Singing professionally since 1979, following a short stint served in the army, Bosnian singer Halid Bešlić conquered the music scene of the former Yugoslavia in the'80s with songs like 'Neću, neću dijamante' and 'Budi budi uvijek srećna'. Perhaps it is his popularity prior to the war that makes Halid Bešlić as popular today as he ever was, all across Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia? Or perhaps its his songs, which can be found on over 20 albums he's released, each of which have contained hits he continues to perform? Perhaps it helps that Halid Bešlić has a reputation for being an extremely nice guy? (During the following interview, a fan approached the restaurant table where we were sitting and, as he was being recorded, Halid explained that he could not speak to the fan. When the interview was over, he made his way to the table of the man, who was sitting alone and, after apologising, sat down and joined him to talk for a good ten minutes).
'This Balkan area, or ex-Yugoslavia area, is an area where people play a lot of types of music,' said Bešlić, who has himself combined various styles of folk-influenced musics into his pop sound over a glittering four decade career. 'And yet all of them are local. We have here old, traditional musics called narodna (folk) which originate from different ethnic groups. There are a lot of nations represented here, a lot of peoples. Throughout history, they all created their own music, and it has been poured into folklore and then resurfaced later as a new type of folk, but based on the traditional sounds. So the thing about the new connections is basically the influence of the old songs on the new.'
'In the last 15-20 years, it’s been more about taking regional melodies,' he said, while sitting relaxed in Urban Grill Sarajevo, near Špansko, close to where he's recording his new album. 'The music of Turkey, Greece, Israel, Spain - all these musical influences were present in the first musics that were here. Later, especially in Croatia and Bosnia during the period of the Austro-Hungarian empire, came an influence of Hungarian music. After that came the appearance of rock’n’roll. Rock’n’roll and pop music became incredibly popular in the whole ex-Yugoslavia. There were a lot of bands, big bands who made careers, filled stadiums, pop singers who went to Eurovision. Lately, you have music that is like dance, hip-hop, rap, R&B. That is that scene now.'
On the eve of his headline appearance at the opening night of Zagreb's Rujanfest, Time Out Croatia sat down with Halid Bešlić to ask him about six songs that have left an impression on him, as an artist and as a man.
Indexi - 'Bacila je sve niz rijeku'
I grew up with rock and roll music. Maybe the most interesting group of that era to speak about is Indexi led by a charismatic singer, the now sadly deceased Davorin Popović. 'Bacila je sve niz rijeku' (She threw everything down the river) or 'Sanjam' (I dream), 'Modra Rijeka', they had many great songs. It’s been 15 years now since Davorin died, and it’s still sung like it was made yesterday. It will be sung for a long time. It is of an outstanding quality, both musically and textually. And it is a song of my youth.
Bijelo Dugme - 'Lipe cvatu'
Bijelo Dugme were a band from Sarajevo as well. They were the most popular band in ex-Yugoslavia. They have so many great songs, I almost don’t know which to choose, ha! My favourite of theirs is 'Lipe Cvatu'. It’s full of heart. You can ask my neighbours! I somehow think this song has ethno music in it; it's ethno-pop-rock. Everything is summarized in it.
I once came to Dublin and turned on the TV and I was listening to their bands and, to me, they all sounded like that song! They play those zurle (Balkan woodwind folk instrument) and I say, ok, this is now like two songs. Brilliant.
Himzo Polovina - 'Snijeg padne na Behar na voće (Snow falls on Behar on the fruit)'
I am from Bosnia and my original story is the sevdah music, that is my ethnicity. There were a lot of singers who made that music famous. Here I will mention male singers Zaim Imamović, Safet Isović and Himzo Polovina. There were others, but these were like the strongest in that story. Many female singers also left their mark on this music, for example Beba, aka Nada Mamula, Zehra Deović and Hanka Paldum. These three are among the best. In Bosnia we call these sevdalinka songs eternal songs (vječne pjesme). These are not trend songs, they are songs that are the tradition of the people. Everyone has recorded this song, including Safet Isović, Indexi and Himzo Polovina. It is one of the folk music evergreens.
Josipa Lisac - 'O jednoj mladosti'
I am singer who is popular in the whole ex-Yugoslavia. I live in Bosnia but sing more in Croatia than in Bosnia, or in Serbia. I was famous before the war in the whole country. So, to speak of some music that is from here, Croatia, there is a legendary female singer Josipa Lisac. Also, Tereza Kesovija, Arsen Dedić. These are all people who marked a period on a very high musical level. But Josipa Lisac, she’s a singer with specific sensibilities. She’s not a classical type of singer, she sings in her own way. When she sings, you think it’s some jazz singer and she has always sung like that. She has that jazz touch. Maybe she’s also interesting for an English language audience.
I remember people coming here to explore our ethnic music, and it was always the British who came. They were looking for the roots of the music and Goran Bregović told me they were hooked on Šargije, you know, the old village instruments. For them, it was a really authentic thing here, something that they hadn’t heard anywhere before. That’s the original old music. A few people still play it a little bit, but its time has passed.
Oliver Dragojević - 'Oprosti mi, pape'
Here in Croatia, you have some songs by Mišo Kovač that will be sung for 300 years and that will wake strong emotions. Like 'Ostala si uvik ista' (You’ve always stayed the same).
(At this point, Halid begins to sing, not loudly, in the restaurant “Jedina žena na svijetu tom... - the only woman in this world - ostala je uvijek ista.”) That is one of the songs that will stay forever, I think. Then we have the unforgettable Oliver Dragojević. I don’t know, which song should I say? For example, 'Oprosti mi, pape' (Forgive me, father).
'What is it about that song in particular that you like, Halid?'
I don’t know, I know over 50 songs by Oliver. That is one. (Halid begins to sing “Oprosti mi pape…”). I couldn't say it's my favourite, because I love all of Oliver’s songs. Few people will experience the honours he has experienced as a singer. When he died... there would be very few statesmen who would receive a funeral like that.
Toma Zdravković - 'O ciganko moja, noćas sam tužan'
I could go on, maybe to Serbia for a bit. There was Leo Martin, a good singer, with a powerful voice. For example the song 'Odiseja' (Odyssey). I’m a bit attached to it, because when it came out I was in the army. Predrag Živković Tozovac too. He’s a šmeker (stud, charming) singer, with šmek (charm, mojo). He’s still alive, he’s 80, 90 years old. He doesn’t have many songs, but all of them that he does have are beautiful. Biljana Krstić, who used to sing with the Rani Mraz band. Toma Zdravković, who was bohemian. 'O ciganko moja, ja sam noćas tužan' (Oh my Gipsy, I am sad tonight), for example. That's a beautiful song. Young people like Zdravko Čolić, who is unavoidable, Amira Medunjanin, who genuinely sings the real sevdah music and a Macedonian singer who passed away, Toše Proeski. He was a guy who showed a lot of promise. But he died young. And that’s about it. I mean, it's not. There’s a lot more we could talk about. But we only have six songs and I think I already said too many, ha!
Halid Bešlić next appears at Ambis Club, Düsseldorf, on October 6, plays four dates in Australia including Metropolis in Fremantle on October 19, Tivoli theatre in Brisbane on October 20, Enmore theatre in Sydney on October 26 and Forum theatre in Melbourne on October 27, before appearing at Stadthalle Dietikon in Zurich on November 10.
Interview conducted by Marc Rowlands and Mario Grgurev, translation by Ivana Šarić of Multilingua d.o.o.