The earliest form of music stemming from the Medieval period were mostly Gregorian chants. These chants are tied to the church as a means of liturgical traditions and are sung in Latin, the main language of the church at that time. Madrigals – secular vocal music – came after this and were actually started in nearby Italy.
Throughout the centuries, Croatia generally kept up with the musical trends throughout Europe. Organ music grew in popularity during the Baroque period, as well as the use of public balls and events where live music was performed. Croatia excelled in classical music and upon entering the 20th century, also produced some fine jazz musicians as well.
Several Croatian folk traditions follow some of the major musical styles found in the Balkans. Ganga is a style of vocal singing in which a leader sings a line, and the others join afterwards in a quasi wail. It’s generally more of a small-town thing these days. Another form of vocal singing is an a cappella form called klapa. It’s built mostly around harmony and melody, not so much on rhythm. Originating from the Dalmatian area, klapa groups are pretty much male-only since it’s comprised of two tenors, a baritone, and a bass, and each part can be doubled if need be. Even though traditionally, it’s sung a cappella, a guitar or mandolin accompaniment isn’t out of the question. It’s actually far more popular, even still sung in taverns and bars at times. And actually nowadays, there are female groups and mixed klapa groups as well. What a great culture that still sings in multi-part harmony. It reminds me a lot of when I was a music major in college when we would have parties and get drunk and randomly break into multipart harmony. See, I definitely know where I'm retiring now. This video is a little long, but a great example of klapa music and offers a lot more detail on the ins and outs of klapa.
A style known as tamburica – named after one of the main instruments, the tambura – is still fairly popular. The tambura is a string instrument similar to a mandolin, and tamburica not only uses tamburas but other various string instruments as well. Traditional ensembles are still performing together, but many of these have merged tamburica music with rock or folk-rock.
Modern music, with its influences from other areas of Europe and the Americas, is certainly represented by Croatian musicians. Rock, pop, hip-hop, and dance are widely popular in Croatia, and the music from Croatian musicians is listened to outside of Croatia as well. I found two albums that I couldn’t live without and had to buy them, and I had another album that I may buy later.
I discovered the hip-hop group Elemental and bought their album Vertigo. The vocal lines are divided between a female lead and a male lead, and while they do rap, the vocal line is also far more melodic. I’m really a fan of hip-hop that uses elements of jazz, blues, rock, and soul as the background track. While every single track on the album was listed as explicit (I Googled the lyrics and then ran them through Google translate – it was mostly an F bomb dropped every now and then coupled with a few other colorful words. The subject matter was sometimes some pretty deep stuff. No different than what I sometimes listen to anyway. But if it’s in Croatian, does it really matter? I have no idea anyway. Ignorance is bliss in this case.) I really like this album. The vocals are strong, and the music is catchy. So happy with this! Love them!
My husband and I (and subsequently the kids as well) are huge dance/trance/techno/house music fans, so when I came across the group Colonia, I HAD to buy it. I thought it was catchy, and the change-ups were good – not too fast, not too slow. There were a couple of songs that left me waiting in anticipation that it might go down the terrible road of dub-step, but it danced dangerously on the edge of that audible mistake and then brought it back to something that doesn’t trigger a musical seizure in my ear. In fact, it makes me want to turn it up and sit. (Yes, while I love dance music, I’m not a fan of physically dancing. Only on the inside, and if I were drunk enough, maybe. I do appreciate when others do it well.) Even though when I watching this, I think the lead singer has the same hairstyle as the lead female from Elemental. Maybe it's a pretty popular hairstyle in Croatia. Or something. I like how the dance moves look like they might've borrowed a little from traditional dancing.
Since I’m already discussing dance, the most popular dance from Croatia is the kolo, or circle dance. Every region certainly has its own variations and other dances they perform, but the kolo is pretty much the key dance. Performed at weddings, ethnic fests, and other events, it might even be considered a national dance, I suppose. Variations include the complexity of the steps (although it’s generally difficult to dance), style of music (generally danced to quick music), and instrumentation (some are danced with an ensemble playing the music, some with a few instruments, and some older traditions are danced silently with just the sound of the dancer’s feet). Costumes vary from region to region as well as who is dancing. Other dances from neighboring countries like Bosnia, Serbia, Hungary, and Romania also have made their way into Croatia as well. Many of these dances and variations were gypsy dances and a part of their culture. This video is on the silent circle dance, something of an anomaly to me, since in most cultures, dance is so closely tied to the music, it would make it hard to "feel" the beat. It shows the incredible difficulty for the dancers to be aligned rhythmically and the trust it takes to be in sync with each other.
The other album that I didn’t buy but may in the future is the surf rock band called Bambi Molesters. The name is almost as good as my favorite Canadian band The New Pornographers. However, weird as it is, I like their music. I found that I really like listening to them while I write. Even though it’s rock, much of it is instrumental, and the style makes it easy to get in the zone. I love their sound! I'll just listen to them on Spotify. Like right now.
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