Bosnian Sevdah Star Damir Imamović To Release His Smithsonian Folkways Debut The World and All That It Holds, May 19 | Shore Fire Media

Smithsonian Folkways RecordingsClient Information

28 March, 2023Print

Bosnian Sevdah Star Damir Imamović To Release His Smithsonian Folkways Debut The World and All That It Holds, May 19

Bosnian Sevdah Star Damir Imamović To Release His Smithsonian Folkways Debut The World and All That It Holds, May 19

Produced by Joe Boyd and Andrea Goertler, the album of original and traditional songs accompanies Aleksandar Hemon’s epic novel about same-sex love, war and displacement, and a world in turmoil

Pre-order the album HERE

Listen to first single, "Bejturan (Wormwood)," HERE

Damir Imamović - Photo credit: Edvin Kalic

On May 19, Bosnian singer and composer Damir Imamović will release his first album on Smithsonian Folkways, The World and All That It Holds. Produced by the renowned Joe Boyd (Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Pink Floyd) and Balkan music expert Andrea Goertler and recorded by Grammy-winning engineer Jerry Boys in Sarajevo, the album draws from and expands upon the traditional Bosnian style of sevdah while serving as a companion to Aleksandar Hemon’s new novel of the same name. In Hemon’s highly acclaimed novel, which the Washington Post called “brilliant” and Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell dubbed a “masterpiece,” the two protagonists, propelled far from Sarajevo by the Great War, sing to each other to express their love and longing for home. Imamović’s album, at times exuberant and at times mournful, soundtracks their story.

Pre-order the album HERE

Listen to first single, "Bejturan (Wormwood)," HERE

Imamović descends from icons in sevdah, a Bosnian folk music that blends Eastern influences from the Ottoman Empire with traditional Slavic and European melodies and is sometimes compared to Portuguese fado and French chanson in its evocation of longing, sorrow, and, ultimately, perseverance. His paternal grandfather Zaim Imamović was, as Damir puts it, “a sevdah divinity” who popularized the genre in the middle decades of the 20th century, while his father Nedžad Imamović was a bass player in the legendary Radio Sarajevo Folk Orchestra. For years, though, Damir resisted following in his family’s footsteps. After the war, in which he and his family sheltered in a basement pizzeria for most of the 1,425 days of the Serb Siege of Sarajevo, he “ran away from my family’s history to study philosophy,” as he puts it in the project’s extensive liner notes. He didn’t return to music until his mid-20s, seeking to move the genre forward and find “a new sevdah, one rooted in the music’s past but challenging the ways things were traditionally done.” Since then, he’s been proclaimed the “king of sevdah music” by the Huffington Post.

He first connected with producers Boyd and Goertler in 2014, who “were instantly enthralled by his singing and his playing—and by sevdah. Over the years that followed, we became his friends and, eventually his producers and witnesses to his boundless creativity and tireless quest to bring sevdahto new audiences.” They first worked together on the 2020 album Singer of Tales, which Songlines called “one of the finest works Bosnia has produced this century,” and which led to Imamović being named "The Best Artist of Europe" at 2021’s Songlines World Music Awards, and the album being named Best European World Music Album in the 2020 Transglobal World Music Charts.

For this new project, his first on an American label, Imamović worked closely with Macarthur “Genius Grant” recipient Hemon, the pair selecting the songs for Hemon’s novel and constructing the narrative of Imamović’s record in tandem. Using original compositions, old Sephardic songs, and reimagined sevdah classics, Imamović channeled the novel’s themes – same-sex love, war and loss, displacement and longing for home – through moving and mournful performances that powerfully convey the emotional tenor even to listeners who don’t understand the languages (the expensive liner notes include English translations for all lyrics). Imamović and Hemon shared drafts of chapters and demoes of songs as they worked, each side informing the other. “Both Saša [Hemon] and I believe in the power of song,” Imamović writes. “It can connect you with a person you love, it can reconnect you with your former self, your childhood, and a home that is no more. Could it help us build a bridge between two separate art forms: an album and a book?”

“It was always obvious to me that Damir was the perfect artist to collaborate with,” Hemon adds. “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. I cannot imagine my own novel existing without Damir’s music. The very existence of this album expands the boundaries of my novel, and as literature as such. I can only hope that my book does the same for the music.” 

In Imamović’s track-by-track notes, he explains how each song connects to the genre tradition and the novel’s plot, musically evoking the rich cultural of Bosnia and the diasporic characters’ longing to return home. Among the original compositions, the propulsive “Sinoć” (Sorrow) uses new lyrics inspired by Bosnian Romantic poet Musa Ćazim Ćatić and incorporates a tar, an instrument widely played in Central Asia, the region where much of the novel takes place. “Harmoniko” (Accordion) honors Imamović’s late friend, the singer Farah Tahirbegović, by collaborating with her favorite accordionist, Mustafa Šantić of Mostar Sevdah Reunion. “Osmane,” which Imamović calls “both a love cry and a funeral march” channels the love story of the novels’ protagonists Osman and Pinto: “Their travels, their bringing Sarajevo with them wherever they go, their dreams of returning home—all this resonates in this song.”

 Imamović also reinterprets an array of traditional sevdah songs as well as pieces from the Sephardic Jews of Sarajevo. The selections channel the book’s protagonists singing songs from their youth across two traditions: Pinto sings Sephardic songs in the Judeo-Spanish language of Ladino while Osman sings sevdah back to him. In the longing “Madre mija si mi muero” (Mother, If I Die ), Imamović sings in Ladino for the first time channeling Pinto’s warm memories of home. In “Koliko je širom svijeta” (As Vast as the World), Imamović emotionally croons a sevdah standard his grandfather famously used to sing about the loneliness emigrants often feel. “Some of the songs on this album I have known my entire life, and yet I have not really heard them until I heard Damir, and now I cannot hear the previous version except in comparison to Damir’s interpretation,” Hemon says.

“I feel that an important circle closes with this cooperation,” Imamović concludes, “my childhood, my father who died in 2020 while we were working on this album, the memory of my grandfather, my friendship with Farah, and our discovery of the sevdah tradition with its power to set us free. That is my world, my sevdah and all that it holds.”


About Smithsonian Folkways:

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, the "National Museum of Sound," makes available close to 60,000 tracks in physical and digital format as the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian, with a reach of 80 million people per year. A division of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the non-profit label is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production and dissemination of sound. Its mission is the legacy of Moses Asch, who founded Folkways Records in 1948 to document "people's music" from around the world. For more information about Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, visit


For more information on Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Follow Smithsonian Folkways:

Official website:





For more information on Smithsonian Folkways, contact Hannah Schwartz at Shore Fire Media: