Like some faraway voice from ancient times, the traditional singing with vibrating voices called ojkanje is a distinct expression of the cultural heritage of the Dinaric Alps. Nothing can prepare you for the sounds produced by a single singer or a duo where one singer accompanies the other. Rest assured that in the right circumstances, the melodies that change harmonies and intervals will sound not only ancient, but also entertaining. The right company, a village party, traditional folk costumes, home-made food and wine from wooden cups are enough to get you in the right mood for the unusual throat singing that uses a chromatic scale, and especially for the motifs used in the songs. While klapa singing mostly revolves around love and melancholy, when it comes to ojkanje, anything goes. There’s love, jokes at the audience’s expense and historical epics, and singers normally don’t shy away from social topics and political commentary, either. The tradition originated with folk singers and satirists in ancient times. Even the oldest works of Greek literature – Homer’s “Iliad” and “Odyssey”, which were devoted to the disasters of war – were first sung as epic poems, and written down later on.
It is believed that after their settlement in these lands, Croatians discovered and adopted the root elements of ojkanje, and subsequently passed down the tradition orally from generation to generation. Unfortunately, spreading the ancient singing technique from the Dalmatian hinterland, Ravni Kotari, across the Velebit Mountain, to the Lika and Kordun areas, has not contributed to its survival. The number of authentic singers is in decline, as it seems that it does not resonate with the younger generations. This is why the tradition is at risk and has been on the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage under threat since 2010. To keep the tradition alive, next time you find yourself planning a trip to Croatia, opt for the less known and out-of-the-way places in the hinterland of the beautiful Dalmatia, where local parties and celebrations bring together locals who celebrate their traditions. Even if you’re not used to the distinct scales and notes, don’t be afraid to let go and enjoy the ancient sounds of ojkanje, because believe us, it will charm you with its originality.