How the 'Borat of the Balkans' hit the big time

A YouTube video has turned a labourer into an unlikely hero uniting the former Yugoslavia

He works as a labourer, sings (in a cracked voice) about the "dogs and concrete" of New York, and his earnings from the glamorous world of entertainment have hitherto been limited to $1,000 for appearing in an underwear ad. But Ekrem Jevric – or the "Borat of the Balkans" as he is becoming known – has succeeded where many others have failed by uniting the former Yugoslavia with his song about the lonely and confusing world of an immigrant abroad.

Jevric's rise to fame in his homeland that he still calls "Yugoslavia", and that until last week he had not visited since its bloody break-up during the 1990s, owes as much to YouTube as to the simple message of his song and video: "Home, Work – Work, Home."

In the song, Jevric, nicknamed "Gospoda" (Gentleman), expresses the culture shock experienced in New York, where dogs and buildings are everywhere, "battalions of women" roam the streets, and families are neglected at home. It has struck a chord in the Balkans, where it has achieved 4 million YouTube hits in a couple of months, a record for any singer from the region. Jevric, in his late 40s, has touched the feelings of millions, and his song has been acclaimed in all the languages of the former Yugoslavia – Bosnian, Croatian, Macedonian, Serbian and Slovenian.

With his missing teeth and skinny frame, Jevric, a Muslim labourer from the northern Montenegrin town of Plav, does not look like a Balkans folk music hero. But viewers have praised "the living truth" of his song, which expresses the emotional troubles of people living outside the Balkans, where little is similar to home.

"Hey New York, darkness looms all over you," Jevric sings, against the background of Brooklyn Bridge and the skyscrapers of Manhattan. The song describes life in a mega-city, where many immigrants see little beyond a life of work-home, home-work, which leads the singer to conclude: "What do I know? I don't know anything, and how could I?"

The media in the Balkans are having a field day. In Croatia, the newspapers have called him "the Borat of the Balkans," while in Bosnia he is the topic of heated debate among music critics. Serbia's largest commercial TV station reports his exploits in its main news. He is now being invited to sing at weddings, a custom for many former Yugoslavs abroad.

In his native Montenegro, Jevric received a hero's welcome at Podgorica airport last week when he returned home for the first time in 22 years. He has been offered a series of concert dates and has agreed to appear in a reality show, but he declined to comment as he arrived to collect local brides for his four sons who remained in New York with his wife of 25 years, Igbala.

In series of interviews, Jevric described how he worked as a cab driver and construction worker in New York, where "each time I wanted to see some friend his family said he was at work".

He told Bosnian TV that the video, in which he is dressed like the Mafia cronies of Tony Soprano, was made by friends in New York, while the music was composed by an ethnic Albanian friend. Jevric said he had not expected such success, but added that "people obviously recognised what I sing about, the truth".

So far, he has sung the song in dozens of ethnic Yugoslav clubs in the US, from Chicago to St Louis. Videos from these events have achieved another 3 million viewings on YouTube. In the darkness of clubs, he wears sunglasses on top of his head and in one video picks his teeth with a credit card while waiting to climb the improvised stage. Another video shows him singing on a table, surrounded by fans.

Jevric sings in Serbo-Croatian, which is spoken by only about 20 million people, but he thinks a good translation could make his song an international hit. "Maybe [then] I will finally earn some money, because these people from YouTube haven't paid me a cent," he said on one television interview.

His one payment so far has been for playing a tailor in the latest underwear campaign for Dolce & Gabanna, or "Doggana" as he calls it.

But not everyone is impressed. Many former Yugoslavs despise his "primitive simplicity", commenting on YouTube that "he [does] not represent us all".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there