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March 29, 2017

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Bosnia's most famous musician to help poor Roma children get music education

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina--Bosnia's most popular musician — a man whose international career has been built on music inspired by Balkan and Gypsy tunes — is searching for talented Roma children to help them get an education in music.

Goran Bregovic, a 63-year-old former rocker, started his quest Tuesday with a visit to Sarajevo's biggest Roma settlement of Gorica. That's the same name he has given his new foundation, which will provide scholarships to Roma kids who wish to study music but can't afford to.

"Roma are very talented in music but most have no education," Bregovic said.

Centuries-old prejudices and hostilities against Roma, also called Gypsies, have turned them into Europe's most underprivileged minority. Nearly half of the tens of thousands of Roma in Bosnia are illiterate and most live in extreme poverty on the margins of society.

"I cannot solve their huge problems, but as a neighbor to a neighbor, I can try to help as much as I can," Bregovic said.

That's why the residents of Gorica were so excited about his visit.

"No public figure has ever done something like this for us," said Zineta Hasanovic, 58. "We are so grateful."

Hours ahead of the artist's arrival, some of Gorica's 100-plus residents started a barbeque. When the children screamed "He's here!" a band begun playing. Bregovic quickly grabbed a guitar and joined in.

A turkey someone brought to the party interrupted the singing when it escaped from the man holding it. The crowd chased the bird around the square, eventually locking it up in an old car, before continuing the song. A group of young dancers shivered for a bit in light costumes as someone searched for an extension cord to play their music.

All these glitches were accepted by residents with good humor.

"(Roma have been) present in Europe for six or seven centuries and they have left a beautiful musical trace," Bregovic said, adding that many European composers — from Beethoven to Liszt — had been influenced by Gypsy music.

He urged others to also help Roma walk a path to a better life.

"To light a path that leads somewhere, you need a lot of little lights," the artist said. "If the foundation manages to educate a few little Roma, those will be a few little lights on their path."

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