We Make it Clap!

Overview of the Klapa singing tradition in Dalmatia

Klapa Bunari - OmiskiCroatian National Tourist Board

In the alleys of Dalmatia

In the stone-clad taverns, squares, alleys and vaulted old palaces along Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, traditional klapa multipart singing is an integral part of the cultural landscape.

Klapa singersCroatian National Tourist Board

The harmonious, a cappella music is sung by a group, with lyrics typically devoted to love, or the community or environment in which the singers live. “Klapa” translates as “a group of friends,” and this definition speaks to the origins of the art form—as a way for friends to join together and celebrate the stories and places they hold dear.

Klapa in the parkCroatian National Tourist Board

Klapa Singing

What is klapa?

A klapa singing group is composed of four to 10 people, usually men. At minimum, a klapa group has a tenor, a baritone and two bass singers, and may have additional tenori, or tenors, who serve in supporting roles.

While there may be two or more singers in the same role, there is always just one lead singer—the first tenor. He functions as the leader of the group and starts each song, and then the other singers join in.

Klapa singingCroatian National Tourist Board

Klapa songs are homophonic, meaning that all voices sing the same melody. While the tenor has the dominant role, the other voices sing the same lyrics in harmony but in a different pitch, or high to low place on the musical scale.

Three singersCroatian National Tourist Board

Alternatively, they may hum the melody instead of singing lyrics, and serve as a form of instrumental accompaniment to the tenor. Traditional klapa is always a cappella, meaning there are no instruments other than human voices. To aid in the harmony, klapa singers perform while standing in a tight semicircle.

Beauty of the Homeland

Klapa lyrics usually talk about love or lost love, the beauty of one’s homeland or yearning for home. Those devoted to home can be quite localized, with the singers sharing their nostalgia not just for Croatia or Dalmatia, but for their particular village or island.

Klapa in the fieldCroatian National Tourist Board

The lyrics often express a good deal of sadness and longing, but klapa is ultimately intended to be stirring and uplifting. Its haunting, melodious voices are, for listeners who understand the Croatian language, a celebration of the beauty, culture and oral histories of Dalmatia.

Klapa in konoba by Davor RostuharCroatian National Tourist Board

History of klapa

Klapa as a musical form was first recognized by music historians in the late 19th century, though the musical form is thought to have existed long before that. During this period in history, Dalmatia, which includes the entire southern coast of modern Croatia, was controlled by the Austrian Hapsburgs. Dalmatians of ethnic Croatian heritage increasingly resented and resisted Austrian rule.

Klapa songs were written in and for specific towns and islands contributed to the forming of a national Croatian identity. They were handed down as oral traditions from father to son, and became part of the cultural fabric of their communities and of the broader region.

Klapa Bunari - OmiskiCroatian National Tourist Board

Klapa in the Diocletian PalaceCroatian National Tourist Board

Rather than a music to be performed in theaters or halls before large audiences, klapa has traditionally been a form of street music. Groups of klapa musicians would gather to sing in taverns or at special events, or would walk the narrow streets of their towns, seeking corners and alleys where their voices will best reverberate.

Bariton singingCroatian National Tourist Board

Klapa Singing Today

Croatia broke away from Yugoslavia at the outset of the Yugoslav Wars of 1991-2001. As the region stabilized in the aftermath of the wars, klapa again rose to prominence as a form of national and regional identity.

Klapa in SplitCroatian National Tourist Board

A new, younger generation of klapa groups exists in Dalmatia, and they compete and perform at festivals and events around the country, including the prestigious summer Klapa Festival in Omiš, south of Split. While klapa groups were once exclusively men, there are now all-women groups.

Though not the tradition, it’s also not unusual to see klapa singers accompanied by one or more stringed instruments. As klapa singing evolves and expands, it remains an integral part of Dalmatian identity. For visitors to Croatia who don’t speak or understand the language, a klapa performance is still a mesmerizing cultural experience.

In Split, the round, masonry vestibule of Diocletian’s Palace remains a favorite place for klapa artists to perform. In 2012, klapa multipart singing was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Klapa Bunari - OmiskiCroatian National Tourist Board

Credits: Story



Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Related theme
Croatia: Hearts & Crafts
Deep dive into a colourful journey across music, arts, crafts and festivities of Croatia. Learn how to sing, dance, perform, make arts and crafts in a Croatian style.
View theme
Google apps