Tuesday Column - Croatia Tourism 5: Klapa Music
One of the real delights of Croatia is its Klapa music. Simply put, it’s multi part harmony singing, nearly always by men, and, in its purest form, without any musical accompaniment. Deep bass, baritone and tenor voices tend to dominate, in contrast with the generally higher pitch of the better known and vaguely comparable US barber shop quartets. Quite often, in a restaurant frequented by locals, a table of 12 can strike an opening note and then sing in perfect harmony, each in a different key. The songs are normally stirring national songs with “Dalmatia”, “love” and “the sea” featuring very often in the lyrics. Even without understanding all the words, just the mood it can create can be enough to bring tears to your eyes, those of the grown men singing, and have you touching your chest in salute. Guitars and mandolins sometimes appear from nowhere, and soon you have a unique evening’s entertainment in your favourite restaurant or occasionally in someone’s house. The spontaneous renditions are the best but there are also plenty of organised concerts in the summer.
For the historians and fact lovers amongst you, the word Klapa means “a group of people” and the genre traces its roots to choral singing. It’s a form of “a capella” music which is an Italian phrase for “from the chapel” and, given the influence of Italy on Croatia in the past, perhaps the Croatian word grew from the same root as the Italian phrase.
If you want to experience it for yourself, ask around the local restaurants and see if the staff will let you in on the secret of when the local groups' are likely to be about – they often rehearse in the backrooms. Failing that, in July and August, the summer festivals are bound to have plenty of Klapa on the Bill, so go to the local tourist office and get the programme of events. Even if you’re in a small town with no real Summer Festival (and it has to be quite small for that!) there’s a good chance that there will be a few open air Klapa concerts about. As a last resort, go and buy a CD. “Songs of Croatia: Klapa Singing from the Dalmatian Coast”, by Klapa Kambi/Klapa Jelsa, seems to be reasonably widely available in the UK and there are plenty of Klapa CD’s at the Bye Bye Shop at Zagreb Airport. Not the same as the live experience but a good place to start.
2006 looks like being a big year for Klapa, with the Croatian Heritage Foundation in Zagreb organising a calendar of events intended to feature expatriate Croatian Klapa singers, together with local groups. Provisional plans are for the tour to start on 24th June in Zagreb and work its way south to Omis by 2nd July. Sounds like its not to be missed.
Apologies for the quality of today's photo – there’s generally a mad rush to the front when the singing starts and the politicians and military always seem to get there first!