1997 U2 concert in Sarajevo
|Historic concert by U2|
Sarajevo concert poster
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
|Date(s)||23 September 1997|
|Supporting act(s)||Gazi-Husruf Beg choir, Protest, Sikter|
|U2 concert chronology|
U2's 1997 concert in Sarajevo was held at Koševo Stadium in Bosnia and Herzegovina on 23 September 1997. U2, who visited the city on their PopMart Tour, became the first major artist to hold a concert in Sarajevo since the end of the Bosnian War.
U2 first became involved with Sarajevo in 1993 on their Zoo TV Tour. Approached by aid worker Bill Carter about bringing attention to the Bosnians hurt by the Siege of Sarajevo, the band began to conduct nightly satellite transmissions with Bosnians while on tour. The group vowed to eventually play a concert in the city. After the war ended in November 1995, U2 made arrangements to visit Sarajevo on an upcoming tour. With the aid of United Nations ambassadors and peace-keeping troops, the group played a show in Sarajevo on their 1997 PopMart Tour.
The concert featured the standard PopMart stage, and the band played a set list typical of the tour. The show brought together people of different ethnicities, who had previously clashed during the war. Among the songs played was "Miss Sarajevo", written by the band about a beauty pageant held during the war. Although the band were displeased with their performance and lead vocalist Bono had vocal difficulties, the concert was well-received and was credited with improving morale among Bosnians, as well as helping signal a return to normalcy.
War in Sarajevo
Yugoslavia was composed of six constituent republics: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia. In the early 1990s, Bosnia, Croatia, and Slovenia seceded from Yugoslavia, creating tension in the ethnic communities. The Serbs, whose strategic goal was to create a new Serbian State of Republika Srpska (RS) that would include part of the territory of Bosnia and Herzegovina, encircled Sarajevo with a siege force of 18,000 stationed in the surrounding hills, from which they assaulted the city with weapons that included artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers and rocket-launched aircraft bombs. From 2 May 1992 until the end of the war in 1996, the Serbs blockaded the city. The Bosnian government defence forces numbering roughly 40,000 inside the besieged city were poorly equipped and unable to break the siege. The Muslim government of Bosnia was trapped in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb community, who had taken control of about 70 percent of Bosnia at the time. Many Muslim citizens were forced away from their homes in a process of ethnic cleansing. Women and children attempting to buy food were frequently shot at by Serbian snipers in an attempt to create terror. Mines were painted brightly in red and yellow by the Serbs in the hopes that children would pick them up out of curiosity.
In 1993, U2 were in Europe for the "Zooropa" leg of their Zoo TV Tour. Before their 3 July show in Verona, Italy, the band received a fax from Radio Televizija Bosne I Hercegovina asking for an interview regarding the situation in Bosnia. The band agreed and met with an American aid worker named Bill Carter, who acted as the station's foreign associate, due to Serbian travel restrictions. Carter described his experiences in Sarajevo helping Bosnians while surviving the dangerous living conditions. Lead vocalist Bono was unnerved to hear that those living in makeshift bomb shelters in the city played music, including U2's, at loud volumes to drown out the sound of explosions. While in Sarajevo, Carter had seen a television interview on MTV in which Bono mentioned the theme of the Zooropa tour leg was a unified Europe. Feeling that such an aim was empty if ignoring the Bosnians' plight, Carter sought Bono's help. Carter requested that the group go to Sarajevo to bring attention to the war and break the "media fatigue" that had occurred from covering the conflict.
Bono agreed to the idea without asking the rest of the band. The group briefly considered playing an impromptu concert in the city. Bono suggested that they perform in the bunker where Carter and his friends had hid during the siege, saying "even if all we get is some extra attention for Bosnia on MTV, that's something". The idea fell through when it was pointed out that the logistics of transporting the equipment into the city were impossible, as the only way into Sarajevo was on a United Nations plane. Manager Paul McGuinness realized that even if the band managed to organize a concert, it would endanger their lives and those of the audience and the Zoo TV crew, saying, "U2's effort to discuss any humanitarian issue have sometimes been accompanied by a false instinct that U2 is also obliged to resolve that issue. Going to Sarajevo seems to me to fall into that category. I think it would endanger the people we go with, endanger the tour, and endanger the band." Drummer Larry Mullen, Jr. feared that the move would look like a publicity stunt.
