The Official page of  Mostar Sevdah Reunion™

Ljiljana Buttler - The Mother of Gypsy Soul

14.12.1944 - 26.04.2010)


Šaban Bajramović - Gypsy  Legend

  (16. 4.1936 - 08.06.2008)


Ljiljana Buttler is one of the great re-discovered voices of Eastern Europe. Deep, dark and distinctive. Her recording with the Mostar Sevdah Reunion band, “The Mother of Gypsy Soul” (Snail Records) is one of my CDs of the year and impresses everyone I've played it to. Simon Broughton (Songlines) .. ….

Ljiljana Buttler’s debut CD is delicious: Ljiljana’s deep, almost masculine, voice picks out words and tosses them into the air with effortless grace. And the instrumental backing by Mostar Sevdah Reunion and legendary trumpet virtuoso Boban Marković is inspired: the musicians spoon out the notes with a tangible, almost erotic, delicacy while Ljiljana sails above them, her voice caressing the listener. Garth Cartwright (FRoots) .. ..




Ljiljana Buttler was born in Belgrade on 14th of December 1944. Her father was an accordion virtuoso and her mother a Croatian singer. But her father left soon after she was born and her mother had to support herself and her child, singing in bars. They settled in Bijeljina, a small town in Bosnia, but one night her mother fell ill and Ljiljana went to the café and said “My mother can’t come tonight, she’s sick. Please let me sing.” She was only 12 but had learned at her mother’s side.

A year later her mother left and Ljiljana was on her own – she continued singing in cafes to support herself through school. Then she headed for Belgrade. “I started singing in bars in Skadarlia (the famous restaurant quarter, a sort of Balkan Montmartre)”, she remembers. “The atmosphere was fantastic. The people laughed and cried during the music. That always inspired me – that and strong sljivovica (plum brandy), lots of sad loves and lots of emotion and romance. Sometimes we made recordings for Radio Belgrade. They simply came to the cafes, listened to the music and if they liked it, asked the musicians back to the radio to record”.

From 1980 Ljiljana started doing concerts and became well-known on TV until the political and musical mood started changing with so-called turbo-folk providing the soundtrack for the Milosevic era. “Even before the war, I realised that somehow the joy had vanished and the Balkan men were no longer interested in love stories. Suddenly it became important to wear a short skirt and flash your cleavage. The shorter the skirt, the better singer you were thought to be. I realised my time was over. It was a time for weapons and hatred. It affected me terribly and the war that followed has left scars that will last forever.” ..

In 1987 she vanished from the Balkan music scene in which she played such a dominant role, leaving music lovers wondering about her mysterious disappearance.

In 2002 she decided to return to her homeland and record a new album on the Snail Records label. Her vocal abilities on “Mother of Gypsy Soul” lead us to the depths of Gypsy and Balkan soul. What she is presenting to us is a pure handbook of Balkan Blues. The astonishing reappearance of this lost legend is something to be more than grateful for. .. Her performance on the albums shows why, in the former Yugoslavia, she was referred to as the 'Gypsy Ella Fitzgerald' and the 'Billie Holiday of Gypsy Music', but mostly she was called lovingly the 'Mother of Gypsy Soul'.


Ljiljana Buttler died on 26th of April 2010 in Dusseldorf, Germany.


Our consolation is her music - that immortal part of her remains as a lasting legacy to us.

We shall never forget her.




Ljiljana’s videos

Ljiljana Buttler at Womad 2007

Ljiljana Buttler and Mostar Sevdah Reunion - "Pilem, pilem"

Ljiljana Buttler - "Kada moja mladost prodje"


We are very sad to report the passing of Serbian Roma musician Saban Bajramovic who died in Nis on 8 June 2008 aged 72, following a heart attack.


Saban Bajramovic was a giant among Gypsy singers, quickly becoming a legend in Yugoslavia. His deep, soulful voice and innate musical talent captured the imagination of General Tito and other well-known political figures and he was honoured with the title “World King of Gypsy Music” by Prime Minister Nehru and Indira Gandhi during a visit to India. Yet his life was not an easy one. Born on 16 April 1936 in Nis, Serbia (then part of former Yugoslavia), he left school after just four years, acquiring his musical education on the streets and at parties, like many Roma musicians before him.


He absconded from military service at the age of 19, having fallen in love, was court-martialled as a deserter and sentenced to three years in prison on the notorious island of Goli Otok. His sentence was subsequently increased to five and a half years when he defiantly stated in court that he could withstand any prison sentence imposed on him. Yet despite the hardships he endured there (regular fights left him with a motley collection of scars), prison proved to be the making of him. He learned to read and write and his natural skills as a footballer ensured his survival, playing goalkeeper for the prison football team and earning himself the nickname 'Black Panther'. It wasn't long before he found his way into the prison orchestra performing, among other things, jazz (Louis Armstrong, Sinatra, and even John Coltrane) alongside Spanish and Mexican music. He always maintained that prison had provided him with an education for life, allowing him to formulate his own personal philosophy, and was later quoted as saying that "a person who has never been in prison is not a person at all".


Once out of jail he embarked on an intensive career in music. He made his first recording in 1964, and went on to record 15-20 LPs and around 50 singles. During his life he is believed to have composed some 700 songs including the official anthem of the Roma people 'Djelem, Djelem'.


"Over the years, his music has been constantly stolen, copied, and imitated by both famous and unknown musicians. Promises and contracts have proven worthless. Actually, he's never been interested in protecting his work. Where others would have earned millions, he's lived as he's always lived: from day to day, making music, going wherever he wants, and not recognising any limits at all." (Dragi Sestic - Mostar Sevdah Reunion)


With his first major earnings, he bought a white Mercedes and hired two bodyguards, although the story goes that it wasn't long before his gambling habit lost him the Mercedes.


Bajramovic's popularity soon spread beyond the Balkans and the release of A Gypsy Legend on World Circuit in 2001 brought his music to a wider audience. Netherlands-based Bosnian producer Dragi Sestic spent many months tracking down Saban in order to make this recording: "My father gave me a bunch of LPs of Saban from his collection and suggested that I record Saban (his favourite singer). After months of searching I found his telephone number at the end of 1999. It was an incredible experience: I never heard somebody singing so good in front of me - just from a meter away. I was amazed with his singing technique and the colour in his voice. It sounded ten times better than on the old LPs."


"It is difficult to stay objective while listening to this masterpiece. The saying goes that no one should go down on one's knees and bow one's head before a living human being, but in this case an exception should be made." Mladen Hlubna, Oslobodjenje (Bosnia), 6 December 2001.


A number of Serbian releases followed and despite his reputation as elusive and unreliable, he continued to make appearances until his health deteriorated. Sadly, in 2008, it was revealed that Bajramovic was suffering serious health complications, no longer able to walk and living in poverty in Niš. The Serbian government intervened to provide him with some financial support.


His latest recording produced by Dragi Sestic, Mostar Sevdah Reunion - “Saban” (Snail Records, 2006/07 , SR 66008) will serve as a lasting memorial to his musical genius.


"Saban is a gorgeous album… It's so rare to find good recordings of Saban and he himself appears in such poor health that this album may well be his last testament. I will treasure Saban, listening again and again, every time finding something new and of beauty." (Garth Cartwright, fRoots magazine)



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