Spasoje Spaso Berak was born on 09 February 1938 in Mostar into the family of Đorđe and Ilinka Berak. His mother sang very beautifully, his father was a machine operator and also sang, while playing Gusla (string instrument). At the age of only 3 years, he was together with his mother and the sisters in 1941 in a camp in Caprak near Sisak (Croatia). There they spent four years, his father was murdered in Jasenovac.
His eldest sister Marija sang in the choir of the cultural association “Abrašević”, the younger Zora played guitar and danced in the folklore area of the cultural association. In such a musical family it was natural that Spaso, as the youngest, was also engaged in music. On 5 September 1948, at the age of 10, he began his journey into the world of music of the cultural association “Abrašević” and the first instrument he tried out was a mandolin. One sister played Bugarija, the other guitar and he, as the most talented and best of the three, taught them both and at the same time taught himself how to play other string instruments.
He completed primary school in Mostar, where he was a member of the string orchestra and later also the director of the young string orchestra of the cultural association “Abrašević”.
He continued his schooling at the Secondary School of Music in Dubrovnik in the class of Professor Padovan, who taught him the clarinet. His schoolmate was Tereza Kesovija, who played the flute at that time.
He dropped out of this training and instead graduated from the Technical School in Mostar.
The family was poor, so he had to earn money in various bars and at celebrations.
In 1960 he came to Sarajevo as a scholarship holder of the Veterans Association Mostar’s, where he began his education at the Pedagogical College. The head of the department was the famous composer Milan Prebanda. The scholarship was not sufficient so that he earned money making music in various restaurants and clubhouses, where he got to know Ismet Alajbegović Šerbo. In 1960 he invited Spaso to join his orchestra, founded in 1961. Initially, the orchestra operated on a fee basis and from 1963 as a permanent member of Radio Sarajevo. Thus Spaso was a member of the Radio Sarajevo Orchestra from the very beginning.
His job with Radio Sarajevo was as a clarinet soloist in music productions, but as a real professional and first-class tambura player, he also played in the tambura orchestra as needed.
The first written record of his arrangements dates back to 1953 when he was the leader of the tambura orchestra “Vladimir Nazor” in Vrapčići near Mostar.
At Radio Sarajevo his talent as an arranger and his spirit of discovery developed to perfection.
He writes arrangements, composes based on traditional music, revises traditional songs, cooperates with singers, in short, he does everything…
When Šerbo retired in 1985, Spaso became the number one producer of folk music for Sarajevo Radio and produced with folk and tambura orchestras in two studios. Parallel to his professional work, he also worked as an amateur. He cooperated with almost all cultural associations in Sarajevo and its surroundings and conducted various tambura and folk orchestras, choirs and vocal groups, where he discovered talented musicians and singers who later made various recordings for the Sarajevo Radio Archive.
He remained faithful to amateur work until the end of his life, the last cultural associations in which he worked were “Saobraćajac” and “Željezničar”.
The group of Cultural Associations sent him to Olovo and Kakanj as an accordion and guitar teacher. These were also the beginnings of making music in these regions. He introduced many young people to music, especially Ezher Helja from Kakanj. In the beginning, he played the accordion and today he is a clarinetist in the orchestra of the Bosnian State Radio. One of his students was also Slobodan Bodo Kovačević, the famous guitarist of the rock group Indexi.
He worked together with many singers of Yugoslavia, special friendship connected him with Safet Isović, Zekerijah Đezić, Himzo Polovina, Zora Dubljević. With Himzo Polovina he recorded most LPs.
Characteristic for those times were the friendships and joint ventures, which were also reflected in the serial “Sevdah travels through Europe”. At these concerts, special emphasis was placed on Sevdalinka (Sevdah songs) and traditional dances, in short on the cultural heritage of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the 1980s, he had the idea of integrating all his writings into a programme to revitalise the urban and village cultural heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina. With Vehid Gunić he worked as music editor and executive producer on the cult TV show “Meraklije” of TV Sarajevo. In this series, many songs were sung about for the first time, which would have been forgotten without Spaso. Some of these songs that Spaso has breathed new life into as the author of the melody or arrangement are: “Majka Fatu rano budi”, “Podaj mene u Sarajvo majko”, “Haj da sam bogdo rumena ružica”, “Umihana Hadži- Jusufova”, “Sinja magla po haz bašči pala”, “Da sam Bogdo djevojka na namu”, “Kad izgorje šeher Sarajevo”, “Sjećaš li se djevo bajna’, ‘Djevojka je zelen bor sadila’, ‘Hvalio se žuti limun’, ‘Vino pije Vilić Huseine’, ‘Što se ono gusta magla pokraj Une spustila’, ‘Star se Čurćić pomamio’…
He was committed to correcting the texts of Sevdah songs so that they could be kept authentic. (“Madžarijo sjajna li si”, “Ko se ono drumom šeće”, “Drijemaš li kćerko”)…
His contribution to the preservation and promotion of our Sevdalinka, in particular, is immensely important.
When it comes to folk music festivals, he has also made a very large contribution there. His compositions and arrangements were performed at the Ilidža, Vogošća, Belgrade Festival, as well as at the Paris Festival in 1975.
He has also worked with music publishers from Sarajevo (Diskoton), Aranđelovac (Doskos) and Belgrade (Beograd disk). It is thanks to him that numerous Sarajevo radio archive recordings have found their way into the discography.
During the war years, he was the idea giver and advocate of a music program on Bosnian state radio. In the most difficult years for Sarajevo (1992-1996) he was one of the initiators of SAREST (Sarajevska ratna estrada) – Sarajevo’s war (music) scene. One of the most beautiful songs from this time, for which he made the music and the arrangement, is the song “Kovači”, based on the verses of Džemaludin Latić, sung by Zehra Deović. He wrote the arrangement to the song “Baščaršijo moja ranjena” composed and recorded by his wife Ljubica Berak … and many others…
For the CD “U Zvorniku gradu”, which was released by MPBHRT in 2010 on the occasion of the 600th-anniversary celebration since the first written mention of the city of Zvornik, he was the recording producer and author of the music and arrangements for some of the 13 Sevdah songs.
So far, the exact number of songs for which Spaso Berak wrote the music, the arrangement, and the folk songs and dances he performed have not been determined. According to his interview given to the radio station BH Radio 1, there are over 30,000 writings in his collection.
This is a true treasure trove that will provide a source of research for years to come. The interest of music students in these works is enormous and it is up to his wife Ljubica (a renowned interpreter of folk music), his daughter Aleksandra (a piano teacher in Foča) and his son Đorđe (a violin professor in Ljubljana) to make them accessible to other potential researchers.
Spaso Berak died in Sarajevo on 24.02.2013, he was buried on 26.02.2013 at the cemetery “Donji MIljevići” near Sarajevo.
(Sarajevo, in the office of the music program BH Radio 1 of Ljubica Berak, recorded by Enisa Hajdarević-Šojko 21.02.2018)