Instead, the group agreed to use the tour's satellite dish to conduct live video transmissions from their concerts to Carter in Sarajevo. Carter returned to the city and was able to assemble a video unit. The band had to purchase a satellite dish to be sent to Sarajevo and had to pay a £100,000 fee to join the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). Once set up, the band began satellite link-ups to Sarajevo on nearly a nightly basis, the first of which aired on 17 July 1993 in Bologna, Italy. To connect with the EBU satellite, Carter and two co-workers were forced to visit the Sarajevo television station at night and to film with as little light as possible to avoid the attention of snipers and bombers. To reach the building, they had to traverse an area known as "Sniper Alley". This was done a total of 12 times over the course of a month. Carter discussed the deteriorating situation in the city, and Bosnians often spoke to U2 and their audience. These grim interviews starkly contrasted with the rest of the show; concerts on the Zoo TV Tour were elaborately-staged multimedia events that satirised television and the audience's over-stimulation by attempting to instill "sensory overload" in its audience. Most of the shows were scripted, but the link-ups to Sarajevo were not, leaving the group unsure about who would be speaking or what they would say. U2 stopped the broadcasts in August 1993 after learning that the Siege of Sarajevo was being reported on the front of many British newspapers. Though this trend had begun before the band's first Sarajevo transmission, Nathan Jackson suggested that U2's actions had brought awareness of the situation to their fans, and to the British public indirectly.
Reactions to the transmissions were mixed. Many fans felt the transmissions disrupted the flow of the concerts. Most of the British press was highly critical. One writer for NME wrote, "The Bosnian linkup was beyond bad taste. It was insulting." Bono thought that they were bringing the public's attention to an important event, though he admitted that the link-ups were the most difficult thing the band had done in their career. Guitarist The Edge said, "We don't normally see that kind of cold hard news. We get a very sanitized, editorialized take on everything... When you watch the television news, you are getting something palatable, whereas this was really quite unpalatable most of the time. And for that reason I think it affected people very much, including us." Mullen worried that the band were exploiting the Bosnians' suffering for entertainment. During a transmission from the band's concert at Wembley Stadium, three woman in Sarajevo asked what the band intended to do to help before telling Bono, "We know you're not going to do anything for us. You're going to go back to a rock show. You're going to forget that we even exist. And we're all going to die." Some people were upset by the circumstances of Sarajevo and were inspired to join the War Child charity project, including U2 producer Brian Eno, the day after the Wembley concert. Despite U2's obligation to the tour and their inability to play in Sarajevo during the war, they vowed to perform in Sarajevo someday.
The band contributed to Bosnian relief efforts to enhance humanitarian and public awareness around the issue, and Bono and Carter subsequently collaborated on the documentary Miss Sarajevo, which showcased the war-torn city during Carter's six months living there. In 1995, U2 wrote the song "Miss Sarajevo" as a response to "the surreal acts of defiance that had taken place during the siege of Sarajevo". One such act was a beauty contest organized by Bosnian women who planned to fight the war with their "lipstick and heels". During the contest, all of the participants walked onto the stage wearing sashes that said, "Don't let them kill us". Years later, Bono said, "It was pure Dada and it deserved to be celebrated in song." Of the song's meaning, he said, "Everywhere people had heard their call for help—but help never came. That was the feeling. I had tried to tackle subjects like this head-on, but I'd learnt a lesson. You have to try and make the same points, in a different, less direct, more surrealist way." "Miss Sarajevo" was recorded with Luciano Pavarotti and released as the first single from U2's side-project with Eno entitled Original Soundtracks 1; the record was released under the pseudonym "Passengers".
Scheduling and preparations
As the Bosnian War ended in 1995 and the Siege of Sarajevo in 1996, the stability of the region began to improve. Realizing this, U2 began to plan a concert in Sarajevo that would take place on their 1997 PopMart Tour. Although they were the first major musical artist to perform in the city following the war, China Drum had played a concert in July 1996. Music journalist Andrew Mueller described China Drum's experience in a single van as a "logistical and administrative nightmare". Bosnian Ambassador to the United Nations Muhamed Sacirbey helped U2 make arrangements. McGuinness said, "We thought it was going to be quite difficult. But it's been quite straightforward. People have just wanted to help. We've blagged a lot of equipment, forklifts and so on, from the military, and the local crew have been incredibly supportive."
