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Slavic Folk Music:

Forms of Singing and Self-Identity


Barbara Krader
eter Seeger wrote to me recently to say he was sure his father would
have been pleased by this joint meeting of four music societies, particularly because he helped to found at least two of them. I am sure he would
have been pleased to see at this lecture in his honor many scholars who are
not primarily ethnomusicologists, but whose thinking about music, like
ours, has been stimulated and deepened by Seeger's ideas and concepts, and
by the logic of his arguments.
To set the tone of my paper, I wish to quote Luciano Berio, in a 1981
interview with an Italian journalist (Osmond-Smith 1985:93). He says:
"I have always been very sensitive, perhaps overly so, to the excess of connotations that the voice carries, whatever it is doing. From the grossest of noises to
the most delicate of singing, the voice always means something, always refers beyond itself and creates a huge range of associations: cultural, musical, emotive,
physiological, or drawn from everyday life."

The substance of my paper concerns two song forms of western rural


Yugoslavia. I will try to show that each form creates a strong sense of identity in the group-for the singers and for their listeners, if the latter belong
to the same culture.
I wish to begin by providing some background about an area in Western Croatia, from which my first Yugoslav song example originates. Visualize, if you will, the Adriatic Sea. At the north is the peninsula of Istria, east
of which is the Bay of Kvarner or Quarnero.
The Yugoslav coastline stretches southward, its major towns being,
first, from the north, Rijeka (Italian Fiume), Zadar (Zara, in Italian), Split
(Spalato), Dubrovnik (Ragusa), and below it the Bay of Kotor (Italian Cattaro). Coastal Albania begins only a few miles south of this Bay.
Just inside the shoreline and the coastal towns rises a high mountain
crest, part of several mountain chains, the so-called Dinaric Alps, stretching
from Ljubljana in the northwest to Albanian Shkoder (Scutari in Italian),
to the southeast.
The first song I wish to present comes from a district east of the west9

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Ethnomusicology, Winter 1987

ernmost mountain ridge in the north, the Velebit. This is the historic region
of Lika. Lika bears some resemblance to Appalachia in the U.S., as both
are known for grinding poverty, mountainous isolation, for few roads and
poor schools until recently, and for traditionally brave soldiers, also (in
Lika) outlaws. Much of the land in Lika is karst, porous limestone, through
which rain water runs down out of reach. Rivers are partly underground,
while those above ground mostly dry out in summer; people always walked
long distances for water. The six per cent of land usable for agriculture is of
poor quality. Basically they raise potatoes, barley and cabbage (Geografija
SR Hrvatska 1975:22). White bread was a luxury almost never enjoyed.
They ate corn bread, which was nothing like our southern delicacy. The
Turks conquered the major part of Lika in 1527, and formed a district
(sandlak), including Lika about 1580. Then a new settlement of Slavs was
brought in from the south, as the earlier settlers had fled before the Turks.
These new people were almost all Serbs, that is, adherents to the Orthodox
Church.
The Austrian Empire, especially after the siege of Vienna by the Turks
in 1529, decided to take measures to protect itself against further Turkish
incursions. In 1578 it established a Military Border Zone, which was to last
nearly 300 years, one which at first extended from north of Lika on the
west, to a Varaidin district in northern Croatia, and later stretched further
east into today's Rumania. Part of Lika was thus under Austrian military
rule from 1578, and by the late 17th century, all of it was. The men of Lika
were organized by the Austrian authorities to be standing military units,
paid for their services (a pittance often), and were always on call. They were
exempt from certain taxes, and were not serfs. In those long years there
were many attempts at changes: Croatian and Hungarian nobles tried to
make the Licani their serfs, the Roman Catholic Church tried to convert
them, and so on. Through all the vicissitudes, the Lika border guards, or
Grenzer, came to have a fierce loyalty to the Emperor, believing that he
cared about them, but had been misinformed by those around him about
their conditions and bad treatment.
In 1873 the Austrian regime abolished their Military Border, and soon
thereafter Lika again became part of Croatia (which was ruled by
Hungary). The old soldiers were shocked. It was some 80 years before life
began to improve substantially.
So Lika is known in Yugoslavia as the land of emigrants, beginning
especially from the 19th century and later. Many came to America: this
story is being told because I knew Licani from Cleveland, Ohio, and later
knew others in Yugoslavia.
My first example is sung by two mountaineers of Lika, from a village,

