Folklore Spectacle: Croats from the USA and Canada Showed the Splendour of Song, Music and Dance

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The great three-day festival of the Croatian Fraternal Union under the name of “Tambura Across Generations” took place at the Vatroslav Lisinski Concert Hall in Zagreb with more than 900 participants, parents and children – adults and youths from all the folklore ensembles that came to Croatia accompanied by other members of the community of more than 1500 descendants of Croats from America and Canada.

Written by: Jelena Badovinac Dimitrijević; Photo: Krasnodar Peršun

As many as 36 folklore ensembles came to Zagreb to perform this unique cultural event and at the same time to celebrate the 130th anniversary of CFU, the largest Croatian emigrant organisation in the world. CFU leaders—Edward W. Pazo, CFU President and Chairman of the Executive and National Board of Directors, Bernadette M. Luketich-Sikaras, CFU Main Secretary and Secretary of the Executive and National Board of Directors, Franjo Bertović, CFU Executive Vice President and Michael J. Ricci, member of the National Board of Directors—also arrived in Zagreb.

The Festival was officially opened by the Master of Ceremonies, Ivan Begg, a member of the Board of Directors of the CFU Youth Cultural Association since 1991. The guests and participants were also welcomed by Bishop Juraj Jezerinac who said that the Homeland and the Croatian Fraternal Union have been cooperating for decades, and was especially fruitful during the time of its long-standing Main CFU President, Bernard M. Luketich.

The festival is co-hosted and co-organised by Croatian Heritage Foundation where a reception was held before the official opening and the guests were addressed by CHF Director Mijo Marić on behalf of the institution.

– The motto of the festival “Tambura Across Generations” best testifies to the nurturing of the cultural heritage of the Croatian people in the United States. On behalf of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, I would like to especially thank the participants of the 56th Annual CFU Junior Cultural Federation Tamburitza Festival and their parents for choosing to hold their annual folk festival in their ancestral homeland for the eighth time. Many young Croatian-Americans from different cities are visiting their grandparents’ homeland for the first time which awakens deep feelings in all of us. The great-grandchildren speak English, but they sing their hearts out with their Croatian hearts—hearts that love their new and old homeland equally, said Director Marić. On behalf of the Croatian Heritage Foundation, he presented the American Croats with a belt made of Prigorje region national costume and engraved with a dedication. 

Edward Pazo said in his address that this concert was a source of immense pride for all Croatian-Americans.

– As I watch our children singing the Croatian national anthem here on stage in Zagreb, we are also remembering all our ancestors who came to the US and Canada six generations ago, but never forgot their roots. We have passed on our heritage, our language and our origins to the generations, and through folklore we have managed to preserve our cultural heritage. We have managed to gain respect in the countries where we live today, while preserving what is most precious—our Croatian identity.

With a twelve-minute presentation over two days of a rich programme, the associations showcased their work and the way they preserve Croatian heritage. With song, music and dance, they expressed on stage the strong emotion of coming to their homeland, and for the first time in its history, CFU presents a mixed tambura festival for young people and adults with members of up to four generations of the same family gathered on stage in Zagreb. Therefore, the name of this year’s festival is symbolic and quite clear—“Tambura Across Generations.”

The spectacular finale of the Festival brought together several generations of Croatian-Americans who performed a true musical spectacle together on stage in a historic mixed performance of all participating ensembles under the direction of CFU 2024 guest conductor Derek Hohn. Several hundreds of them sang the songs “Joyful is Croatia”, “Tambura Connects Us” and “Croatia Our Mother” in front of an enthusiastic audience, accompanied by tambura players. The never bigger Festival was also visited by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Croatia, Andrej Plenković, who said that he had kept the promise he made to the leaders of the Croatian Fraternal Union in Pittsburgh a year and a half ago during his visit.

– The fact that the Croatian Fraternal Union is celebrating 130 years of existence is impressive. The CFU headquarters in Pittsburgh is more than a community home for Croats, it represents the image of emigration in America where generations of Croats have lived. Today, the descendants of these Croats feel their identity and a great connection to Croatia, and the sparkle in their eyes, showing the loyalty and feelings for their homeland that I saw when I was in Pittsburgh made me promise that I would bend all my commitments to come to tonight’s concert. I am honoured to be part of such a great event and I want to stress that the Croatian Government, which I head, is a strong supporter of Croats in America. I was extremely moved by the scene I saw when I entered the hall today. I have never seen such a full and joyful stage in my life, from the youngest to the oldest – stressed Andrej Plenković.

-Since 1894, when the Croatian Fraternal Union was founded, we have carried the Croatian name, spread the word about our stability and identity, nurtured and preserved our cultural heritage and folk traditions, and passed them on to new generations in America and around the world. We have built many Croatian homes, churches, centres and parks where our members and our friends gather. Organized in this way, we are and will continue to expand the unity of our Croatian people and build bridges of cooperation and support between the expatriate community and the people of our homeland – Franjo Bertović, Executive Vice President and member of the Executive and National Board of Directors of the CFU told the audience.

The festival was held under the patronage of the President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Milanović, and the project manager on behalf of the Croatian Heritage Foundation was Ivana Dvorneković, Head of the Office for Culture, Education, Science and Publishing. A Tambura Mass was held for the participants of the Festival at the parish of St. John Pope the XXIII. The Mass was presided over by the Archbishop of Zagreb, Msgr. Dražen Kutleša.

This type of music and dance showcase of the CFU and its membership contributes greatly to the excellent relations between the United States, Canada and the Republic of Croatia. It also demonstrates the great successes that the Croatian Fraternal Union has achieved over the past sixty-plus years in establishing cultural cooperation with the homeland. Some CFU folklore associations have continued their tour in Croatia and Hungar, where they will be guests at some of the most important folklore festivals, such as Đakovački vezovi.

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