Miss Sarajevo

In 1995, English musician, composer, producer, author and visual artist Brian Eno (b. 1948) teamed up with the Irish rock band U2 on a side project called Passengers. They released one album, Original Soundtracks 1.

Eno chronicled the Passengers project in his 1995 diaries, published in 1996 as A Year with Swollen Appendices (the appendices included essays, opinion pieces and other personal works that he referred to in the diary. Eno reissued the book with a new introduction in 2021. I bought the book, and while I can’t say I enjoyed all of it, it was an interesting concept to follow his daily life for a year, albeit well after the fact.

The group wrote most of the songs on Original Soundtracks 1 for imaginary films, except for a few, including “Miss Sarajevo,” which was also the only single from the album. The song was inspired by a documentary by American director and journalist Bill Carter, produced and funded by U2’s lead singer, Bono.

“Is there a time for keeping your distance
A time to turn your eyes away
Is there a time for keeping your head down
For getting on with your day

Is there a time for kohl and lipstick
Is there time for cutting hair
Is there a time for high street shopping
To find the right dress to wear

Here she comes, heads turn around
Here she comes, to take her crown

Is there a time to run for cover
A time for kiss and tell
A time for different colours
Different names you find hard to spell

Is there a time for first communion
A time for East 17
Is there time to turn to Mecca
Is there time to be a beauty queen

Here she comes, beauty plays the clown
Here she comes, surreal in her crown

Dici che il fiume
Trova la via al mare
E come il fiume
Giungerai a me
Oltre I confini
E le terre assetate
Dici che come il fiume
Come il fiume
L’amore giungerà
L’amore
E non so più pregare
E nell’amore non so più sperare
E quell’amore non so più aspettare

Is there a time for tying ribbons
A time for Christmas trees
Is there a time for laying tables
When the night is set to freeze”

“Miss Sarajevo,” by Brian Eno, Paul David Hewson (Bono), David Howell Evans (The Edge), Adam Clayton, Larry Mullen Jr. Lyrics retrieved from AZLyrics.com.

Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti (1935-2007) sang the operatic solo in the song, adding a rich depth to the piece. Bono translates the Italian libretto roughly as:

“You say that like a river finds its way to the sea
You will find your way back to me
You say that you will find a way
But love I’m not a praying man
And in love I can’t wait any more.”

The song was inspired by the documentary film about a beauty contest held in Sarajevo, the then-war-torn capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The intent of the film was to show the human side of the conflict, and it featured unedited clips of citizens speaking in the streets. In the video for the song, clips from the Carter film appear along with video taken during the first public playing of the piece at the 1995 Pavarotti & Friends concert in Modena, Italy. Late in the song, a documentary clip shows the pageant contestants holding a banner saying, in English, “Don’t Let Them Kill Us.

I feel the song is a tribute to the human spirit and capacity to savour life despite being in horrendous circumstances beyond one’s control. I love the piece, particularly the vocals by Pavarotti and Bono, the layers of synthesizer by Eno, and Edge’s steady guitar. English singer-songwriter George Michael (1963-2016) covered “Miss Sarajevo” on his 1999 album Songs from the Last Century. His version is quite different from the original, as it doesn’t include the operatic solo, but it’s quite beautiful, with a gorgeous acoustic guitar line and other instrumentation where the solo would have appeared. And his voice… what a loss it is to the world that he is no longer on this earthly plane.

“Miss Sarajevo” is one of my favourite U2 songs.

Now you know a little about why this is my Song of the Day for Today. Thanks for joining me here.

Here’s the concert version of the video from the official U2 YouTube channel:

I thought I’d also share the George Michael cover for comparison; here’s the audio from his YouTube channel:

Is there a version you prefer? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

With my best wishes,

Steve

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