The music of Croatia, like the country itself, has three major influences: the influence of the Mediterranean especially present in the coastal areas, of the Balkans especially in the mountainous, continental parts, and of central Europe in the central and northern parts of the country.
The traditional music of Croatia is mostly associated with the following:
The klapa music is a form of a cappella singing. The word klapa translates as "a group of people" and traces its roots to litoral church singing. The motifs in general celebrate love, wine (grapes), country (homeland) and sea. Main elements of the music are harmony and melody, with rhythm very rarely being very important.
A klapa group consists of a first tenor, a second tenor, a baritone, and a bass. It is possibe to double all the voices apart from the first tenor. Although klapa is a capella music, on occasion it is possible to add a gentle guitar and a mandolin (instrument similar in appearance and sound to tamburitzas).
Klapa tradition is still very much alive, with new songs composed and festivals held. Many young people from Dalmatia treasure klapa and sing it regularly when going out eating/drinking. It is not unusual to hear amateura sing klapa music on the streets in the evenings over some food and wine.
It is usually composed of up to a dozen male singers singing very harmonic tunes. In recent times, female vocal groups have been quite popular, but in general male and female groups do not mix.
Tamburitza (tamburica, diminutive of tambura) music is a form of folk music that involves these and related string instruments. It became increasingly popular in the 1800s, and small bands began to form, paralleling similar developments in Russia, Italy and the Ukraine.
The main themes of tamburitza songs are the common themes of love and happy village life. Tamburitza music is primarily associated with the northern, Pannonian part of the country. It is sometimes said that the first sextet of tambura players was formed by Pajo Kolarić of Osijek in 1847.
Traditional tamburitza ensembles are still commonplace, but more professional groups have formed in the last few decades. These include Ex Pannonia, the first such group, Zdenac, Berde Band and the modernized rock and roll-influenced Gazde.
The gusle music is played on this traditional string instrument. It is primarily rooted in the Croatian epic poetry with emphasis on important historical or patriotic events. It is the traditional instrument of inland Dalmatia and of Herzegovina, the part of Bosnia and Herzegovina with predominant Croatian population.
Gusle players are known for glorifying outlaws such as hajduks or uskoks of the long gone Turkish reign or exalting the recent heroes of the Croatian War of Independence. Andrija Kačić Miošić, a famous 18th century author, had also composed verses in form of the traditional folk poetry (deseterac, ten verses). His book Razgovor ugodni naroda slovinskog became Croatian folk Bible which inspired numerous gusle players ever since.
As for contemporary gusle players in Croatia, one person that particularly stands out is Mile Krajina. Krajina is a prolific folk poet and gusle player who gained cult status among some Conservative groups. There are also several other prominent Croatian gusle players who often perform at various folk-festivals throughout Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Although some fans of tamburitza claim that the tambura is the most commonly used ethnic instrument in the United States, the first sound recordings of the Croatian instruments on the American soil were in fact those of gusle and mišnica performed by Peter Boro in California in 1939.
Other folk traditions
The folk music of Zagorje, an area north of Zagreb, is known for polka and waltz music similar to the neighboring Slovenia and Austria.
The folk music of Međimurje, a small but distinct region in northernmost Croatia, with its melancholic and soothing tunes became the most popular form of folk to be used in the modern ethno pop-rock songs.
In Istria and Kvarner, native instruments like sopila, curla and diple make a distinctive regional sound. It is diatonic in nature following the unique Istrian scale.
The Slavonian town Požega hosts a known folk music festival, Zlatne žice Slavonije (Golden strings of Slavonia), which has prompted musicians to compose new songs with far-reaching influences, recently including American bluegrass.
The towns of Vinkovci and Đakovo, also in Slavonia, host yearly folklore festivals (Vinkovačke jeseni and Đakovački vezovi) where folk music is also listened to as part of the tradition.
Pop and rock
Pop music and rock is more popular in Croatia than folk music, albeit the folk/pop combinations fare the best. The pop music of Croatia generally resembles the canzone music of Italy, while including elements of the native traditional music.
The tendency to combine different elements also has a long presence in more classical music: the opera Ero s onoga svijeta, written by Jakov Gotovac in the 1930s, blended the traditional music of the Dinaric peoples into a scholarly form and achieved great success.
Seasoned pop singers in Croatia include: Ivo Robić, Vice Vukov, Arsen Dedić, Zdenka Vučković, Darko Domjan, Tereza Kesovija, Gabi Novak, Ivica Šerfezi, Oliver Dragojević, Tomislav Ivčić, Doris Dragović, and many others.
In more recent times, younger performers such as Severina, Gibonni, Thompson, Lvky and many others have captured the attention of the pop audience. Each of them has successfully blended various influences into their distinct music style. For example, Thompson's songs include traditional epic themes from the Dinaric regions; Severina threads between canzone and an oriental sound.
Beginning in the late 1980s, folk-rock groups also sprouted across Croatia. The first is said to be Vještice, who combined Međimurje folk music with rock and set the stage for artists like Legen, Lidija Bajuk and Dunja Knebl.
More vanilla, but nevertheless very popular rock bands in Croatia include Parni Valjak, Crvena Jabuka, Leteći Odred and others.
Croatian record companies produce a lot of material each year, if only to populate the numerous music festivals. Of special note is the Split festival which usually produces the best summer hits.
Croatian pop music is fairly often listened to in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro due to the union of Yugoslavia that existed until the 1990s. Conversely, Bosnian singers like Kemal Monteno and Dino Merlin and Serbian Đorđe Balašević have a large audience in Croatia, as well as many others. Although most people are opposed to turbo folk, an overtly oriental but pseudo-modernized branch of folk music from Serbia and Bosnia, that kind of music also has audience in Croatia.
Croatia is a regular contestant on the Eurovision Song Contest. Back in Yugoslavia, Croatian pop group Riva won the contest in 1989.
- Gibonni (http://www.gibonni.hinet.hr/)
- Severina (http://www.severina.com/)
- Thompson (http://www.thompson.hr/)
- Lvky (http://www.ararita.com/)
- Download recording - Croatian-American gusle solo from the Library of Congress' California Gold: Northern California Folk Music from the Thirties Collection; performed by Peter Boro on December 20, 1939 in Fresno, California
- Burton, Kim. "Toe Tapping Tamburicas". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 46-48. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0