The story of the song “Miss Sarajevo” starts during the ZooTV Tour, when film-maker and activist Bill Carter approached the band in an attempt to get them involved in providing assistance to the under siege city of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Humanitarian Bono immediately wanted the band to perform a concert in the city, but reason prevailed and it was decided to instead offer a spot during the nightly ZooTV gigs to showcasing the plight of those living in the war-torn city.
Bill Carter and people he knew who were living in Sarajevo would communicate via a satellite link-up with audiences over the large television screens at U2’s concerts, describing what it was like to live in the devastated area, under the constant threat of further attacks. Many critics commented on how uncomfortably the broadcasts sat alongside the rest of U2’s program, but the band persisted with the segment, feeling that the importance of the message outweighed any discomfort experienced by concert-goers.
In 1995, the city was still on Bono’s mind, so he produced a documentary film by Carter, titled Miss Sarajevo, about the situation in Sarajevo, and wrote a song with the same name. “Miss Sarajevo”, the song, appeared on the Passengers album Original Soundtracks 1, and featured a passage of opera sung by famed Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti. Although the song didn’t chart in America, the song was a top-ten hit in many European countries. The song and the film both focused on the event of a beauty pageant which the citizens of Sarajevo held during the war. Bono’s lyrics contrast the surreal contest with the life or death environment surrounding the contestants, and asks what is the proper response to living in such conditions. Musically, the song is tender and gentle, combining some low-key guitar from Edge with a simple drum-beat and some keys from Brian Eno.
U2’s involvement with city of Sarajevo didn’t end with this song, however. Two years later, in 1997, the band finally played a concert in Sarajevo, fulfilling a promise from five years earlier. “Miss Sarajevo” made its live debut at this concert, with Pavarotti’s contribution included from a recording. For several years, this remained the song’s only live performance until U2 started performing the song on the Vertigo Tour in 2005. These performances featured Bono singing all the vocals – even the opera part – backed by Edge on piano as Larry and Adam played their respective instruments. These live performances were greeted with much enthusiasm by audiences, particularly the opera section as sung by Bono. Recordings were officially released on the All Because of You single and on the bonus content of the limited edition U218 Singles compilation. “Miss Sarajevo” was again performed at many dates of the 360 Tour, and an official representative of these performances was released on the From the Ground Up fan club release.
Bono has called “Miss Sarajevo” his favorite U2 recording and other band members have spoken highly of the song as well, as when Larry singled it out as his lone positive from working on the Passengers album. It’s a song with a lot of history and a deep humanitarian meaning behind it, and a song that I hope U2 will perform again in the future.