Croatia in mourning over the death of Dalmatian singer Oliver Dragojević

Written by
Marc Rowlands

A day of mourning in Croatia yesterday as people woke to the news of Oliver Dragojević's death. The popular singer passed away very early in the morning on Sunday 29 July at hospital in Split. For the past year he had been suffering from lung cancer.

By the time most people were waking up, the sad news had reached media channels across Croatia and its neighbours. Television channels informed a shocked and saddened public and radio stations played his songs throughout the day.

Croatia's Narodni Radio, which only plays music from the country, embarked on a full 24 hours of Oliver Dragojević music. They did not struggle to find material for the mammoth tribute; Dragojević recorded over 35 albums in an award-winning career that saw him collaborate extensively with songwriter Zdenko Runjić and poet Jakša Fiamengo. His partnership with Runjić was particularly fruitful, the pair produced over 200 songs together. Many of these songs dominated the charts in Yugoslavia in the latter half of the '70s and throughout the '80s, such as 'Galeb I Ja'. 'Skalinada', 'Malinkonija', 'Nedostaješ Mi Ti', 'Oprosti Mi Pape', 'Nocturno', 'Poeta', 'Picaferaj', 'Nadalina' and 'Infiša San U Te'. Dragojević remained popular throughout his career, his 'Ako Voliš Ovu Ženu' duet with Željko Bebek winning both hearts and several awards in 2017. In recent years he had also collaborated with 2Cellos and Gibonni.

Dragojević's family underwent considerable turmoil during World War II; three of his sisters died in the period and his family were forced to flee from Dalmatia, returning from a refugee camp in Egypt to their ancestral home of Vela Luka on the island of Korčula only after the war ended. Oliver was born in a hospital in Split just a couple of years later and though he spent much of his childhood on Korčula, he was forever associated with the city of his birth. It was within Split's music scene and competitions that he first made a name for himself. Dragojević's music, often romantic and poetic love songs, took great inspiration from the acapella klapa music of Dalmatia and the region's melodies.

Such had been the impact on Dragojević's family in World War II that he was deeply sorrowed by events during the disintegration of Yugoslavia and vowed to never again sing in Serbia. Nevertheless, Dragojević was adored in Serbia. Tributes on social media and mainstream media channels in Serbia (and also in Bosnia), mirrored those coming from Croatia yesterday.

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