Dunja Knebl by Dunja Knebl


I am a happy individual who has found her true self in a life fulfilled with music ever since I began performing in public at the age of 47 , and I’m hoping to share the beauty of it all with others in as many ways as possible.

This here is one of the ways …

If songs can’t be heard and listened to – they are dead.
When I found books containing hundreds of beautiful Croatian folk songs that have never been recorded, I began doing what I have been doing since: turning notes and written words into music. Most of all I would like these songs to be sung by other people. It is absurd that this computer-wise generation should forget songs that have been handed down from generation to generation in times when it was not a common thing to be able to read and write.

I am extremely happy because I do not have to go anywhere. The most beautiful songs are here where I am now. As are both the place and the time.


A Short Autobiography Based on Folk-Song Songbooks,

with Songs From the Songbook Songs Album  As Stations Along the Way

Released by Geenger Records on November 5, 2021 : https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/album/songbook-songs

The short “autibiography” text has timeline links to all the album songs.

  1. The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies (Engleska/England)
  2. Tari Bali (Indonezija/Indonesia)
  3. Кед сом ишол/Ked som ishol (Rusinska/Ruthenian)
  4. Не питай /Ne pitay (Ukrajina/Ukraine)
  5. Вниз по матушке по Волге/Vniz po matushke po Volge (Rusija/Russia)
  6. Over There (SAD/USA)
  7. Hrej suňiečko, hrej (Slovačka/Slovakia)
  8. Slavuj, tico mala (Hrvatska/Croatia)
  9. А на возеры /A na vozery (Bjelorusija/Belarus)
  10. Ой, Иван/Oy, Ivan (Rusija/Russia)
  11. The Praties They Grow Small (Engleska/England)
  12. Poveč, golob (Hrvatska/Croatia)
  13. Moj se dragi u boj sprema (Hrvatska/Croatia)
  14. Prepelica prepeluje (Hrvatska/Croatia)

For a long time now I have had the feeling that folk songs have been leading me through life; as if they had taken me by my hand and directing me as to which way to go, which choices to make. It seemed to me I was getting messages from many of the folk songs I found in books: „Sing me, feel me!“, „Listen to the song, it is your song too!“

We do not know the real authors of the majority of traditional folk songs, so they belong to all of us, and this is not far from being the truth. Folk songs were performed by different people, they were passed on through time from person to person orally, and in such a way they underwent changes and were perfected through time. There never was a written original.

However, when remembering my life path and the circumstances that paved my way, it is perfectly clear that songbooks with notes and lyrics of old traditional folk songs from various countries had played the most important role. It was not the circumstances that had been crucial in making me become a folk singer for the wider public (later in life, at the age of 47), or my descent, or parents, or people, but folk songs I had been learning from books for quite a number of years, since my childhood. They have guided my along my life’s path like kind friends, knowing I would finally realize that the most exciting, the most interesting and the best thing in the world for me was when I was learning and deciding how to interpret and arrange some traditional folk song I had never heard before. It was the way I felt at the very beginning when learning the first song when I was thirteen, and nothing has changed since – 21 albums and some sixty years later.

The affinity and love for folk songs were probably awakened by those moments in my childhood when I listened to grownups having fun while singing together; most often my parents and family members. It was always jolly, entertaining and fun, with a wonderful feeling of togetherness, sharing something precious. The result was always with the positive vibes overpowering the not so nice moments in life.

Father’s job took us all to various countries. I was always singing to myself or listening to music. In the USA I fell in love with the music of Burl Ives, the folk singer and folk song collector, and with his simple guitar accompanied songs. I was fascinated with the simplicity, sincerity, warmth and feeling of interpretation) his early recordings). The minimalism was sufficient in conveying much more complex stories and emotions than many others who had a vast variety of musical components at their disposal.

To this very day it is still a challenge to let the song itself be at the center of everything, and to accentuate the beauty of the melody and lyrics with minimum decoration, not letting the “wrapping material” be an end in itself.


