Featuring: Luciano Pavarotti
"Miss Sarajevo" is the only single from the 1995 album Original Soundtracks 1 by U2 and Brian Eno, under the pseudonym Passengers. Luciano Pavarotti makes a guest vocal appearance, singing the opera solo. It also appears on U2's compilation, The Best of 1990-2000, and was covered by George Michael on his album, Songs from the Last Century. While the song did not reach the Billboard Hot 100, it reached #6 on the UK Singles Chart and was a top-ten hit in many other European countries. Bono cites "Miss Sarajevo" as his favourite U2 song.
American journalist Bill Carter suggested the idea to film a documentary based on the underground resistance movement to Bono. Not only did Bono produce the film, he also provided the funds needed to support the project. Taken from the sleeves notes to Original Soundtracks: "The camera follows the organizers through the tunnels and cellars or the city, giving an unique insight into life during a modern :war, where civilians are the targets. The film captures the dark humour of the besieged Sarajevans, their stubborn refusal to be :demoralized and suggests that surrealism and Dadaism are the appropriate responses to fanaticism." - Bono
Bono went on to say that he felt that these lyrics reflected what the people of Sarajevo were feeling at the time. Original Soundtracks 1 is an album of songs based mostly on non-existent films; however, "Miss Sarajevo" is one of four tracks from the album that are based on real films. The film Miss Sarajevo is a documentary by Bill Carter about a beauty pageant held in the midst of war-torn Sarajevo, Bosnia. The winner was a 17-year-old blonde named Inela Nogić. Carter traveled to Sarajevo in the winter of 1993 to offer humanitarian aid and quickly found himself in the heart of the conflict. He lived for six months in a burnt-out office building, subsisting on baby food and whatever water he could find in the rivers and sewers and delivering food and medicine to those in need.
Carter originally contacted U2 while they were on their Zoo TV Tour to show audiences the real people involved, feeling that the western media were ignoring the human aspect of the war. The band arranged for several satellite link-ups where Carter gave the locals—who had been cut off from communication with the rest of Europe for about a year and a half at this point—an opportunity to be heard before stadiums of thousands. The link-ups were brief and unedited.
"The idea was simple, instead of doing what the news does, which is entertain you, I wanted to do something that the news rarely does, make a person care about the issue...I wanted young people in Europe to see the people in the war, I didn't want them to see politicians or religious leaders or military spokesmen." — Bill Carter
Carter had his camera sent to him from his home in California so he could film the documentary (which was produced by Bono) with the same goal of exposing people to the individuals living through the war. "The war is just a backdrop, it could be any war, the point is the vitality of the human spirit to survive, to laugh, to love, and to move on, that is something we will be addressing always. The song protests the war in Bosnia, criticizing the international community for its inability to stop the war or help those affected by it. It was the only single released from the album. Its video combines clips from Bill Carter's documentary with footage from the Passengers' first performance of the song at the 1995 "Pavarotti and Friends" concert in Modena. Clips from the documentary contain striking imagery, such as a shot of beauty pageant contestants holding up a banner with the words "DON'T LET THEM KILL US," as seen on the single's artwork. Carter's Sarajevo documentary was one of two Dreamchaser nominees for the 1995 International Monitor Awards, in Washington, D.C. Carter would go on to beating out his fellow nominee Ali Hewson's Chernobyl documentary 'Black Wind, White Land,' adventitiously, Bono's wife.
Carter and Bono's documentary collaboration reflects on the personal accounts of the civilians of Sarajevo, a city torn by modern warfare during the Siege of Sarajevo. This conflict stems from the ethnic struggle between Serb and Bosnian government forces. Once Bosnia and Herzegovina had declared their independence from Yugoslavia, the Serbs surrounded the capital, Sarajevo, as they planned to include a territory of the country as part of their new Serbian state of Republika Srpska. This is the longest siege of a capital city in the history of modern warfare, lasting from April 1992 till February 1996. The population of Sarajevo was reduced to ruins, no longer having access to public transit, water, gas and electricity, depending greatly on relief agencies. By October 1992 no-fly zones were established by the UN, making it very difficult for any media cover or relief plans to be sent into the country.
According to Bono, Pavarotti was very fond of the idea of collaboration even before "Miss Sarajevo" was even thought of, "He had been asking for a song. In fact, asking is an understatement. He had been crank-calling the house. He told me if I didn't write him a song, God would be very cross."
"Miss Sarajevo" was first performed September 12, 1995 at the annual Pavarotti And Friends concert in Modena, Italy. Bono, The Edge and Brian Eno joined Pavarotti on stage, with a complete orchestra, to premier the new Original Soundtracks 1 future single. All three dressed in black suits and white shirts and this was one of very few occasions where he performed without his famous headgear, perhaps a symbol of respect for not only the great tenor but for the song. Anna Coleman, wife of Marc Coleman who works closely with the band, wrote the Italian libretto for the track. Roughly translated by Bono, the lyrics read:
"You say that like a river finds its way to the sea/ You will find your way back to me/You say that will find a way/ But love I'm not a praying man/ And in love I can't wait anymore." -Bono
In addition to the "Pavarotti and Friends" performance, the song was played once on U2's 1997 PopMart Tour in Sarajevo with Brian Eno. U2 was the first band able to host a concert in the city since the end of the war, and the band was very pleased to be present there at the time. As per the Sarajevans' request, the show was not a benefit concert, and the band performed just as they did in any other city on the tour. The actual winner of the Miss Sarajevo pageant, Inela Nogic, was present at that show, and was escorted to the concert with the band themselves. Bono lost his voice during the concert, and unfortunately messed up during the performance of "Miss Sarajevo," and said afterwards, "Sarajevo, this song was written for you. I hope you like it, because we can't fucking play it." In reference to the performance, Larry Mullen Jr. said, "That [was] an experience I will never forget for the rest of my life. And if I had to spend 20 years in the band just to play that show, and have done that, I think it would have been worthwhile."
After its only live performance by U2 from 1997, the song has since been played live many times on the band's Vertigo Tour. On the tour's second leg in Amsterdam, "Miss Sarajevo" was played for the first time during the tour, replacing the usual nightly performance of "Running to Stand Still," and was played each night for the remaining 86 shows in the tour. During the performances, Bono sang opera solo part and The Edge played the song on the piano instead of the guitar. At the end of the performance each night, a video was shown with a woman reciting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Versions of performances from the Vertigo Tour concerts in Milan can be found on the album U2.COMmunication, in the video Vertigo: Live from Milan, and the concert film U23D.
Stephen Thomas noted that, while the collaboration seemed like "a step too far" on paper, the end result combined U2's rock with Eno's ambience and Pavarotti's emotion. He wrote that the "overall result is a startling realisation that not only are the two music genres, opera and rock, not mutually incompatible, but that Bono and Pavarotti's very different singing styles and capabilities sit unexpectedly well alongside one another."
The music video for this song, directed by Maurice Linnane, is a montage of three different events: the beauty contest described in the song, the original performance from the "Pavarotti and Friends" concert, and a tour through the streets of war-torn Sarajevo, under gunfire from the nearby troops. The video is featured on The Best of 1990-2000 DVD with a director's commentary, and a documentary entitled Missing Sarajevo.
Another version of this video exists, featuring only the footage from the Modena concert.