Scheduling the concert meant a financial loss of £500,000 for the band, despite sponsorship from Coca-Cola and GSM. Ticket prices were set at just £8, because of the 50 percent unemployment rate in the city. Bono offered for the group to perform a benefit concert or small show in Sarajevo, but the city requested they perform the full PopMart show. Bono stated, "We offered to do a charity gig here, just turn up and do a scratch gig, but they wanted the whole fucking thing. They wanted the lemon!" McGuinness added, "we felt it was important that we treat this as another city on the tour, to pay them that respect. To come here and not do the whole show would have been rude."
For the stage to reach Sarajevo, the road crew had to drive the equipment and stage through war-torn Bosnia. Though the trip was without incident, they had to pass through towns such as Mostar, which had been "obliterated" during the war. Stage and lighting designer Willie Williams commented that "when the truck drivers arrived you could see that they were changed men". The only trouble in transporting the stage came when a border control agent prevented them from crossing the border for hours. The trucks reached Sarajevo two days prior to the concert, arriving to the cheers and applause of the city's residents; their arrival was the first concrete evidence that the band were keeping their promise to play there. McGuinness noted that "This is a city that's been disappointed so many times there were a lot of people who weren't prepared to believe the gig was going to take place until they saw the stage going up." Until then, tickets had sold very slowly, but within 24 hours of the trucks' arrival, another 8,000 tickets were sold. Despite this, a day before the concert, 15,000 tickets remained unsold. Three-hundred local residents were employed to help assemble the stage and promote the concert.
Several hundred members of the international "Stabilisation Force" (SFOR) were tasked with upholding the Dayton Agreement for the concert. The band were overwhelmed by the sights they saw when arriving. During the war, Koševo Stadium was used as a morgue, and graveyards were present on either side of the stadium. Although Koševo Stadium had escaped the worst of the shelling, the nearby Olympic Hall Zetra had been badly damaged during the war. Despite its condition, U2 used the building for their dressing rooms and offices. Following the concert, it was used as a place to sleep by 3,000 fans. The band's hotel, a nearby Holiday Inn, had been shelled during the siege, and part of the building had been destroyed as a result. The walls in Mullen's room were punctured with mortar shrapnel, and sections of the floor were also missing. Prior to the show, Sacirbey took Mullen on a tour of the city, showing him the Sarajevo Roses embedded in the streets.
On the day of the concert, trains ran into Sarajevo for the first time since the start of the war. Two lines were opened, one from Mostar to Sarajevo and the other from Maglaj to Sarajevo. Although the railways had been functional for the duration of the war, Muslim and Croat politicians could not decide who would be responsible for their operation. As a result, the trains were only run on the date of the concert to bring fans to the city, and the day after to take them home again. Visa requirements were temporarily suspended. An effort was made to include all the ethnic groups of the local region at the concert. Approximately 500 fans crossed the ethnic boundary lines between Bosnia's Serb Republic and the Moslem-Croat Federation. People from several of the other Yugoslavian republics went to Sarajevo for the concert, with buses carrying fans from Zagreb, Croatia and Ljubljana, Slovenia. Security around the event was strict. SFOR soldiers searched for bombs with sniffer dogs, and the buildings around the stadium were lined with Irish troops and sharpshooters in case violence broke out.
The PopMart concert was held on 23 September 1997. Approximately 45,000 people attended the event. During the concert, 10,000 soldiers stood on the left side of the stadium to ensure no conflicts broke out. In addition to the local and foreign fans, 6,000 off-duty SFOR soldiers attended the event in uniform. The concert was broadcast live internationally on radio, and all proceeds from the radio sales were donated to the War Child project.
There were three opening acts: the Gazi-Huzrut Beg choir, an Islamic choir from a local high school, performed from 6:30 to 6:45 p.m. Two local bands, Protest and Sikter, followed, playing from 7:00 to 7:30 p.m. and 7:45 to 8:15 p.m., respectively. One of the bands was chosen personally by Sacirbey, and the other was selected through a contest held over the radio. Pop producer Howie B was scheduled to perform from 8:15 to 9:00 p.m., but did not take the stage. U2 opened their set at 9:00 p.m.