Slavic Folk Music

11

Brlog, about 15 miles by bad road from the town of Otocac. They were
rugged-looking, not fat, not especially shaven. The occasion was an extraordinary summoning of peasants and a very few townspeople from all the
six republics of Yugoslavia to perform their traditional music for the International Folk Music Council's Conference of 1951, held in Opatija, a lovely
coastal resort at the very northern tip of the Bay of Kvarner. The Licani
formed part of the Croatian contingent.
The song is a rozgalica. The noun rozga means branch, or twig. The
verb from this root means branch away or branch out. So rozgalica is singing during which there is branching out, referring apparently to the long trill
sung against sustained tones at the end. In general, the leader begins with a
short embellishment on o or oj. Then he sings the verse line, a lyric song, always decasyllabic, usually on notes of equal length, with an extended note
on the last syllable (Zganec 1951:Note to #40). At this point, one or more
singers join in, singing the vowel o, and the final section is a sort of refrain
or coda, one or more men singing the extended tones, while one man trills.
It always ends on the interval of a second. You will hear all these features in
the example. The men sing very loudly, their faces were red with exertion,
and the leader held one finger in his right ear and moved it up and down vigorously.
I have found no study of the rozgalica in the Croatian literature. It is
not mentioned in the article on Croatian folk music in the New Grove. It belongs, however, to a general category referred to as ojkanje (oj-singing), a
kind of singing in parts using a non-tempered scale, with trills or voice shaking (treskavice). This general kind of singing, in slightly varying forms, is
quite common in inland mountainous Croatia south of Lika. Dr. Jerko
Bezic has published an important scholarly study on ojkanje (1968). (See
also his article "ojkanje" in the Muzicka Enciklopedija, 2nd ed.)
A few months after the Conference in 1951, I took this recording to
Cleveland, and two elderly men, Licani, came to hear it. I have never seen

'lro
, ?3

Example1.

^ ?It~~~:LO
-J
?

po

Ae-je

po(..--o

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Ethnomusicology, Winter 1987

men so happy and so moved by music. The friend who arranged our meeting has completely forgotten about it, so I cannot provide more facts. The
men might have been in their sixties or seventies, and might have emigrated
40 years before. But this friend does remember that at the Serbian Church
in Cleveland in the late 1920s and early 1930s, after the service, in the hall
where people gathered to eat and drink and socialize, men from Lika (then
about 40 years old) used to "rozgalje." A leader began, with his finger in
his right ear as he sang, and then three or four men joined in for the sustained tones at the end. They were steelworkers, and must have come about
1910 to America.
My second example, of a type of song called ganga, comes from Hercegovina, also western inland mountainous Yugoslavia, but some 400 miles
southeast and much further from the sea. Again the singers live in the
mountains, have worked as shepherds, and their music is also basically
shepherds' music, loud, outdoor, carrying over a distance.
This time I will speak mostly of the song type and more briefly of history. One should remember that Bosnia and Hercegovina were occupied
earlier by the Turks than Lika, and also that in Bosnia, in contrast to other
areas of Yugoslavia, a sizeable number of Slavs converted to Islam. This
was an area, in which Sarajevo was an important Turkish administrative
and cultural city, where some Slavs became powerful officers and administrators for the Turkish Empire. In 1878 and until 1918, this region came
under Austrian rule. Any visitor to Sarajevo who notices architecture will
immediately see the Austrian administrativebuildings (even before the minarets appear). Today Roman Catholic Croats, Eastern Orthodox Christian
Serbs and Moslems live in the federated republic of Bosnia and Hercegovina.
This second musical form, the ganga, sung in parts, is cultivated in all
parts of Hercegovina and in contiguous southern Bosnia. The older Yugoslav ethnomusicologists have not studied it very closely (e.g., the article
"gange" by V. 2ganec in MuziUkaEnciklopedija, 2nd ed.), but two younger scholars have done excellent field studies of it, not only recording and
transcribing, but employing modern interviewing techniques as well.
Through this we learn the singers' own analysis of how they sing, what constitutes a good performance, and what it means to them.
I have not done field research in this form, and depend on the work,
first, of Professor Dieter Christensen, who focussed on one settlement,
Gabela, in Hercegovina, carrying out field trips of two to four weeks over a
timespan of 17 years. He presented a brief report on the ganga at the Congress of the IMS in Cologne in 1958, and in 1977 published a substantial
study of the ganga form, which appeared in Die Musikforschung and the
Klaus Wachsmann Festschrift. This is a valuable study of one locality, in-

