Bono In Conversation

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Post-Sarajevo Popmart concert, September 26, 1997

Bono In Conversation
by Andrew Mueller, the Independent

U2 in Sarajevo: Part 1 - The Stage is Set

What politicians and diplomats have failed to do for years, rock music might well accomplish Tuesday: end the division of Bosnia, at least for a few hours.

Fans from all over the bitterly divided country flocked to Sarajevo to hear the Irish rock band U2 in concert - the biggest spectacle the city has seen since the 1984 Winter Olympics.

The concert in the Kosevo Olympic stadium - rebuilt last year after suffering heavy damage during the 3 1/2-year war - has, in its own way, accomplished miracles.

About 45,000 people were expected to pack the stadium for Tuesday night's concert, which fulfills a pledge made by U2's lead singer Bono when he spent the first postwar New Year's Eve with Sarajevans in December 1995, weeks after the war ended.

For the first time since the start of the war in 1992, people more accustomed to seeing each other through the sights of a rifle were converging on the capital to listen to music together. It was a reminder of prewar Sarajevo, home to some of old Yugoslavia's best rock bands.

About 500 fans even came from the Bosnian Serb republic, and trains ran between the north and south of the country for the first time since the war-shattered railway network was repaired last year.

In Serb territory, tickets were available through international civilian organizations working to bring peace. In some places, U2 concert posters were pasted over pictures of Radovan Karadzic, the indicted wartime leader of the Bosnian Serbs.

Even the NATO-led peace force lent a hand to Tuesday's concert, helping to check the stadium for bombs.

Concert revenues - $18 a ticket on average - were being donated to a hospital reconstruction fund in Sarajevo.

During the war, U2 dedicated a song, Miss Sarajevo, to the city's suffering. On his ZOO TV tour in 1993-94, Bono established a direct link with Sarajevo - bringing a glimmer of the outside world to a city that endured 3 1/2 years of siege, shelling and sniping by the Serbs.

Bosnians never forgot it. "Welcome U2," the main daily Oslobodjenje proclaimed on its front page Tuesday.

"I felt excluded from the world for so long," said Azra Smailkadic, 18, who arrived Tuesday from Travnik in central Bosnia dressed in layers of sweaters and jackets. "It's not only about U2. It's the feeling of being part of the world again."

"The city is full of young people with backpacks," said her best friend, Amela Leko. "Everybody is here expecting something nice to happen for a change."

Although the railway from Sarajevo to the south and to the north was fixed by foreign donors last year, trains never ran until Tuesday, because Muslim and Croat politicians could not agree who would operate the railway within the Federation they share.

But U2's concert made them overcome the dispute for a day. Special trains from Maglaj to the north and Mostar to the south brought in fans Tuesday and were to take them back Wednesday morning. After that, the trains will be idle again.

The Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, is expected to be among the many political notables in the audience.

And at U2's request, the warm-up act was distinctly Sarajevan - the chorus of the city's Gazi-Husruf Beg Islamic high school singing two Islamic spiritual songs, Ilahije and Kaside.

U2 in Sarajevo: Part 2 - The Rattle and Hum

The hills around Sarajevo that once echoed to the rumble of artillery reverberated on Tuesday to the joyful singing of tens of thousands of people at a concert staged by Irish rock group U2.

It was the city's first major pop concert, and the first sign of normality, since the end of the Bosnian war in 1995.

The atmosphere was already electric after local support bands had played, but when U2 lead singer Bono lost his voice early in the concert the crowd went wild, helping him along with their joy, he told Reuters in an interview.

``So far I'm so bewildered that they didn't throw rocks at me when I couldn't sing for them. I just want to carry these people's luggage for the rest of my life,'' he said.

``It was one of the toughest and one of the sweetest nights of my life, that's for sure.''

Bono told the packed Kosevo stadium that "To play in Sarajevo is a gift from you to us"

``Forget the past, live the future, viva Sarajevo!'' he shouted to applause and cheers.

Memories of the war were not far away though. Film footage on a giant 100-fott high screen behind the band showed a beauty contest in the city in 1993 when contestants held a banner which read, ``Do not let them kill us.''

