Traditional music – an important part of Istria´s cultural heritage
American musician Roy Ayers once said: „The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers.”
Traditional Istrian music and instruments may seem a bit strange to some, they may not truly understand it, but nevertheless it is one of the best ways to show the true beauty and uniqueness of this charming region. What is most interesting about it, Istrian music remained untouched by nearby regions or modern influences, which made it a valuable example of Istrian cultural heritage. The creativity of Istrian folk music combined with the fact that time basically hasn´t affected it in centuries, make it difficult to compare this type of music with any other, not only in Croatia but in all European countries.
Istrian songs are based on the “Istrian scale”, an untuned scale that gives the songs its recognizable sound. The songs are performed by two singers, usually male, with a goal to sing "thinly" and "thickly”. You may wonder how a person can sing “thickly” or “thinly”: while one singer performs the melody with a slightly deeper voice, the other accompanies him in a kind of falsetto. The person singing in falsetto sings “thinly” and the person with a deeper voice “thickly”. This type of singing can be partially nasal and full of improvisation, so you can never exactly know what you are going to get.
Northern parts of Istria, around Cicarija, have developed their own type of singing called “bugarenje” that can be translated as mourning. Unfortunately, this type of singing is almost extinct today and relatively unexplored. However, there is a festival in honor of “bugarenje”, that you can visit during your stay in northern parts of Istria.
Throughout centuries, the unique way of singing in Istria has been a crucial part of Istrian culture and in 2009 it made the UNESCO´s list of intangible cultural heritage.
Traditional Istrian music is not only sung, but also played in pairs, combining one smaller and one larger instrument. The most famous Istrian instrument is a type of flute called “rozenice” (also named “sopele”/“sopile”), that produces a distinct, very piercing sound similar to the oboe. Once again, the instruments create a combination of “thick” and “thin” sounds characteristic for this Croatian region. “Rozenice”, as well as other traditional instruments, can still be heard at weddings and similar festivities.
Next to “rozenice”, instruments often played in Istria were bagpipes made mostly from animal skin, various other kind of woodwind instruments with one or two pipes, as well as accordion or tambura.
Where there is music, there is also dancing. The Istrian most famous dance is called “balun”, also performed in pairs – the pairs follow the rhythm of a traditional instrument such as bagpipe and spin around each other in a certain way.
Traditional Istrian singing and dancing are a crucial part of this region´s cultural heritage. In collaboration with various cultural institutions, residents of Istria work hard to not only protect that heritage, but also to pass it on to younger generations. Mostly during the summer there are many festivities that take place in Istria, with the goal of presenting and preserving these beautiful traditions.