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YouTube folk singer reunites ex-Yugoslavia

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Media captionEkrem's song expresses the culture shock experienced by immigrants.

Croatia's main daily newspaper calls him "the Balkan Borat". 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. In Montenegro he gets a hero's welcome at Podgorica airport, where he is besieged by press from all over former Yugoslavia.

Ekrem Jevric is a Muslim labourer from northern Montenegro who left Yugoslavia in the 1980s to find work and happiness in New York, which boasts a strong community from his native town Plav.

Living in the West was much tougher than Ekrem and his compatriots expected, but Jevric has finally found a way out of the rat race through his love of Yugoslav turbo-folk music.

Culture shock

He expresses the culture shock experienced by immigrants in the song Home, Work - Work, Home. It mourns the demise of communal life and the breakdown of other traditional values which are so important in his conservative northern Montenegro.

To Western ears his cry that a woman's place is in the home is likely to jar painfully with the backdrop of liberal New York life. It is another facet of the immigrant struggling to adapt - and may remind some of Borat, a comic fish-out-of-water.

Friends made a video of Ekrem singing his song in the New York streets, dressed like one of mafia mobster Tony Soprano's junior associates, and posted it on YouTube.

The rest is history. Within three months Home, Work - Work, Home had received almost four million hits and Ekrem's other videos notched up another three million viewings.

Yet Ekrem sings in a language spoken by only about 20 million people in the world - and in a crowded, highly competitive market dominated by English.

Whole world in his hands

In a BBC interview Jevric said his next project would be to record his hit in English. "Once someone sends me a good translation, which I can cope with vocally, I will make Home, Work - Work, Home a huge international hit. Maybe I will finally earn some money, because these people from YouTube haven't paid me a cent."

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Money might be pouring in soon, as Ekrem made a triumphant return to Montenegro "and all of Yugoslavia" on 11 July, after a 22-year absence.

Hundreds of fans and dozens of journalists squeezed into the tiny airport in the Montenegrin capital to greet their internet hero.

Ekrem's wife Igbala stayed in New York with their four sons, unaware of the media sensation her husband's return was about to trigger.

"He's been a very good husband and father, didn't shy away from the toughest jobs to keep the family going. I just hope his health doesn't suffer from all this travel. He's been staging weekend concerts in Yugoslav clubs all over the USA and he's still working in the building trade," Igbala Jevric told the BBC.

Model for Dolce Gabbana

Ekrem's sudden stardom was helped by a role he recently secured in Dolce & Gabbana's latest underwear campaign.

"I was sitting sipping coffee in New York when some people approached me and asked if I would take part in a photo shoot for 500 dollars. They said they were from this famous company, sounded like Doggana or something like that, and they did show up. I got 1,000 dollars for two days' posing," Ekrem said.

News of his exploits in the world of fashion spread like wildfire through his homeland, where world-famous brands and glamour are held in high esteem after the austerity of communism.

One of his foreign fans is Daniel Winfree Papuga, a Norwegian social anthropologist, who linked Ekrem Jevric's poetry to the work of David Emile Durkheim, regarded as the principal architect of modern social science. Durkheim wrote about the state of despair and hopelessness resulting from the breakdown of norms and social networks in industrial society.

"Ekrem Jevric would agree with Durkheim completely, if he had ever read him. Jevric's song describes disillusionment with life in the big city. He sings that he only goes back and forth from home to work among the giant skyscrapers of New York, the city where battalions of women walk the street, but have forgotten their children," Papuga wrote on his blog.

Top Montenegrin writer Andrej Nikolaidis is also a big fan.

In an article published by E-novine, a leading Serbian news portal, Nikolaidis says that people "do not want to reduce themselves to the modern Westerner as described by Ekrem Jevric in his moving protest song Home, Work - Work, Home. The type of person who, as Ekrem says, is 'living, working, but only working', the one who asks 'What do I know? I don't know anything, and how could I?'"

Nikolaidis draws a parallel with the ancient philosopher Socrates, who said: "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing".

(Mladen Bilic is a journalist covering the Balkans at BBC Monitoring.)

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