SlavicFolk Music

13

volvingdifficultinterviewingin the Serbo-Croatianlanguage,and extremely difficult transcription.The second scholar is Dr. Ankica Petrovic of
Sarajevo,who wroteherdoctoraldissertationon the ganga,completingit in
1977at the Universityof Belfast,underProfessorJohn Blacking.Her study
embracedthe entirearea of ganga singing, and involvedintensivework in
manylocalities.She has askedmorequestionsrelatingto my focus of interest, namely,in whatway singersof traditionalmusicidentifywith it, if they
do. ThereforeI referto her writingsextensively.
A shortaccountby Petrovic,of 1983,summarizesthe basic featuresof
the gangaas follows:it is sungby at leastthreeor up to five singers,all male
or all female, whereinone partleads and singsthe text, whilethe otherpart
accompanies,singingonly the vowels a, o, or r. The song alwayshas two
contrastingsections, equallyimportant,though they may differ in length.
The first section is sung solo, the secondby a groupin two partsor three.
The second section is always polyphonic, with the parts mostly a major
second apart, an intervalwhichthe singersfeel as a consonance.This, she
notes, is a basic characteristicof the autochthonousmusicof the shepherds
throughoutthe Dinaricmountainarea, and the regionsneighboringit. She
discoveredthat the singersfeel the two final tones, a majorsecondapart,to
be equallybasic. (In other words, analystsare wrong to call one of them
above or below the finalis.) Further,in this area, the ganga must be sung
with forcefuldeliveryandloud tone morethan any othertraditionalstyleof
singing.

Aboutthe ornaments,whichI havecalleda trillin the rozgalicaperformance:the informantsbelongingto the gangatraditioncall these sjecanje
(cuttingor chopping)and jecanje (sobbing).This is noted by Christensen
and Petrovic. Some singersare more skilledat this than others. These are,
in fact, ornamentaltones occurringjust beforeeverynew sustainedtone, in
the second section. The most common pattern,heardin my example,is a
single, shortalmostglottalornamentaltone beforeeachextendednewtone.
Thisresemblesthe tone we notateby a gracenote. Anotherpatternis the ornamentationby groupsof three tones, sung with relativelyshort rhythmic
values, which sound like trills. In the second section of the ganga, the accompanimentmay be in one line (withtwo to four singers)or it may divide
into two lines. Whentherearetwo, one may chop (sjeca)with a singleornamentaltone while the other part sings groupsof ornamentaltones. Or one
partmay singornamentsandthe otheronly the basictones. Thisexampleof
gangais performedby womenin a Moslemvillagenearthe town of Konjic,
Hercegovinain 1977. I recordedit duringa field trip with Petrovic.
It is noteworthythat in Bosnia and Hercegovinathe townspeoplein
generalfind this raucouscountrysingingin seconds disagreeableand unmusical, and they lump it into one generalcategory,withouthearingany

