Croatian A Capella : Klapa from the Dalmatian Coast
Klapa is a style of folk singing from the picturesque coastline and islands of Dalmatia in Croatia. It is known to be one of the most beautiful styles of music in Croatia, and is best described as a tradition of group, a capella performances of regional folk and popular songs.
Dalmatia, the coastal region of Croatia extends nearly the entire length of Croatian shoreline, and includes over a thousand islands of the Adriatic Sea, is the home of Klapa music. However its name has a different origin.
The blue territories represent the consistently recognised parts of Dalmatia.
The word Klapa comes from the region of Trieste in Italy, where its predecessor, the word Capulata, meant a group of friends, or a gathering of people. This perfectly sets the scene for one of Croatia’s most popular social music’s, as it is sung and listened to by groups of friends across the region and nation.
It is possible to imagine the genesis of Klapa music as an extension of local folk singing, as traditional songs of the region, about love and life, were sung by a group of friends. Before the commercialisation of Klapa, these songs would be sung purely for fun, and in the name of community and friendship, and it likely developed from one person singing to the group, to multiple singing in unison, to the group singing in harmony with each other.
I think it’s important to understand the origins of Klapa, as a social music, in its creation, in its performance and in its name, as that paints the picture for Klapa’s role today.
Most recently, Klapa has become more of a specific niche; typically groups of 4-10 men, singing folk songs in festivals, cultural events and also just for fun. Since the creation of the first Klapa Festival in Omis , Klapa has been embraced on a much larger scale, and Klapa groups now work from pre-arranged pieces, more visually interesting performances, the inclusion of accompanying instruments and the use of popular repertoire.
When Klapa shifted from being sung for fun, to being sung on stage for audiences, it inevitably attempted to find ways to engage visually as well as aurally. As such, Klapa groups typically perform in a semi circle facing the audience, dressed in elegant matching formal wear, and deliver their pieces, usually from memory.
Similarly, this pressure to perform led Klapa groups to prepare specific pieces. Instead of relying on the spontaneous musical co-operation of singers, which was inherit in Klapa’s origins, pre-planned pieces and vocal arrangements ensured a more consistent performance. These pieces will now be rehearsed for performance, and singers will learn their individual parts for each song, rather than winging it. The culture of improvisation is no longer particularly prevalent, however it is likely that the best and most experienced Klapa groups would be able to improvise an arrangement of a song, with very little preparation.
The most dramatic change to the music however, has been in the inclusion of accompaniment from guitars, mandolins and occasionally a bass, probably to open it to a larger audience, particularly through the radio. Klapa songs performed with instrumentation are perhaps not entirely accurate to the origins of the music, however this does not detract from the musical and social value of the songs, and is still regarded as Klapa music.
As the popularity of Klapa singing rose, it mixed with contemporary popular Croatian Music and both borrowed from each other. There are several modern songs, which seem to be exceedingly popular in Klapa form, and as such will be sung by many different groups, regardless of region. One example of this is La Musica di Notte.
It is also worth noting that although Klapa is traditionally an all-male affair, it is common these days to hear all female groups mixed groups, and all Klapa groups are frequently comprised by singers from different generations.
Despite these changes to Klapa in the last years, which have arisen out of its popularisation it still seems to retain at its roots, the idea of friends coming together to share a folk-story in a bit of casual fun, which is reflected in the enthusiastic audience acceptance of Klapa. The songs speak of life issues with a regional flavour, and have come to represent something more important to the people of Dalmatia than just the singing of old songs.
Recently UNESCO has included Klapa in its Intangible Heritage collection, for culturally significant items. Important factors in its inclusion were:
- Its position as a symbol of identity for the people of Dalmatia,
- The involvement of people of all generations, and its cross-generational appeal, and
- The efforts taken to preserve the heritage through oral education
What will we hear?
Today we’re going to hear two pieces from a performance recorded in Dubrovnik, for the Uskrs Festival this year. Uskrs is the Croatian name for Easter, and in the old town this year, there were many cultural events such as traditional singing and dancing from the Dubrovnik region.
I was lucky enough to record at this festival one of Croatia’s finest modern Klapa groups, who are in demand across Croatia and Europe. Their name is Klapa Subrenum, which comes from the old name for the region of Dubrovnik sub Brenum, and they are 8 male singers, with occasional accompaniment.
Klapa is typically comprised of four parts; Tenor 1, Tenor 2, Baritone and Bass.
As in many Klapa groups, including Klapa Subrenum there are more than four singers, all vocal parts, with the exception of Tenor 1 are doubled. The exclusion of Tenor 1 is to preserve clarity in the deliverance of the melody and lyrics.
The Tenor 1 part carries the melody, and those who sing these parts must have a strong and emotive voice
The Tenor 2 part usually carries the first harmony part, usually a third below the Tenor 1.
The Baritone part will sing a third below the Tenor 2, and complete the vocal triad.
Finally the Bass voice is responsible for clearly outlining the harmonic movement of the chord progression, and sings in glorious deep tones.
Harmonically, Klapa pieces are almost always major, lending to the relaxing, and recreational tone of the music.
By adhering to these stylistic tendencies, it may possible for accomplished Klapa groups to improvise arrangements they have not previously sung.
To demonstrate the traditional approach to Klapa, as well as the more recent developments, I’ve included two tracks today; one traditional folk song, and one contemporary song rendered in a Klapa style. I believe these two are interesting pieces to hear, as they present the power, dynamic range and beauty of unaccompanied Klapa singing, in two different moods.
I’m a big fan of these recordings, I find them very relaxing, and spine-tinglingly good at times. If you want to check out more from Klapa Subrenum you can catch them on iTunes, or at their website. LINKS
So sit back, relax, and enjoy some fantastic a capella Klapa singing, direct from Dubrovnik, Croatia, and if you like it, why not sign up to the mailing list, for email goodies that only subscribers receive…yippee!
Izresla ruža rumena – The Red Rose has grown Up
A very romantic and poetic traditional love ballad about a blossoming woman.
This song is a composition of Croatian pop singer Kićo Slabinac, who was also the Eurovision Representative for Yugoslavia in 1971. It sings of the glory of Dalmatia, and if Google Translate is anything to go by, is quite dramatic.
“Dalmatia, after dazzling flower, magical, beautiful, you are my whole world.”
As previously stated Klapa is comprised of simple triadic harmony split across three voices, with the addition of the bass voice spelling the bass movement. These parts will be diatonic, for the most part, with only occasional use of the b7, or a borrowed dominant chord for modulations.
Its simplicity is a product of its origins – Klapa is music by the people for the people (pardon my quote), and is traditionally sung by non-trained singers. Whilst it is becoming a more recognised subject of study, it is still predominantly a folk music, and an expression of regional and cultural identity – not art-music. Therefore it follows that it should be harmonically and rhythmically simple, yet textually rich.
Some interesting things i found in this piece:
- The use of the many voices to enhance the droning G through out a lot of the piece
- The loose treatment of time – breathing is more important than bar lines, and the group seems in tune with their breathing and delivery
- The rhythmic complexity that is necessary to treat these lyrics musically, and the prioritisation of lyrics over pulse
- The echoing lines which serve to underscore the lyrics, and the fact that they are shared throughout different singers and parts each time
- The big old major chord to end the piece, which i believe is called a Tierce de Picardie.
I whipped up a basic transcription of this piece for ya’ll so you and your friends can sing it together in the park, in the shower or wherever else you hang with your friends.