Myself and the Irish musician Dermot Dunne recently finished an eight-date Northern England tour of Skloniŝte, a new work of mine for free-bass classical accordion and video of 60 mins duration.

Sklonište means ‘Shelter’ in Bosnian. This word was spray-painted throughout Sarajevo to guide its citizens to underground shelters during the Siege of Sarajevo which lasted 1,425 days between 1992-1996. The city was under complete siege with sniper fire killing civilians every day.

Sklonište is an alternative reflection on the longest siege in modern warfare where 13,952 people were killed. The narrative combines the experiences and motivations of international aid-workers with the surrealism of war and the humour of a people determined to survive alongside poetry, photography, archive footage, interviews and personal testaments – it is a visual tableaux punctuated by an often bristling score for solo accordion.

I became interested in composing a response to the Sarajevo survivors having visited Bosnia in 2013 for the first time. I had been introduced to a number of people still living in the city who had memories of that time and others, elsewhere, who had a good understanding of the overall conflicts in the region during the 1990s. I returned to Sarajevo in 2015 to conduct interviews and to further research the history of the city during the siege. I composed and worked on the video for Skloniŝte between other projects over a period of 18 months.

2016 is the twentieth anniversary of the end of the siege of Sarajevo. I am particularly interested in ‘aftermaths’, what happens when the international media and aid agencies eventually leave – how do people remember their experiences, what ‘essence’ remains impregnating the present.

The region is still largely struggling – Bosnia in particular, where unemployment is 42% and youth unemployment even higher. Sarajevo itself is apparently almost unrecognisable in terms of its ethnic mix and much less diverse than it once had been. Many of its leading poets, writers and film artists were dispersed by the conflict never to return. Further dates are planned for 2017 & 2018.

Skloniste Tour 2016 [promo2] from Ailís Ní Ríain on Vimeo.