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Bosnia: Immigrant Makes Music And Millions In U.S.

Washington, 16 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A Bosnian immigrant to the United States is making beautiful music and millions of dollars, a percentage of which he is giving back to the children in his war-torn homeland.

Boro Vukadinovic, a multi-millionaire textile tycoon, made his fortune in America after being in the country for just a few years. Now he has formed his own record company and is donating proceeds from all albums produced under his label to UNICEF, a United Nation children's organization, to help Bosnian orphans.

Vukadinovic was born 39 years ago in the Bosnian city of Banja Luka. He is a Serb, but doesn't take sides when it comes to discussing the current conflict in his native land.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Vukadinovic says he is devastated by what has happened to the "wonderful, multi-cultural land" he once knew, and is now trying to do something about it.

Vukadinovic first came to the U.S. in 1985 to further his music education which he had started at the Bern Academy of Music in Switzerland. He eventually settled in the city of Los Angeles, in the western state of California.

Vukadinovic says he began his first foray into business in 1989. His girlfriend at the time, a young clothing designer, asked him for help manufacturing and marketing her designs, he says.

Vukadinovic formed the textile company Celtex in 1990 and began importing Italian and Eastern European goods. By 1992, the company had sold over $15 million in raw materials and yarns.

A year later, Vukadinovic says he created a garment production company called Retrospettiva. He began to ship inexpensive materials from India, Asia and Eastern Europe to Macedonia, making them into garments, and then importing the clothes into the United States. The company, which now has offices in Los Angeles, New York, Rome, and Skopje, earned one million dollars in its first year of operation. By 1996, sales hit nearly $20 million.

The nice profits from these two companies are providing the funding for Vukadinovic's real love -- music.

Says Vukadinovic: "I am very happy that [America] has given me a chance to establish myself here as a human being, a businessman and a musician. I've been able to do very well for myself. And I always like to pay back for whatever I've received."

That payback comes in the form of Fearless Music Group, a record company Vukadinovic created, with its own label and two recording studios.

Under the Fearless label, Vukadinovic formed his own band called Agartha, which he says comes from a Sanskrit word that means journey to the stars.

Vukadinovic says Agartha is made up entirely of Bosnian musicians now living in Los Angeles. He says the musicians agreed that they wanted to do something to help their native homeland, especially the children.

Vukadinovic explains: "We wanted to try and heal the wounds and help the children of Bosnia, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliation."

Vukadinovic says he outright donated $10,000 to UNICEF and the band has since been sending proceeds from its first album "Rain of Mercy" to the fund. He adds that all musicians who sign to his label agree to give a part of their album proceeds to aid Bosnian children.

Vukadinovic says that so far "Rain of Mercy" has sold more than 10,000 copies since its release last August. He says the album is available now in Macedonia, and he is considering releasing it this year in Croatia, Serbia and Bosnia.

He says the bitter conflict in his native country has affected him and his music "dramatically."

Says Vukadinovic: "You cannot imagine what it has done to us, to those of us who grew up in Yugoslavia. Everything I had in Yugoslavia does not exist anymore. It is hard to explain it to others. People who live in Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Macedonia, they did not lose their country .... But with those of us in Bosnia, we lost our homes, we lost our friends, we lost our families, we lost our heritage, and we lost our childhood. The only thing we have left is the memories."

Vukadinovic's and the other band member's sadness can be heard on a number of songs performed to complex, haunting melodies.

When asked whether he purposely makes his music melancholy, Vukadinovic says he simply writes music from the heart. He says sometimes the music is sad, and sometimes it is hopeful. Often it is both, he adds, like on the song "Crossing."

"Crossing" is a poignant instrumental arrangement, and the album's most-played song, says Vukadinovic. He says the song is based on the true-life story of a Bosnian Muslim woman and her Serbian Christian boyfriend who were killed while trying to flee the country.

The song is sad, he explains, because the two were young and in love for years before the conflict even started. But because of their differing religions, says Vukadinovic, they suddenly found themselves on opposite sides. Yet the song has an uplifting and tranquil ending, he adds, because their souls are still together.

Vukadinovic says the song has a special significance to him personally because his parents had a so-called mixed marriage, and he has a number of friends from many religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Vukadinovic says he still travels extensively between his former homeland and the United States. But he became an American citizen in 1990, and says he now considers the U.S. his home.

Says Vukadinovic: "I really like America ... I feel like there is no such place like America where foreigners are so welcome and can make their homes and careers, and feel safe being among so many different nationalities."

Vukadinovic says he believes times will soon be better for his homeland.

He says: "Generally, I'm very optimistic and hopeful that the human spirit will heal in the country and that people will come back together again."

He says his faith in the future is nowhere more evident than in the lyrics of the song which inspired the album's name "Rain of Mercy."

"So free all your worries now,

they're the only ones in chains

sure you want to receive your jewel?

so you better come with empty hands.

To be in that glory now,

You need no fortune, need no fame,

hold your head up through the land of sorrow

there's mercy coming down like rain."