14

Ethnomusicology, Winter 1987


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Example 2.

differences in types or quality of performance. Likewise, the country people


dislike urban music.
The specialist in north Bosnian folk music, Professor Vlado MiloSevic,
wrote in 1940 a classic general article "Peasant Singing in the Uplands of
Banja Luka," in which he described all the music in one village, but then
continued on a general plane to characterize the usual rural singing of
northern Bosnia, and its effect on the singers. He had not only lived in the
area all his life, but later published a four volume collection of Bosnian folk
songs, transcribed from recordings, and other smaller collections. The singing he discusses is group singing involving forms with second intervals and
non-tempered scales, so that the culture and the music are similar, and his
remarks would apply in large measure to Hercegovina. He writes (my translation):
"Most of all, shepherds sing, boys and girls, though also other boys and girls,
and also adults. The song can be heard far away, it resounds across mountain
meadows and valleys. . . . /The singers/ revel in the very tone itself, they feel it
too strongly. Its force affects the nervous system, and this leads to emotion. This
outpouring of emotion is not erotic, even in lyric love songs. The intensity of the
sound effect is strong, and incites a feeling of exaltation, a feeling of something
elevated, epically heroic and resolute" (1976 repr.:489).

Petrovic asserts that the stock breeders (stocari), who in this area raise
sheep and goats more than cattle, are strongly attached to the ganga. She
writes that in the region it is the most widespread and most popular form of

Slavic Folk Music

15

folk singing, "which evokes deep emotional feeling both among performers
and their listeners, if the latter come from the same territorial and social
surrounding" (1983: 52). She quotes informants from all parts of the ganga
area who call it "the most expressive song," the musical form that "calls
forth the best mood and the best feelings," "the most decorated and most
powerful song" (ibid.).
Voice blending is important to them. They say all the singers "must
sound like one voice." This means that they believe they should equalize the
volume and the sharpness or timbre of all the voices singing together. For
this reason it is important for all the singers to belong to the same age
group, so their physical capacities are similar. Also, they said it was necessary to stand close together when singing a ganga, not only in order to feel
unified, but so as to feel the identical physical experience from their own
musical performance (ibid.).
Finally, Petrovic tries to investigate the informants' aesthetic perceptions of the ganga. They said the ganga is entertainment, and the younger
and middle-aged people found it the most pleasant and most beautiful kind
of such music. They considered that it required good skill to perform a good
ganga. Some of the elements of a good ganga were said to be a voice able to
perform different melodic patterns, general strong dynamics, and good ornamentation (1977:330). Well sung gange, says Petrovic, express the joy of
the performance and listeners-assuming that the listeners belong to the
ganga area. This feeling of joy during good ganga performances arouses
deep feelings between the singers, and this in turn causes among singers and
audience alike a state of total physical and psychological concentration on
the song. Good performances can move audiences to tears and shivers, but
there is always an underlying sense of happiness. Such performances, she
writes, also arouse strong feelings of regional identity among young and old
alike (1977:331).
This last sentence from Petrovic comes at last to the point of my own
interest. It seems to me that this is regional identity, but also, more fundamentally, a group identity. And perhaps there is a link between the mountaineers of Hercegovina today and the mountaineers of Lika fifty years ago
(whom I cannot interview): For in West Berlin, and other West German localities where foreign workers have been employed since the War, and still
work, those from Hercegovina come together and sing gangas in their free
time. From the documentation of Petrovic, there can be little doubt that
this singing reinforces their regional identity, but in particular the identity
of the individual in the group.
I looked for references to identity in Merriam's The Anthropology of
Music and in Nettl's The Study of Ethnomusicology, but identity does not
appear in either index, nor in Merriam's list of ten functions of music. Fur-

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Ethnomusicology, Winter 1987

ther discussion of identity is required. I wish to quote, with permission,


from an unpublished work of a social anthropologist, Lawrence Krader, in
particular from his treatment of identity in the chapter Human Being. He
writes:
"The search for identity is called for when the identity is called into question.
The trouble may be psychological or social. When it is social, it occurs in times
of rapid change, upheaval or revolution, or is the result of the impact of one people on another, by conquest, acculturation, or exploitation. At this time the psychological and the social disturbances multiply. In times of peace, inner and outer, psychic and social, we have fewer issues of identity, for it does not often become a problem to us under these conditions."

