I’ve not heard much Bosnian music except for perhaps the Balkan repertoire covered by Greek vocalist-interpreter Savina Yannatou. Bosnian vocalist Amira (Medunjanin) and her musical partner, accordionist Merima Kljuco show us the lushness of two instruments combined and all the various harmonics and nuances coaxed from a human voice box and a squeezebox. The liner notes tell us that the songs performed by this duo have been passed down from one Bosnian generation to the next, but on Zumra have been transformed into more contemporary-sounding traditional fare in the skillful hands of these musicians. I’m not at liberty to make any comparisons since I’ve not heard the original songs.
What I will say is that after several listens of this miraculous recording, my heart has risen and fallen along with Amira’s vocals and felt tension building and releasing along with Kljuco’s accordion. Both musicians have great command over their respective instruments and together the musical experience feels alchemical, as if these songs couldn’t take flight without the musicians’ interpretation and performance. I wouldn’t call their approach subtle because it’s too impassioned for that, but rich nuances could be lost in the din of a room if the listener doesn’t pay close attention. And why wouldn’t a listener pay close attention? The range of emotions presented in these songs alone should perk up ears and open hearts.
The bulk of the songs feel melancholic, but in a Greek sort of way, or something you would expect from Balkan and Eastern European music. Again, Amira reminds me of Yannatou in that both vocalists have amazingly gorgeous voices that can tackle any type of traditional European song. I, myself am a vocalist so I appreciate listening to vocalists that truly get their material and give their all to it. While Amira isn’t performing Greek songs, she and her musical partner end the recording with a spirited Sephardic piece Jo Hanino, Tu Hanina sung in Ladino (Spanish Jewish dialect) that contrasts nicely with the most melancholic songs on the album, track 5, Mehmeda Majka Budila.
I would be surprised if Zumra doesn’t receive rave reviews from the music press. And I would be surprised if this album isn't featured on NPR All Things Considered. Certainly it is one of the most compelling albums I’ve heard this year and when musicians put this much of themselves into the material, you just want to embrace and thank them.