The Erie Downtown Partnership and Erie Arts and Culture worked together to produce two live-streamed concerts featuring local Muslim artists. They were released in April to recognize the beginning of Ramadan, a month of fasting and devotions for Muslims.
One of these videos was broadcasted internationally on May 13, 14, and 17 by Hayat TV. Hayat is based in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo and airs across the country. Hayat also has several satellite stations that transmit internationally to Bosnians living abroad. Due in large part to the Serbian war and genocide, more than half of Bosnians now live outside their country.
The program is a 40-minute solo presentation by Mensura Berberovic, an expert in traditional ballads known as Sevdalinka. Sevdalinka express the pain of love and loss and the intense bonds of family. In her program Berberovic uses the songs to illustrate her early life in Bosnia, living through genocide, and settling in Erie. Berberovic resettled in Erie in 1995 fleeing Serbian aggression. While living in Erie she has presented her songs at schools and festivals locally and in Detroit, Canada, Harrisburg, and Sarajevo. She was a speaker with the PA Humanities Council for seven years and has been awarded numerous grants from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts recognizing her as a master folk artist. Berberovic is humbled by the attention. “Of all the Bosnian cable stations, Hayat is my favorite because they show so much music, “ she said. She reported that Hayat discovered her video on FaceBook and reached out to her. “It is a huge honor they are playing my program this week, at the end of Ramadan. It is an important time for family celebrations. It is a dream come true.”
Sanela Poricanin, Hayat’s Director of Foreign Programs also remarked on choosing an auspicious holiday. “We are broadcasting it on the first day of Eid because it shows someone who finds her way to live life. Mensura’s story is about survival and also about trying to do your best to make life better. Sevdalinka are really important in our country and Mensura understands them. She sends the viewers a positive message.” Poricanin explained that their older audience will find Mensura’s singing gratifying, but it is even more important to reach their younger audience that they learn about their musical and political history. “Mensura,” she wrote, “is amazing. Sevdalinka talk about love, pain, and relationships. Sometimes set in cities or villages, or are about important places in Bosnia. They are much stronger than the usual folk, pop or jazz song; the texts are more intense. You can sing them a cappella, with instruments, or in a choir, but most important is the singer’s ability to present it very well, to touch the hearts of the audience. Just the best singers can do that.”
Mensura’s video was made possible by a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and was filmed by the team at R. Frank Media with audio by Maria Gangemi and Nick Corsi of Grise Audio Visual. Kelly Armor, Erie Arts & Culture’s Folklorist in Residence, adds, “It was great that the Erie Downtown Partnership stepped up to make these beautiful videos happen. The fact that they will now be seen by hundreds of thousands of people around the world is a testament to Mensura’s artistry and the incredibly high production quality. Erie can be very proud!”