ljiljana buttler 1Ljiljana Buttler (Petrovic) was a Roma singer from Bijeljina in Bosnia and Herzegovina. She was born in Belgrade in 1944 and passed away in Dusseldorf on April 26, 2010. She was the daughter of a Croatian singer and a Serbian Roma accordionist.
Ljiljana’s mother earned her living as a bar singer after the father left the family. Every evening, little Ljiljana went along with her mother to the bars and cafés, sitting down under the tables to soak up the music and her mother’s singing. By the age of 12, she knew her mother’s entire repertoire by heart. When her mother became ill, Ljiljana took her place and regularly sang from then on in the cafés and bars of Bijeljina.
She was able to pay for singing and piano lessons from the money she made as a singer and a short while later moved to Belgrade, the cultural capital of the former Yugoslavia. In the so-called kafanas, the music bars in the nightlife district of “Skadarlija”, Ljiljana became the crowd’s favourite in just a short time. She fascinated audiences with her unusually dark and deep voice and was soon acclaimed the “Billie Holiday of the Balkans”.
In 1969, Ljiljana recorded her first single under the name of Petrovic. In the years to follow, she became a national star, loved and acclaimed by the public as well as by intellectuals and artists. Ljiljana was in her prime at the end of the 1970s. She recorded albums, appeared on Yugoslavian TV and radio and gave concerts to sold-out halls. During this period, she came to be known as the “Mother of Gypsy Soul” because of her extremely passionate and expressive way of singing as well as because of her inimitable voice. A movie called “Vagabond” was produced that portrays her life and music.
But near the end of the 1980s, the political climate of her country changed, as did the musical taste of the people. Nationalism began to spread and “turbofolk” found its way onto the scene. Music by artists such as Ljlijana Butler was regarded as old-fashioned and out-of-date. Because of that, Ljiljana withdrew from music completely in 1987 and emigrated to Germany where she then led a bourgeois life.
In 2000, Dragi Sestic, musician and producer from Mostar in Bosnia and a member of Mostar Sevdah Reunion, came across an old recording of Ljiljana Buttler. He was so overwhelmed and touched by her voice that he went off in search of her. He found her in Germany and after a lot of talk, was able to convince her to start singing again. In 2002, the time had come. Her album “The Mother of Gypsy Soul” was released on Dragi Sestic’s label “Snail Records” and became a big hit.
Accompanied by the musicians in Mostar Sevdah Reunion, Ljiljana Buttler began her second career at the age of 58. She gave quite a number of concerts and toured throughout all of Europe. Her next album “The Legends of Life” came out in 2005, with Ljiljana bringing her distinctive style, a mixture of Bosnian Sevdah, Roma music and jazz, to perfection. In 2009, shortly before her death, her last album “Frozen Roses” was released.



Text: Robert Lippuner / Gypsy Music Network
Translation: Jamie Davies


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