U2 treated the crowd to their first live performance of ``Miss Sarajevo,'' a song recorded with Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti to help a children's charity.

``My voice is gone but your voices are strong and I ask you to carry me like you carried each other in those weeks, months and years,'' Bono told the crowd, who waved, whistled and cried.

U2 were the first major rock group to play in Bosnia since the war ended, and the first real sign Sarajevo could return to normal. ``To the city of the future,'' Bono said.

Ticket prices were kept low for the 50,000 people who filled the stadium, including two stands of NATO peacekeping soldiers in uniform.

``We thought we'd play just a small scratch gig as a benefit concert but they didn't want a benefit concert...they wanted the 40-foot lemon, they wanted the drive-in movie screen, they wanted the whole shebang,'' Bono said.

``I think they wanted, more than anything, a return to normalcy. That's what these peple want, it's what they deserve. They don't need any kind of patronising from people like me.''

Thousands of young people flocked to the concert from all over Bosnia and other former Yugoslav republics. The first trains to arrive in Sarajevo since the war came from Mostar and Maglaj. Slovenian visas were not required for the day.

Special buses brought fans from Zagreb, Ljubljana and even Bosnia's Serb Republic -- a rare journey across the ethnic boundary line into the Moslem-Croat Federation.

``We worked quite hard to make sure tickets were available in Croatia and even from Republika Srpska we had about 1,000 people came down today which is great,'' Bono said.

``We tried our best to make it as multi-ethnic as Sarajevo was, and will be again.

``There was a lot of joy in the house and joy is the hardest thing. Our music is tough and it's raw in places but I think it has joy also and it had more joy tonight than ever before.''

As he croaked through the interview with a voice about to give up, the thrill of finally being in Sarajevo after years of planning was obvious. ``Tonight wasn't ordinary, it depended on magic...I will always remember this night for lots of reasons.''

The Setlist:
Pop Muzik Intro
I will follow
Even Better than the Real
Thing Last Night On Earth
Until the End of the World
New Year's Day
Pride(In the Name of Love)
Still Haven't Found.. / Stand By Me
All I want is You
Staring At the Sun
Sunday Bloody Sunday (Acoustic, Edge Vocals)
Bullet the Blue Sky
Where the Streets Have No Name

Encore 1:
Lemon Intro
If You Wear that Velvet Dress
With Or Without You
Miss Sarajevo

Encore 2:
Mysterious Ways
Everlasting Love

U2 in Sarajevo: Part Three - The Morning After

"It wasn't quote what I'd planned," relflects Bono, when I meet him in his hotel suite the following morning.

"I'd planned to be in fine voice. I have been in fine voice, of late, though I'd probably have been a terrible pain in the arse if I had actually pulled it off!"

"But maybe," he continues, "that allowed room for Sarajevo to take the gig away from us. Tey could see that things could go horribly wrong, they'd gone to a lot of trouble to come here, and they were just going to make it happen. And they did. The original idea was that we'd flash bastard it into town and play a rock n'roll show. You know, don't patronise these people, just do it. I was gonna give them the full whack. I jst wasn't able to. But it dwarfed PopMart. That's what I thought was interesting. Something else went on, something that I, as an outsider in the city, probably couldn't understand."

Bono is no less famous in Bosnia than anywhere else, but even he must have ben bewildered by his reception yesterday. After U2 touched down at Sarajevo's battered airport, they were whisked under police escort to a meeting with Bosnia's president, Alija Izetbegovic. Bono gave him a W B Yeats first edition.

"We talked," says Bono, "about Sarajevo as an interface between east and west, between Islam and Christianity. I think that's why Sarajevo is a city of the future, because that axis is important. I also think Sarajevo is imortant as a symbol of tolerance."

A few weeks ago, U2 played Belfast for the first time in years.

"There was a similar feeling, yeah," he says, "And I think as far as Belfast is concerned, the leaders of the various parties there might enjoy a visit to this country, to see what results if they can't resolve their problems peacefully. This is what happens. Here it is."

Copyright © 1997 The Independent. All rights reserved.

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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on September 26, 1997 4:42 AM.

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