The band played a typical PopMart set list, but with "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in place of The Edge's karaoke segment and the addition of "Miss Sarajevo" in the second encore. The night was a celebration of the end of the war, with Bono setting the tone by shouting out "Viva Sarajevo! Fuck the past, kiss the future!" at the beginning of "Even Better Than the Real Thing". Bono had struggled with his voice throughout the tour, and the morning of the concert he woke up "without a voice". There was no intent to cancel, and the show went ahead as planned. Though Bono had few difficulties through the opening quartet of "Mofo", "I Will Follow", "Gone", and "Even Better Than the Real Thing", his voice gave out during "Last Night on Earth". In 2006, The Edge suggested that Bono's vocal troubles had been caused by laryngitis or the stress of the previous few months of touring, though later remarking that "it didn't really matter that our lead singer was under the weather because every member of the audience seemed to join in on every song. There was a mass chorus for the whole concert."
At various points during "Until the End of the World" and "New Year's Day", Bono gestured for the audience to help him with the vocals, and by the eighth song of the night, "Pride (In the Name of Love)", he was reduced to speaking the lyrics instead of singing them. The band continued to progress with their standard set list by playing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For", "Stand By Me", "All I Want Is You", and "Staring at the Sun". U2 considered playing "Desire" after "All I Want Is You", but they chose not to perform the song. The Edge then performed a solo version "Sunday Bloody Sunday" in place of a karaoke song. The song was played in a slower and quieter style than the studio version. The Edge frequently introduced later performances of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" on the tour by saying that U2 had "rediscovered" it in Sarajevo. During this performance, Bono went backstage for cortisone injections, which helped to improve his voice for a short time. Brian Eno was prepared to go on stage to replace Bono if he could not continue, or to sing alongside him. Bono ultimately returned to the stage alone for the next song, "Bullet the Blue Sky", and the band continued with renditions of "Please" and "Where the Streets Have No Name", which concluded the main set.
In the interlude before the first encore, U2 had a worried discussion over the introduction to "Miss Sarajevo", which had been played only once before, in 1995. They returned to the stage and played "Discothèque", "If You Wear That Velvet Dress", "With or Without You", and a rough version of "Miss Sarajevo". Pavarotti was not at the concert to sing his part and so an antique gramophone was brought onto the stage in his place. Eno came on stage to sing backing vocals. During the song, the video screen showed images from Carter's Miss Sarajevo documentary, including footage of the girls taking part in the beauty contest and a banner reading "Please don't let them kill us". Bono apologized for the rocky performance at the end of the song, saying "Sarajevo, this song was written for you. I hope you like it, because we can't fucking play it." The concert concluded with a second encore of "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me", "Mysterious Ways", "One", and an abbreviated cover of "Unchained Melody".
After the band had walked offstage, in a move described by NME as the most meaningful of the concert, the audience faced the troops in the stadium and broke into a spontaneous round of applause, which quickly turned into an ovation, an act which the soldiers mimicked in turn.
The day after the concert in Sarajevo, a local newspaper carried an editorial which was headlined, "Today was the day the siege of Sarajevo ended". In reaction to the event, a Bosnian student told members of the international press, "I felt excluded from the world for so long. It's not only about U2. It's the feeling of being part of the world." A local resident said that the concert was "proof that we have peace here, that everything is OK". Fans from outside the former Yugoslavia described Sarajevo as "an oasis of light" in the midst of destroyed and fire-damaged buildings, and deserted villages. Despite the subpar performance, the Associated Press said, "For two magical hours, the rock band U2 achieved what warriors, politicians and diplomats could not: They united Bosnia." Andrew Mueller of The Independent noted that "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."
Mullen and The Edge both agreed that playing the Sarajevo concert had been the highlight of their careers; Mullen said, "[t]here's no doubt that that is 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, (...) I think it would have been worthwhile." Bono described it as "one of the toughest and one of the sweetest nights of my life", saying of the audience, "I think they wanted, more than anything, a return to normalcy. That's what these people want, it's what they deserve." He also speculated that the loss of his voice had "allowed room for Sarajevo to take the gig away from us. They 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."
Less than three months after the concert, The Edge's solo performance of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" was released on the CD single for "If God Will Send His Angels" on 8 December 1997. Following the 1997 concert, U2 did not return to perform in Former Yugoslavia until August 2009, when they performed two shows in Zagreb, Croatia during the U2 360° Tour.
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