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CONCERT OF EPIC SONGS (29 July 2004, 7 PM, Alchemia)

4. Branko Kalaica  (Herzegovina / Croatia)

Epic of the southern Balkans


The long epic poems, sung with the gusle accompaniment, are a tradition of the southern Slavs, dating back to the time when the Balkans were the target of Turkish attacks, i.e. from the turn of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This type of singing developed mainly in the southeastern part of the Balkan Peninsula and is associated with the activities of the so-called hajduki. Hajduki were Christian "guerrillas - robbers" who defended the villages against Turkish invasion on their own. Most often they fled to the forest to attack Turkish troops from there. The hajduki became national heroes whose actions are sung by folk migratory singers, guslers ("guslari"). They wandered from village to village, where, while playing on gusle, they sang about current political events, thus spreading messages around the area. They were endowed with great authority and respect. The tradition of epic songs in the area of southern Slavs lands has survived to this day. Not only are the old, historical texts repeated (which after being transmitted orally, were first written in the nineteenth century), but also new texts about current political events are created. Modern guslers therefore sing about the Balkan war of 1991-95, the current political situation in those areas, the expulsion of Croatian generals to The Hague, presidential elections, etc.


Branko Kalaica is the heir to the traditions of Herzegovina guslers. A characteristic feature of the South Slavic epic poems that he performs is the ten-voice type of poem, characteristic of the folk art of the Balkans. To this day, guslers act as commentators on political life. The unique social status even allows them for radical comments on unpopular government policies. In Croatia, guslers has recently represented the country's territory inhabited by followers of the right-wing politics and the Croatian president Franjo Tudjman, who died in 1999. At the same time, in their epic poems, they speak against the current, liberal policy of Stipe Mesic.

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