The Sagena ensemble staged two concerts in Chile at the Moneda culture centre and at the Estadio croata ethnic Croatian club. The Sagena klapa ensemble also staged a klapa singing workshop at the Domovina Croatian culture association, home to the first all-women’s klapa ensemble in Chile, created with the assistance of Stjepana Lukašević from Zadar.
In January of 2020 Santiago de Chile was a proper stronghold of Croatian traditions and coastal Croatia’s klapa style singing. The many people of Croatian ancestry who gathered for the event enjoyed the flawless polyphonic a cappella singing of the Sagena klapa ensemble. The Croatian embassy in Chile organised a one-week stay during which the Sagena ensemble staged two concerts in Santiago de Chile. One was held at the Moneda culture centre in the heart of the Chilean capital on 21 January with over a hundred in attendance, and the second at the Estadio croata ethnic Croatian club on 24 January. The Estadio croata club is the most popular gathering place for many Chileans of Croatian extraction. The Sagena klapa ensemble also staged a klapa singing workshop at the Domovina Croatian culture association, home as of a few months ago to the first all-women’s klapa ensemble in Chile, created with the assistance of Stjepana Lukašević, a klapa specialist from the Croatian coastal city of Zadar.
Chile is, after Argentina, home to the second largest population of people with Croatian ancestry in Latin America: if we count the fifth and even the sixth-generation descendants the population today numbers over a quarter million people. While the majority of immigrants of the first wave of the late nineteenth century predominantly settled in the far north and south of the country, primarily in the cities of Antofagasta, Iquique, Punta Arenas and Porvenir, today most of the activity of the descendants of Croatian immigrants is concentrated in the capital city Santiago de Chile, where the population of Croatian extraction numbers some sixty thousand. There are currently three organisations in Santiago de Chile that have continually contributed to nurturing and passing on Croatian culture and traditions. These are the Domovina Croatian culture association, the Estadio croata ethnic Croatian club, and CPEAC (Círculo de Profesionales y Empresarios de Ascendencia Croata), an association that gathers professionals and businesspeople of Croatian extraction. Most of these people are descended from Croatian immigrants that moved here from the southern Croatian region of Dalmatia, the majority from the island of Brač. It is no wonder then that this numerous ethnic Croatian community in Santiago de Chile is seeing renewed interest in the culture of the Dalmatian regional klapa style singing.
The nine-member Zagreb-based Sagena klapa ensemble is one of the longest-lasting ensembles of its kind in Croatia. It was founded in 1993 and has seen twenty-six years of continuous activity, with hundreds of performances, numerous prizes at klapa festivals and three solo albums. The ensemble’s name, Sagena, honours the sagena type merchant and navy ships of the fleet commanded by Tomislav, the first Croatian king. Among its many festival appearances are nineteen at the Omiš festival. It has also appeared at the festivals hosted by Kaštela, Split, Zagreb and Perast. The Sagena klapa ensemble has also racked up a number of international appearances, including the latest in one of the Latin American countries.
Klapa style singing is a musical phenomenon associated with urban Dalmatia. The klapa name originally referred to a male vocal ensemble of four to nine members performing a specific repertoire of Dalmatian melodies sung “a cappella” (choral music without instrumental accompaniment). And while the original ensembles were all-male affairs, today we see a growing popularity of women’s ensembles. The chief characteristics of traditional a cappella singing are the oral traditions and simple melodies and, most of all, an immeasurable love of music and singing. One of the most distinct characteristics of klapa singing is its lightness and the lack of instrumental accompaniment. The songs are usually about love, everyday situations and the local neighbourhood. The performers are talented amateurs who learned to sing from their elders. Originally the klapa bands would be informal groups meeting in taverns (known locally as konoba), on street corners and under balconies singing serenades. Klapa style singing has gained broad popularity of late and there are now numerous festivals and activities, not only in Croatia’s southern region of Dalmatia, but in the broader region. These festivals work to nurture this centuries-old tradition, which was inscribed in 2012 on the UNESCO list of representative intangible cultural heritage.
Text and photography: Sara Večeralo