About me – my roots

BOXES + BOXES = OUR LIVES (published in April, 2001 in Croatian IQ magazine)

The chief editor was very persuasive in describing the positive sides of writing for IQ, a magazine distributed and read all over Croatia. He was so persuasive that I agreed to write something for IQ readers. I thought the subject of the article would be music. When I picked up the previous copies of IQ and read what Tamara Obrovac (ethno-jazz musician from Istria) and Miroslav Skoro (singer-songwriter from Slavonia) had written, I realized that Mr. Kostadinov thought I was from Medjimurje. I rang him up. I was right, he did think I was a Medjimurean singing Medjimurean songs (Medjimurje is an area in north Croatia). Nevertheless, he considered it would be interesting to write about the part of Croatia I actually come from.

Many think I come from Medjimurje because the majority of songs I recorded come from that part of Croatia. Medjimureans do not think that I come from Medjimurje.

Where do I come from in fact?

I was born in Zagreb in 1946 in the Petrova Street Hospital. If I were to sum up the number of years I have lived in different cities, Zagreb would be the city where I spent most of my life. However, I do not think that Klub Zagrepcana (a club in Zagreb whose members come from Zagreb) would let me become one of their members. I was born in Zagreb, but my parents were not. Neither my parents’ parents. My mother comes from the village Cegci (some 40 kilometers from Zagreb, near Sv. Ivan Zelina), and my father comes from the town of Sisak.

I have lived in Skopje (Macedonia), Belgrade (Serbia), Washington D.C. (USA), Karlovac (Croatia), Jakarta (Indonesia), Moscow (Russia). After returning to Croatia from the United States, we (my parents, my sister and I) lived in Karlovac. Everyone at school called me “the American”. But if one was to ask the “natives” from the towns and countries I had lived in whether I was “theirs”, I do not think anyone would agree with such an idea.

For more than forty years I have been spending my summer vacations at Hvar (Island of Hvar in the Adriatic Sea area) where my parents had a small house. I have friends there who have been my friends since childhood. They don’t think that I come from Hvar. Not even when I sing traditional folk songs from Hvar.

Sv. Ivan Zelina (and the village Cegci near by) are my homeland. I don’t know whether people from Sv. Ivan Zelina would agree with this. It is the place where I have never lived. But it is the place of my dearest memories. It is there that I learned to sing many folk songs.

My mother was one of my grandmother’s seven children. She had three sisters and three brothers. All of them sang well and played various instruments. I never knew my grandfather because he died young. Most of them are not alive any more.

The times were very difficult when my mother and her brothers and sisters were young. Maybe more difficult than today. But it was quite normal for them to sing all day long. While they were doing something at home, in the garden, in the fields, in the vinyard, and especially when they gathered around the table. And the table was never empty. In the worst case: some corn bread, hard home-made cheese, and wine. Home-made wine, of course. From their own vinyard. Fruit and vegetables from their own garden. There was never enough time to sing up all the songs they knew, even when they sang until dawn. Even though the rule was that not one song should be repeated. The instruments were various ones, depending on who was sitting around the table. It was usually a violin, a guitar, a bass, an accordeon. My uncle’s favourite words were: If you have rosin (my uncle’s other word for wine) the music will be very smooth . The music I learned to love was the most beautiful music in the world for me even though I did not consume any rosin (I was still a child). It was then that I learned to love folk songs. I was taken by their beauty, and ever since I have always wanted people to spend some of their time singing together.

No matter where I was living, I continued learning various folk songs, I was always singing them to my friends and persuading my friends to sing them as well. Nothing has changed. The audience is only more numerous today, that’s all. From the moment I found out that perhaps the most beautiful Croatian folk songs are hidden in books, that many of them have never been recorded and that many people here in Croatia do not know of their existance I have been trying to change the situation. It seems that things out of reach are always more interesting to all .

TO BE SOMEPLACE ELSE

One of the things that has always been a driving force for man is the wish to be someplace else (or someone else), to travel – a huge amount of energy has been spent in shortening the space of time a person needs to shift (travel) from one place to another. Man volunteers to sacrifice a lot in order to see how things are someplace else, how other people live. The prizes one can win in various games are travel arrangements and holidays to be spent someplace else. We all say that the best vacation is to go somewhere. The farther the better. What we forget is that we may go to very different places, travel thousands of miles, but the only thing we cannot do is get away from one’s body, from ourselevses. Except, of couse, into those certain “boxes” that end up under a layer of soil or the smaller ones in which we end up as dust.

OUR EVERYDAY BOXES

And so we spend all our days on Earth in boxes. In one box or more of them. The basic box is our body. It is a box we strive to place as comfortably as possible into other boxes we call rooms, flats, houses or vehicles. We spend our lives in earning money for the most comfortable stay of our bodies in this world of ours. In the 20’th century we invented an uncountable number of boxes for our souls as well. So now we are earnng money to buy the best boxes (TVs, computers, music boxes of all kinds… ) into which we can escape from people and things surrounding us . It seems that this kind of life is less painful than to live one’s own life. In this racing around to provide ourselves with the very best boxes we have forgotten that we have made ouselves unfree.

The moment we enter our homes we turn on one of the boxes or several of them simultaneously. The result is that we treat real people the same way as our boxes at home. Nobody’s listening to anyone any more. We only half-listen to our friends between the ringing of our mobiles, or sounds of music – the same way that we watch TV only partly because we are doing other things at the same time. On the other hand we are angry when others are not listening to us. Someone has said that people have never been more connected (by modern communication means) and more disconnected as human beings.

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