A few pages later, he writes: "Identity is not constituted by the relation


of self to other, but is generated thereby. Identity is first a process of self
discovery, (who am I?), then a process of discovery of identity, difference
and connection with the other."
In this paper, the songs examined are all sung by groups. My own references to identity concern group identity, rather than individual identity.
And here in this connection, I wish to quote the same source concerning the
falsified importance ascribed to the individual in our society. He writes:
"The self relation is, insofar as it is concrete, not specific to the individual
human being, but is only made so under particular social circumstances.
... It is made into a private relation in connection with the development of
private interest and private property. Yet the self-centered and self-seeking
individual is the caricature of the human being."
In sum, the carriers of the rozgalica and ganga song traditions are pastoral people, who have undergone conquest, upheaval in wars, suffered in
conflicts between Christians and Moslems and are today faced with rapid
change all around, exacerbated by the economic need to work abroad for
long periods. Their identity is threatened. This may have a strong bearing
on their loyalty and love for these ganga song forms.

References
Bezic, Jerko
1968 "Muzicki folklor Sinjske krajine" (Folk Music of the Sinj District), Narodna Umjetnost 5-6, 1967-1968, Zagreb. Pp. 175-275. German resume.
1974 "Ojkanje," in Muzicka Enciklopedija, 2nd ed. vol. 2, Zagreb. P. 722.
Christensen, Dieter
1959 "Heterogene Musikstile in dem Dorf Gabela (Herzegovina)," Bericht iiber den VII.
Internationalen Musikwissenschaftlichen Kongress Koln 1958, Kassel. Pp. 79-82.
1977 "Kategorien mehrstimmiger Lieder des Dorfes Gabela, Herzegovina," in Essays for
a Humanist. An Offering for Klaus Wachsmann. New York. Pp. 105-120. Also in
Die Musikforschung 40:32-42.

Slavic Folk Music

17

Geografija SR Hrvatske
1975 Vol. 4. Gorska Hrvatska. Zagreb.
Krader, Lawrence
n.d.
Unpublished manuscript.
Merriam, Alan P.
1964 The Anthropology of Music. Evanston.
Milosevic, Vlado
1940 "Seljacko pjevanje u banjaluEkoj Vrhovini," Razvitak no. 11, Banja Luka. Reprinted in Putevi no. 5, Banja Luka, 1976, pp. 488-491.
1954- Bosanske narodne pjesme. 4 volumes. Banja Luka.
1964
Nettl, Bruno
1983 The Study of Ethnomusicology; Twenty-Nine Issues and Concepts. Urbana.
Osmond-Smith, David
1985 Luciano Berio. Two Interviews with Rossana Delmonte and Balint Andras Varga.
D. Osmond-Smith translator and editor. New York.
Petrovic, Ankica
1977 Ganga, A Form of Traditional Rural Singing in Yugoslavia. Dissertation for Degree
of Doctor of Philosophy. Queen's University of Belfast. 343 pp.
1983 "Muzi&kaforma ganga-simbol tradicionalnog kulturnog zajednistva" (The Musical Form Ganga-Symbol of Traditional Cultural Cooperation), Slovo Gorcina no.
11, Stolac. Pp. 50-53.
Zganec, Vinko
1951 Hrvatske narodne pjesme i plesovi (Croatian Folk Songs and Dances), Zagreb. Melodies with texts and commentaries in Croatian and English. Published in conjunction with the IFMC Conference.
1971 "Gange." Muzicka Enciklopedija, 2nd ed. Vol. 1, Zagreb. P. 651.