Saban Bajramovic - Gypsy Legend ; singer and songwriter : born Nis, Yugoslavia 16 April 1936; died Nis 8 June 2008.
Dubbed the \"King of Roma music\", Saban Bajramovic was the best-known male Romany singer of his generation. He was adored throughout the Balkans for his sobbing, gravelly wail in a career spanning more than four decades, during which he wrote around 700 songs and released more than 20 albums.
The Second World War disrupted his childhood, and the orphaned Bajramovic only completed four years of schooling, living by his wits on the streets and first making use of his pitch-perfect singing voice at Romany festivities. At 19 he ran away from the army out of love for a girl. As a deserter, he was sentenced to three years prison on the island Goli otok, but as he told the military court they couldn’t hold him for so long as he could survive, they raised his punishment to five and a half years. He survived as he was a good goalkeeper in the prison football team. Because of his nimbleness and speed, they called him \"Black Panther\". Soon he forced his way into the prison orchestra that played, among other things, jazz (mostly Armstrong, Sinatra, and even John Coltrane) with Spanish and Mexican pieces. Today he likes to say that he read 20.000 books in his life, most of them whilst in prison. He also says that the prison on Goli otok was his university of life where he formed his philosophy, adding that a person who has never been in prison is not a person at all.
After Goli Otok, his intensive music career began. He made his first record in 1964 and since than has made 15-20 LPs and about 50 singles. To date he is supposed to have composed 650 compositions. With his first major earnings, he bought a white Mercedes and hired two bodyguards. The story says that he soon lost his Mercedes gambling, and it seems Saban is still fond of a dice. Bajramovic quickly became a Romany icon, fronting his band the Black Mambas and earning a reputation as hard drinker, gambler and \"consumer of life\" who sported gold-capped teeth and left a string of wrecked cars in his wake.
The girl that caused him to go to Goli otok did not wait for him. He can’t say himself how many times he has been married since his return from the prison, and God alone knows how many children he has fathered throughout the Balkans. For 20 years he had his own group called ‘Black Mamba\" that toured half the world. They played real music or, as Saban says, more than music Nehru and Indira Ghandi invited him to India where they proclaimed him the world king of Gypsy music. Legend also has it that Gypsies respect and love Tito the most, Saban second and then, after ten empty places, once again Saban.
\"Saban lived by his own rules,\" observed the writer Garth Cartwright, who interviewed Bajramovic for his book Princes Amongst Men (2005). Infamously distrustful of the entertainment business – which no doubt often ripped him off – he was surrounded by legend and nicknamed \"No Show Saban\" for his own erratic approach to contractual obligations, often bunking off gigs and tours to moonlight on the gypsy wedding circuit if the money was right.
His success peaked during the 1970s, but by the early 1990s, competition, from new electronic \"turbofolk\", and piracy had undermined him. His profile crashed during the Balkan war, but eventually Dragi Sestic, an Amsterdam-based Bosnian producer tracked him down, coaxing the singer back into the studio to record A Gypsy Legend with the remarkable neo-folk ensemble Mostar Sevdah Reunion.