There comes a time in a (South) Slav’s life when there is an urge to go to a kafana or something similar. In a nutshell, a kafana is a sort of a tavern, inn, rustic decorated with specific type of music. In a variety of sub-genres, I have tried to sum up and mix some of the most often heard kafana songs including starogradska music, taburaši, sevdah and popular folk songs known as narodnjaci (not to be confused with turbofolk or “cajke”).
The goal was to have a mixture of performers of different nationalities, age and locations. Yes, more songs could be added, yes some regions were not included due to lack of significant songs and no, the list is not based on any official poll. Songs definitely vary from country to country, kafana to kafana.
Haris Džinović – I tebe sam sit kafano
The title literally translates as “I am fed up with you as well, kafana!“ Džinović sings about being left by his woman who has walked away because of his drinking in the first place. Furthermore, the lyrical subject would like to set the kafana on fire, he is quite emotional and nostalgic about his lost love, especially when the Gypsies come to him and sing him songs that remind him of his lost love.
This is a traditional song dating back to the Ottoman Empire. It translates to “My Darling“. The lyric subject is always a woman and it is sung that way even by male vocalists such as Safet Isović. She is crazy in love with her darling and telling him to take her wherever he goes, repeating how she loves him. The version provided here is the one sung by Amira Medunjanin, one of the most known and most prominent female sevdah singers nowadays.
This is also a traditional song considered to be Macedonian. It is sung from a male perspective directly addressing his darling Jovana whom he is waiting. However, in the last verse, we find out their love is forbidden by her mother and they will probably never be together out of her respect to her family. The version chosen is the one by Toše Proeski, the late signer from Macedonia and Bilja Krstić, traditional music singer from Niš, Serbia.
Halid Bešlić – U meni jesen je
Although this is a newer song, it is often sung at parties and you can see South Slavs ripping off their shirts and finishing off their rakijas when this one comes along. “Although everyone says it’s springtime, inside of me it is autumn because you are God knows where“would be a rough translation of the chorus and title of this song. Again, it is about lost loves and the motifs mentioned here are nature, night, and street – motifs South Slavs understand.
Đurđevdan is a remake of an old gypsy song called „Ederlezi“, which is made popular by Goran Bregović and his former band Bijelo Dugme. At the beginning of this version, we hear bass sounds which sound like bullets being fired by a rifle. Đurđevdan is one of the most common (Serbian) Orthodox slavas – a fest celebrating the family’s patron saint. Regardless of religion, this song is quite emotional and linked to wartime when the lyrical subject is not with his darling. Lyrics such as „Hey, to whom does my darling now smell of the valley lily?“ gives you chills up your spine. This one makes people cry.
The clip is from a Bijelo Dugme reunion concert accompanied by a brass band.
Gazde – Još i danas zamiriši trešnja
Due to its release during the 90s in Croatia, it is often considered to be about the wartime and having to leave your home. Be that or not, the fact that this is one of the most emotional songs played by the tamburaši remains. Tambura is a string instrument which is a type of a long-necked lute. The most famous tambura bands in the region of Balkan and former Yugoslavia are located in Slavonia, Croatia. The song translates to the lyrical subject leaving his home and telling „them“ to burn his house and field, but to spare the old cherry tree so he can see it when he drops by. This text begins in medias res with the words „And still, I can smell the cherry tree“.
Lažem sebe da mogu bez tebe
“I am lying to myself that I can be without you“. Yes, one more song about lost love. By now, you could have concluded that we are quite emotional people and that is takes us a lot to get over our ex lovers (if we ever do get over them completely). The version chosen is the one performed by Zorica Brunclik, a famous Serbian singer whose songs such as “Košava“ and “Avlije“ are also on the kafanas’ playlists.
Toma Zdravković – Dotako sam dno života
Four marriages, a great alcohol addiction, and legendary kafana songs. Toma Zdravković’s “I have touched the bottom of life“ tells us a story about his longing for the one that is not by his side anymore. His suffer is mostly silent (unlike Haris Džinović who has become a part of the kafana’s inventory or Miroslav Ilić who is breaking crystal glasses – a common wedding present in ex Yugoslavia, btw.).
Željko Bebek – Sinoć sam pola kafane popio
Željko Bebek is the first singer of one of the most popular groups in former Yugoslavia, Bijelo Dugme. After Dugme, he went solo. His velvety voice has quite a specific tone, thus being difficult to pull his songs off. “Yesterday I drank half of the kafana“ becomes a sort of lament of the lyrical subject who has drowned his sorrow into alcohol, the reason? Take a wild guess.
Predrag Živković Tozovac – Ti si me čekala (rujno vino)
What kind of list would this be without Tozovac? Unlike the lyric subjects who are crying and bitching around, Tozovac is keeping it real. He is apologizing to his significant other for cheating on her while drinking red wine. „May your tear hurt me because I have loved you“ he fucked up and he know it. Oh well, more wine, please!
Which kafana song brings the best/worst out of you?