Boneyard Media

Song ID: Azra’s “Balkan” and Heinrich Heine


The heart and soul of the Azra, one of Yugoslavia’s greatest bands, is one man, Branimir “Johnny” Stulic, and to me he personifies the old pan-Yugoslav spirit. This is a mythical notion, some may say, but I cling to it all the same. Before making records, Stulic had developed a reputation as a Zagreb street singer, which suited his knack for writing such seemingly well-traveled folk songs. And although he’s Croatian, I wouldn’t characterize Azra as a “Croatian” band. Their first single is called “Balkan,” after all, and includes phrases like “we are all gypsies” and “Balkan, be strong and stand tall.” The inspiration for his band’s name, on top of that, came from a Bosnian folk song called “Kraj tanana sadrvana,” which includes the line: “My name is El Muhamed from the tribe of the old Azra, that lose their lives for love and die when they kiss.”

But Stanislav, our resident Yu rock authority, recently threw me for a loop when he told me how he’d discovered that the line actually comes from German poet Heinrich Heine. In Heine’s “Der Asre,” the closing words, which the unknown Bosnian translator later spruced up, go like this: “I’m from the tribe of Azras in Yemen and we die for love.” Another little tidbit: the mulleted ’80s Bosnian pop band Crvena Jabuka (Red Apple, who I’m also a fan of) appropriated the words for their 1986 song “Sa tvojih usana.”

Azra – “Balkan” (live video c. 1987)

posted by Kim Simpson

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