mines the deepest human emotions, holding nothing back in its examination of the terrible beauty of life. There is a mysterious intensity to almost every note, turning even a song about shoeing horses by moonlight ("Mujo Kuje Konje Mjescu") into an enigma of great emotional force. Pile-driver of a love song, "Dul Zulejha" (Zuleiha the Rose) swells with inexplicable urgency. Its lyrics about the morning wanderings of a country girl seem out of proportion to the militant tempo and almost unbearable tension of the thumping accordion, bass, and drum arrangement. The belly-dance rhythm of the faster songs lightens the mood with violin solos that suggest the fire of Balkan gypsy songs. On "Moj Dilbere," "queen of the gypsies" Esma Redzepova takes a whip-crack dance rhythm as her own, trading verses with Delic with passion and ribald underpinnings matched by braying reeds. The strictly local flavor can occasionally make Sevdah Reunion a little difficult to penetrate. But the lack of concessions to an international audience gives this superbly performed disc an undiluted power to enthrall. Bob Tarte

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