The most recognizable Croatian music phenomenon – the Klapa song - appears without the aid of tuned instruments, without much philosophy and expert terms.
The recipe for a good song is simple – sun, sea, Dalmatia, friendship, love, tradition and a few strong voices. Then when bevanda (wine and water) enter the story, there is no end to the klapa song. Long into the night songs tell of olives, an old belfry, a first love, mothers and fathers, birthplaces, the sea, departures, returns and everything that touches the Dalmatian soul.
The phenomenon of klapa singing has been known since the 19th century. The recognizable style of singing came about at a time of the development of Dalmatian cities and towns, while the appearance of the first organized church and secular singing choirs, city brass bands, tamburitza groups and orchestras, directly influenced traditional Dalmatian singing. Klapa singing draws its roots from Gregorian chants and church singing and it received its most significance with the Omiš Klapa Festival, where for the first time the term and word Klapa were concretely explained by the Omiš Festival Director Mijo Stanić.
The root of the word Klapa, Italian capulata means a company, troupe, group or clique bound by strong ties. The Croatian lexicon describes the term klapa as a group or troupe of singers of folk songs or compositions inspired by Dalmatian folk music.
Etho musicologist Joško Ćaleta wrote that our sailors, who brought wine to Trieste, listened to their singing northern neighbors and brought singing in groups of friends from the Trieste markets and docks to the Adriatic coast. Besides close friendship, mutual work and other interests, they were also bound by love for song and making music.
Fishermen and farmers sand for their own pleasure alongside traders and craftsmen, teachers and students most often in taverns. Besides singing for themselves they often sang for others and a special song was intended for female tourists who Dalmatian seducers showed their interest in, but also invited them to visit the Croatian coast again next year.
In the beginning the Klapa was known as a group of 5 to 7 singers, while today they can be greater in number, notes Stanić. The Klapa song speaks of your birthplace, sardines, a small island, Dalmatia, the sea, fish, love, your love, all eternal topics of folk songs, says Stanić. The Klapa manner of singing is described as a cappella and multi voiced, where the first highest, lead voice is sung exclusively by one person. The character, music content and style of Klapa singing changed through the times and freely accepted outside influence, which is a reason for the popularity of Klapa singing today, especially among the younger generation.
“The Klapa is a circle and Omiš is its centre.”
- It all began in 1966 when a number of Klapa groups from Dalmatia got together on a terrace of a hotel in Omiš. This is not counted as a festival year but rather as the first Klapa gathering in Omiš. It was immediately recognized as a meeting of great importance for Croatian culture and national heritage - explains Stanić.
Contrary to other reviews, meetings and festivals, the Omiš Klapa Festival has a competitive character. A regulation clearly defines who can and who can’t sing on the Omiš stage. The number of singers is defined as well as the number of performances, order of singers with the first tenor on the left wing, exclusive to a cappella singing. Experts evaluate the Klapa performances and their award was always the most important festival recognition. The festival lives all year, from qualifications, organization and pre-competitions to the festival’s main evenings.
After the first few years of the festival new compositions were taken into account and ethno musicologists were encouraged to study heritage and create new songs. Stanić explains that the festival story quickly expanded. “In 1968 Zagreb Television broadcasted our final evening. Through the next years local and national media covered the festival, only for a boom in the number of Klapas to happen in the 90’s, not only in Dalmatia but all over Croatia”.
Over the past 15 or so years a series of new competition evenings have been created as well as evenings for original songs, mixed Klapaa, debut Klapas and three to four elimination evenings for participation in the final. This year there are 12 competitive and show evenings and the festival has expanded from Omiš to Bol on the island of Brač and Blato on the island of Korčula, where the mixed Klapa evening takes place.
What the Omiš festival means to Klapas is best told through the words of one of the most fruitful and most performed authors of Klapa song lyrics Jakša Fiamengo, “The Klapa is a circle and Omiš is its centre.” In Omiš the Cetina river empties into the sea. It is a place where two worlds mix, two views of the world, freshwater carried by the river and salt water from the sea that awaits the river and takes it to all corners of the world.
By entering Klapa singing into the Registry of Cultural Wealth, The Croatian Ministry of Culture has recognized the Klapa as a non-material heritage worth public promotion. In 2012, in Paris, Klapa singing was entered into the UNSECO list of intangible cultural heritage.
The 50 years in Omiš are connected to three bigger projects: opening a festival museum, development of a monograph and a documentary series. “The museum is not in a permanent place and actually does not have the status of a museum, but it is rather and exhibit with a permanent display. On one hand it is a souvenir shop and, for the better portion, a museum of photographs, documents and paintings.
There are two computers for multimedia which can be used to view photos as well as video and audio material from the past”, explained Stanić. The focus is on the people that contributed to the development of the Festival and Klapa from the city. The author of the museum is Matea Brstilo Rešetar and the designer of the museum exhibit is Nikolina Jelavić Mitrović. The promotion of the monograph is being prepared for July, while a documentary film which has been transformed into a series of 7 episodes will arrive to the Croatian Radio Television program in the fall.
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