Sevdalinka is a traditional genre of folk music from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Sevdalinka is popular across the ex-Yugoslavia region, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia. The actual composers of many sevdalinkas are unknown. In musical sense, sevdalinka is characterized by a slow or moderate tempo and rich harmony, leaving a melancholic feeling with the listener. Sevdalinka songs are very elaborate, emotionally charged and are traditionally sung with passion and fervor. The combination of Oriental, European and Sephardic elements make this type of music stand out among other types of folk music from the Balkans. The singer will often impose the rhythm and tempo of the song, both of which can vary throughout the song. Traditionally, sevdalinkas are women’s songs, most addressing the issue of love and longing, unfulfilled and unfortunate love, some touch on a woman’s physical desire for her loved one, and some have comic elements. Currently they are often performed by men as well. Traditionally, they were played without any instruments, hence the elaborate harmony. Modern interpretations are followed by a small orchestra containing accordion (the most prominent), violin, nylon-string guitars and/or other string instruments (occasionally), flute or clarinet (occasionally), upright bass, snare drum. In between the verses, an accordion or violin solo can almost always be heard.
The most prominent performers (singers) of sevdalinka in the 20th century are Zaim Imamović, Asim Brkan, Beba Selimović, Hanka Paldum, Himzo Polovina, Meho Puzić, Safet Isović, Silvana Armenulić, Zehra Deović and Nada Mamula. Although sang mainly by traditional Bosnian singers, sevdalinka has made its way to many “mainstream” musicians. Sevdalinkas were re-recorded by Josipa Lisac (she recorded Safet Isović song “Omer Beže”), Željko Bebek (“Da zna zora”), Ibrica Jusić (he recorded a whole album of sevdalinkas in 2003 named “Amanet”, and in 2008. called Amanet 2), Jadranka Stojaković and Zdravko Čolić or taken as a basis for few songs by Johnny Štulić (his band Azra was named after a verse from a sevdalinka song). In 1990s a band Mostar Sevdah Reunion was assembled in Mostar and in early 2000s they became widely popular on world music scene receiving high awards for their lively interpretations of sevdalinkas and introducing many people outside Bosnia to sevdalinka.
The origins of sevdalinka are not known for certain, though it is known to date from sometime after the arrival of the Turks in medieval Balkans. The word itself comes from the Turkish sevda which derives from the Arabic word sawda (meaning black and also black bile), which in earlier times was used by doctors to denote a substance purported to control human feelings and emotions. But in Turkish sevda doesn’t mean black; it means love, caressing. That word was brought to Bosnia by the Ottomans. Today it is a richly evocative Bosnian word meaning love, caressing, longing (for loved one), and the main theme of sevdalinka lyrics. Thus the people of Bosnia employ the words “sevdalinka” and “sevdah” interchangeably as the name of this music, although the word sevdah can also be used in other meanings. It is possible that the central term in Portuguese Fado saudade is of the same origin.