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Da je višnja k'o trešnja (124)

One of the most difficult things for a person learning Bosnian/Croatian/Montenegrin/Serbian as a foreign language is to remember the difference between višnja and trešnja – which one is the sour cherry and which one the sweet? I’ve spoken to a number of non-native speakers of the language who have “just given up” on remembering. I personally thought I had it down – until I learned I had been wrong for five years after hearing this song! (A bag of frozen višnje I saw at the supermarket at around the same time, labeled “sour cherries” in English, confirmed this).


This song makes sure that you can never forget the difference between the cherries. Because if a sour cherry was sweet, then I would be the most beautiful girl in the village! Alas.


Da je višnja k'o trešnja,

Ja bih bila najlepša.

Ali višnja malo kisi –

Slatko lane, gdi si?

Ali višnja malo kisi –

Slatko lane, gdi si?


Slatko lane, gdi si ti,

Volela b’ te videti,

Volela b’ te ljubit’ diko,

Al’ da ne zna niko!

Volela b’ te ljubit’ diko,

Al’ da ne zna niko!


 

If a sour cherry was like a sweet cherry,

I would be the most beautiful.

But a sour cherry is a little sour –

Sweet fawn, where are you?


Sweet fawn, where are you?

I would love to see you.

I would love to kiss you, darling,

But let no one know!


 

This song was thrust upon me as my new solo when I returned to Belgrade after a year in Prague and rejoined my singing group. Another girl had recently left the group, and her solo was vacant – thus it became mine (and my headache, due to its high key that was not well suited for my low break). I ended up singing it for weeks and weeks over our pandemic-mandated Viber lessons during the quarantine of the fall/winter of 2020.


Despite my initial trepidation and continued struggle to sing the song well, it was constantly stuck in my head. It’s an upbeat bop with juicy little ornaments and cute, fruit-based lyrics (a third verse I learned also mentions jabuke – apples and dunje – quinces), something that floats to the surface of your consciousness when the sun is shining or when you just got some good news.


However, the lyrics are not all that bright, especially if you add in the third verse I referred to:


Dve jabuke, tri dunje,

Na ormaru istrule.

Istrule su stajajući –

Diku čekajuci.

Istrule su stajajući –

Diku čekajuci.


Two apples, three quinces,

Rotted in the closet.

They rotted while standing –

My darling waiting.


It reminds me of what Tim Rice writes in May it Fill Your Soul (1994, pp. 115-126), a book about Bulgarian folk music, about how the primary topics of folk songs sung by women are a response the violence that women were subjected to in that patriarchal society. Here, we have an upbeat, cheerful song with lots of fruit in it, but it is about a girl struggling with her position in society: first, she wants to be beautiful but is not, and this has some unsung social consequences; and second, she has a forbidden love, one that withers away while the boy waits for her to be allowed out of the house by her parents.


This song is a northern song. This photo of a Jugoton record from an unknown year (recording here) says that it is from Slavonia (Slavonija), a region in the northeast of present-day Croatia which borders Bosnia and Herzegovina to the south, Serbia to the east, and Hungary to the north. Elsewhere, I have read that the song is from Vojvodina. I later found out that one of my fellow singers’ lesson notes state that the song is from the Banat, arriving to Serbia from Hungary.


I could tell that it was from this general area before I learned all of this, however, because it is consistent in character, both lyrical (topic, word choice (diko!) and composition) and musical (tune, tambura pattern), with songs from Vojvodina and the Banat that I have heard before.


This (1986) is the most viewed version of the song on YouTube and the one I like the most, for its light and playful take on the tune.


According to the information in the caption of this video, the song was collected by Tihamér Vujicsics (Tihomir Vujičić), an ethnomusicologist and composer with Serbian heritage who was born in Hungary. One of his main activities was collecting songs from Yugoslav communities living in Hungary. The group that recorded this song is called Vujicsics Ensemble, and is his legacy. The “legendary” group is still active today (and the article linked here has some really interesting details about the Serbian and Croatian communities in Hungary, as well as the history of the Ensemble!).


I think this video is cool, because it shows a group of women singing the song at “Croatian Day” in Cepreg, Hungary, 2008. Their accent is unmistakably Hungarian, indicating that these are Hungarian women with Croatian roots who are performing the song in celebration of their heritage.


Here is a super old recording, apparently from 1917, sung by a man – B. Lupulof (Lupulov) accompanied by an accordion.


Here are two contemporary choral versions, similar to what my singing group is working on: Maja Radivojevic and ethnomusicology students at the University of Belgrade and Akademsko društvo "Novi Beograd". Some of the phrasing, particularly in the second video is really different from the other versions, which is very interesting. I wonder how that happened.


There are many versions of the song with different lyrics, like Minka Ašćerić’s version.


Finally, Gordana Kojadinović, a Serbian opera singer, got to sing this song on TV on her 80th birthday and it’s very sweet. Just throwing it out there that I would like to sing on TV for my 80th birthday.


Honestly, I think slowing the song down takes away a lot of its beauty and makes it drag. This song reminds me of youth, and when it’s slowed down, I get more of a sad, regretful feeling – plus, the slowed speed makes most of the singers’ voices sound old. I find myself clinging to the lightness of the Vujicsics’s version.