If you’ve ever visited Dalmatia you must have heard of Klapa singing. If you haven’t, then… well… you should. Even though these songs (in Croatian: pjesme) are usually sung in different dialects, hardly understandable even to Croatian people, the music is international – it will touch your heart and make you think you should never leave Dalmatia.
How did klapa singing come to be?
Klapa singing became popular in the middle of the 19th century. At that time, most European countries were enthralled by the idea of national identity, and so were Croatians. In order to fight the language, culture (in Croatian: kultura) and politics imposed by the foreign hegemon, scholars started collecting national treasures and encouraging people to revive the old traditions. Folk music, dances and literature became widely appreciated and cherished. At the same time, patriotism was growing stronger and stronger; it was the historical moment when, for the first time in history, the Croatian language was spoken in the parliament (1843). In this dynamic, turbulent period of history, Klapa singing came to life.
Photo by Vlado Zemunik
What’s so special about klapa singing?
In the past, klapa had either 5 or 7 male singers. Today, the rules are not as strict; there are women klapa groups and some mixed klapas as well. The number of participants varies and is usually larger than it was in the beginning. Original klapa songs were sung a capella. The reason for all of this is quite simple; the first klapa singers (in Croatian: pjevači/pjevačice) were common men (fishermen, farmers, traders…) who started singing just for their own pleasure. After a long day of hard work, they would gather around the table, eat delicious fresh fish, drink strong Dalmatian wine, look at the sea and, moved by all the beauty they’ve been blessed with, start singing. It was the music that came straight from the heart; without thinking or planning, just pure love for the land they were born on, the sea that feeds them, and women who love them.
Klapa at the Festival of Dalmatian Klapas in Omiš by Vlado Zemunik, the official photographer of the Festival
A klapa group consists of a first tenor, a second tenor, a baritone, and a bass. The first tenor sings the melody (in Croatian: melodija) and is followed in parallel melodic lines in thirds below. Even if they are not a part of a klapa, you will notice that Dalmatians tend to sing everything in thirds. Yes, even if we are listening to Taylor Swift, we will follow in thirds up or below (actually Taylor will probably follow below).
Vilo moja – Klapa Crikvenica
Klapa’s role in modern Croatian culture
After all that’s been said here, one would assume that today this type of singing would only be interesting to some highly devoted ethnologists, but it’s definitely not the case. On the contrary, klapa singing has become unbelievably popular in the last few decades; so popular that it bravely stepped out of its box and created its new version – festival klapa. Klapa festivals sing both homophonic and polyphonic songs, they use different instruments: guitar, piano, violin and even some electrical instruments.
Festival of Dalmatian Klapas in Omiš by Vlado Zemunik, the official photographer of the Festival
Even though they’ve lost a little bit of authenticity, festival klapas became popular all over Croatia. Twenty years ago no one would dream, not even in their wildest dream, that klapas would sell out a whole football stadium. And that’s what’s happening right now. It all started with one small festival in Omiš and today people across Croatia share the love for this kind of music (in Croatian: glazba).
Klapa Sorelo by Flower Girl
If you are more into traditional klapa, don’t worry. As soon as you step inside any Dalmatian tavern, you will hear the voice of the first tenor. And then just take a sip of wine, let your thoughts go away and join the happy company with these words: volim (I love), more (sea), sunce (sun), Dalmaciju (Dalmatia).
Do you like klapa?
Featured image (on top): Klapa Sagena by Roberta F. / CC BY-SA 3.0