After an adolescence sheltering from the siege of Sarajevo in the Bosnian war, Damir Imamović dedicated his musical life to researching, performing and making accessible the sevdalinka (AKA sevdah) of his childhood. These emotional southern Slavic songs of loss, love and longing find a fascinating new home on his eighth album. Written as a companion piece to his friend Aleksandar Hemon’s novel of the same name, it amplifies the story of two male Bosnian soldiers, one Muslim, one Jewish, who fall in love during the first world war.
Imamović combines sevdalinka with Sephardic Jewish songs and intricately written originals to reflect how these characters sing to each other. Centuries-old ballads crackle with urgent emotions. In the 15th-century Anderleto, Imamović’s playing of his Persian lute, pressing and tingling, frames a tale of adultery in a magical balance of beauty and dread.
Snijeg Pade (The Snow Has Fallen), a folk song about the unfairness of a forced, loveless marriage, packs a different, dirge-like, grungy power: after Imamović performed it at Pride in Sarajevo in 2019, the LGBTQ+ movement in the Balkans adopted it as an unofficial anthem. Imamović rewrites the last two verses of Teško Je Ljubit Tajno (It’s Hard to Love in Secret) to create a triumphant narrative for the male protagonists, too. One cannot tell his late mother about his love, but the other is urged to: “Tell yours / For together we will win.”
Imamović’s moving voice, simultaneously delicate and strong, is given space to breathe throughout, thanks to tender production by Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, Vashti Bunyan) and Andrea Goertler. This is folk music that connects lightning-bolt moments of emotion through the centuries, illuminating hidden stories and shimmering with electricity.
Also out this month
Inspired by the edginess and creativity she feels has been spurred in midlife, Laura Risk’s Traverse (self-released) is a gorgeous, refreshing LP of Québécois, Cape Breton and Scottish fiddle music. Scratchy in-the-room atmospheres and subtle experimentations on piano, flute accordion and trumpet lift her arrangements into unexpected places. Jim Ghedi and Toby Hay’s eponymous album – their second together and first for the label Topic – is stuffed full of lush instrumentals inspired by medieval storytelling. Their take on the Welsh ballad Suo Gân is its best moment, sounding soft, reflective and spacious. Cornish singer David A Jaycock, a regular Marry Waterson collaborator, has taken a folk music sabbatical to make a surprising – and excellent – synthpop album, Hold Star Return (self-released). These strange, dreamy songs about car crashes, class and community also sneak in James Yorkston on vocals and dulcimer.