Globe, Multiculture, Our People, United Kingdom

Damir Imamović: poetry and multi-cultural musicality

On 21 May, in London, Damir Imamović (pronounced ‘Im-mam-o-vitch’), will be presenting his new album “The world and all that it holds”.  It is the result of a creative partnership with Bosnian-American author Aleksandar Hemon, whose novel of the same name now has a soundtrack to accompany it: music enhanced and inspired by literature.


Damir Imamović. Photo by Edvin Kalić.

After the success of his previous album ‘Singer of Tales’, he teams up once more with the producers Joe Boyd (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd) and Andrea Goertler.

It was recorded in Sarajevo in May 2022 with multi-Grammy® winning sound engineer, Jerry Boys.

Featuring a collection of original compositions and carefully chosen arrangements of traditional songs performed in both Bosnian and Ladino (the language the Sephardic Jews brought with them following their expulsion from Spain centuries before), the album gives voice to the everlasting and impossible relationship between two men of two different Sarajevan origins, Sephardic Jewish and Muslim respectively, the introspective pharmacist, Rafael Pinto, and fellow soldier Osman.

A deeply captivating love story, the novel follows its safety-seeking protagonists from the epicentre of the outbreak of World War I, in a way that will resonate with many refugees today (Brody, Galicia, one of the cities they pass through, is now in western Ukraine).  Displaced from the city for which they forever more yearn and equipped with nothing more than their everlasting love and this handful of equally enduring ‘sevdalinka’ (songs of sevdah) and Sephardic songs, handed down to them from their respective communities, the two lovers set out on their conflict-fleeing voyage.

These traditional songs of forbidden love, loss and pining for home are the means through which the two communicate both their love and their home sickness.

Photo of musicians courtesy of Imamović.

Of the sevdah genre, Damir says, “For us who were raised with it, it has endless shades of sadness”.  Aleksandar Hemon’s words, give us deeper insight into the emotions at play: “Sevdah is not sad music … but a means to convert the longing for what is absent into the celebration of what is present”.

Joy and sadness intertwine throughout the emotionally charged album, as is most searingly apparent in the song ‘Osmane’, the first single of the album in which Damir imagines “as both a love cry and a funeral march”.

Grandson of the great sevdah star, Zaim Imamović, Damir’s understanding of the nuances of sevdah and his ability to express these as a performer and composer deliver an album as ‘immense’ as the literary masterpiece that has inspired it.

Opening the album is ‘Sinoć’ (‘Last Night’), which like the first single, ‘Osmane’, is a song Damir wrote soon after reading Hemon’s novel. The tar, instrument of Central Asia (through which the lovers journey, via Tashkent), replaces the more usual Bosnian saz and provides the introduction to the melody, joining the frame drum’s rhythmic beat, and sets the tone for the album.  The lyrics are inspired by Bosnia’s famous Romantic poet Musa Ćazim Ćatić.

Fittingly appropriate with the subject of same-sex love in Hemon’s tale, Damir performed the traditional song ‘Snijeg pade’ (‘The Snow Has Fallen’), ninth on the album, at the first Pride march in Sarajevo in 2019.

Imamović Photo by Amer Kapetanović.

It recently became an unofficial LGBQT+ anthem across the Balkans.

The forbidden love that is sung of and yearned for outside of arranged marriages in former times is easily adapted to the cause still needing to be fought for, “Let everybody love whoever they want. And those who don’t want, should not impose.

“The world and all that it holds” (released internationally by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings on 19 May) brings a whole new depth and colour to the strong novel, as Aleksander Hemon says in his own words, “One of the many beautiful consequences of our collaboration is that the novel and the people in it now glow in the light of the music, while the music has acquired an additional, narrative dimension.”

History, mythology, poetry and multi-cultural musicality abound throughout this album. Damir Imamović sings and plays the tambur and tar and is accompanied by Ivana Đurić on violin, Ivan Mihajlović on bass, Nenad Kovačić on percussion and Mustafa Šantić (formerly of Mostar Sevdah Reunion) on accordion & clarinet.

Damir and band will be performing the album at his debut London concert at the Barbican’s Milton Hall on 21st May, 2023 and on the 22nd May, at Brighton’s Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts. Damir and author Aleksandar Hemon will be together presenting this two-fold creation at the Hay Festival on 27th May. For more information click here.

(Information and photos provided by Angie Lemon – Email:

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