A Musician Who Lost His City

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Haris Dzinovic: A Musician Who Lost His City

Friday, March 22, 1996, page 24

By Mike ZwerinInternational Herald Tribune

PARIS – Haris Dzinovic opened his fat press book with torn and aging color photographs of young pop stars with winner smiles and good complexions, accompanied by blurbs and press releases in Serbo-Croat.

The name of his language has turned into a kind of oxymoron, and a past tense prefix has been added to the name of his country.

“I sold more than 3 million albums in the ex-Yugoslavia,“ he said. “I am Bosnian, but Serbs and Croats loved my music too. Now my friends keep telling me, ‘Come back, Haris. We still listen to your music. We need you more than ever. Please. Come back.“’

An Associated Press article dated Jan. 20 described the ambience in a Serb café in Sarajevo: “In a scene typical of the strange dichotomies and seeming contradictions that make friends of enemies and enemies of friends in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbs sitting around the table are moved to sing, dance and cry to the music of a popular folk singer, Haris Dzinovic, a Muslim.“

Now 40, Dzinovic won music industry prizes and fanzine polls for composing, recording and performing Gypsy-oriented folk music with his own orchestra in top variety music venues and stadiums.

In March of 1992, after being abroad on vacation, he flew back to Belgrade as the war was starting. He decided not to continue on to his hometown, Sarajevo, because “I am afraid of hand grenades and assault rifles.“ There was heavy eye contact, and the unspoken phrase – “See, I am not afraid to say I am afraid.“

Interviewed on Radio Belgrade shortly after he arrived, Dzinovic was asked about the political situation. He said that in his opinion if Belgrade was bombarded by a hostile foreign force tomorrow, “at least 100,000 Sarajevans would come here and help defend it. We are countrymen. We are comrades. This war is a scandal. Stop attacking Sarajevo.“

A few days later, he went to visit a friend in Novi Sad, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) away, where, late one night in a discotheque, he encountered a man who did not approve of such a fraternal point of view. “It was like the Wild West,“ Dzinovic said. “The war was already making people crazy.“

“What are you doing in Serbia,“ the man shouted. “You are Bosnian, you are a Muslim. Go back to where you come from.“ The man was obviously drunk. Maybe he was jealous of the big pop star with the fast cars and the beautiful women. Either way, Dzinovic got the message. Love it or leave it. He left.

He had been born and bred in Sarajevo. His father was an engineer, his mother an economist.

He played the accordian at first, until discovering that it was considered a proletarian instrument – not intellectual enough, and not very “sexy,“ as far as the girls were concerned. They had their noses in the air.

So he taught himself the guitar and then he slipped the janitor a bottle of slivovitz a day so he could practice on the grand piano in the high school gymnasium.

After signing a contract with a Sarajevo football club, he decided to go to law school. He graduated but had his first of many hits and a new career as a pop star before he had a chance to practice.

“I have no curiosity to see my beautiful city again,“ he said. ‘Those stupid morons have destroyed it. They have destroyed friendship. Destroyed love. Many of my friends are dead. My spirit is mortally wounded. Quelle horreur!“

Although he recently cut an album in English (to be released this year, one song is called “My Home-town, Sarajevo“) and speaks it well, he is a resident of France now and he preferred to be interviewed in French. Actually, he might have come to France even without a war. Tired of being a big fish in a remote pond, he had been ready for a new career move anyway.

He arrived in early 1993, a refugee but not a vagabond. He was liquid, he had deposited money in West European banks. But he discovered that the Yugoslav painter who had invited him to Cannes had died. The painter’s best friend had made a fortune in real estate and offered him the use of an apartment on the Croisette.

Thus based on the French Riviera (he has since moved to Saint-Tropez), Dzinovic toured Europe performing 77 benefit concerts for Bosnia in three years. At the same time he founded a record company. The widow of Claude François, the French variety music star who wrote “Comme d’Habitude,“ a song Frank Sinatra later made into an even bigger hit called “My Way,“ asked Dzinovic to write Serbo-Croat lyrics to the melody. He did and he recorded it, but at the last moment he decided not to release the record at this stage of the game. He does not want to be introduced into the international market with a song already so well known and associated with other singers. “I’m not a debutant,“ he said, somewhat defensively. But on the other hand he is exactly that in the larger and richer territory to which he has moved.

One way or another, by now there has been so much water under so many bridges that he cannot imagine any circumstance that would tempt him to sing in Serbo-Croat in Sarajevo again:

“What they say about Sarajevo is not a myth. It was a magic town with a rich cultural life. People of many nationalities lived there together in harmony. There were many good musicians.“

Returning to it now that it is reunited would be considered a good, even noble deed by his friends. But he snickered and said:

“Bad things would happen to me. Like some drunken Serb is going to call me a dirty Muslim. So I ask myself, is it worth the price?“

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