The first song I had never heard previously but learned on basis of notes was „The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies!“ from the book „The Fireside Book of Folk Songs“ that my father had received as a gift in America during our three-year long stay there.


1. The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies  https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/the-wraggle-taggle-gypsies-engleska-england

How did this happen? I was learning to play the piano, and tried to play some of the songs from the nicely illustrated books of folk songs we brought with us when returning from the States. I was intrigued by the story of a lady who had just married a lord, but shortly ran away with some Gypsies and voluntarily lived their life of freedom without the comfort of material things. Perhaps I did not quite understand at the time the deep meaning of the story and the conveyed “message”. Only years afterwards I learned it was a very popular and widely known folk song not only in Great Britain. I then heard the interpretation of a very popular Irish band, still not having the slightest idea that in a way it would become the story of my life when I quit the steady job of a translator in a big company in order to become a folk singer at 47, considered by most people to be a very unusual age for such a step in life. It was not easy to learn a song on basis of written music and lyrics only, but I was very persistent, and the pleasure was great. I had the feeling that in a way the song had become mine. After this first unknown-to-me song that I turned into “mine”, I found some other songs that I liked because of their nice melodies and stories, and I learned to sing them to a simple guitar accompaniment.

After several years in my home country the circumstances once again changed for my whole family and me. Father’s new job took us all to a very distant exotic land – Indonesia. Of course, music remained a sanctuary for me. I did not have a piano, but I had a guitar and learned to play songs from – songbooks. Among them were songbooks with popular folk songs from Indonesia. It was not difficult to learn how to read the unusual manner of writing music with the help of numbers, dots and lines because I had previously learned to read the usual sheet music system.


2. Tari Bali  https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/tari-bali-indonezija-indonesia

Indonesian folk songs, the very popular ones known by everyone in that vast country, resemble folk songs from some other countries. The lyrics are very interesting. Although the verses are often short and repetitive, they have many hidden meanings that can be interpreted in many ways. But, this is true for the all good folk songs – they are timeless and universal.

When I returned to Zagreb, I enrolled with the Faculty of Philosophy choosing to study Russian and English languages and literature. I continued to sing accompanying myself on my guitar, and I continued to collect songbooks, visiting the regular bookshops and second-hand ones as well. In one of the second-hand bookshops I bought a songbook of Ruthenian folk songs collected by Vinko Žganec. I learned several Ruthenian songs, not knowing that one day I would learn about the huge body of work left behind by this leading Croatian ethnomusicologist. I had no idea at the time about his collecting not only hundreds, but thousands of folk songs not only in Croatia. I only knew about the most popular folk songs that could be heard on the radio, or the ones found in songbooks containing popular folk songs. I did not know about the thousands of less popular or forgotten songs that could be found in second-hand bookshops or libraries only. I did not know about their existence. Perhaps my life would have been quite different, had I discovered this earlier.

3. Ked som ishol/Кед сом ишол  https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/ked-som-ishol-rusinska-ruthenian

Video: https://youtu.be/_BrwhtuwJvo


My parents spent less and less time singing, and so I sang songs with my friend – my guitar, the ones that reminded me of those happy childhood days. Along the way I learned a lesson that helped me throughout my life: we ourselves should be the ones generating our happy moments. And so, I sang to friends, or we all sang and played music together. Or I was singing at home alone.

Alongside my Russian language and literature studies I took courses of Ukrainian. Of course, I also bought some songbooks with Ukrainian folk songs. I learned the song „Ne pitay“ („Don’t ask me“) on basis of notes from a small songbook that got lost along the way. I don’t have the songbook any more, but I still remember the song.

4. Ne pitay/Не питай   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/ne-pitay-ukrajina-ukraine

Singing to my guitar’s accompaniment continued in the company of fellow-students; we even had a club dedicated to singing Russian folk songs. Sometimes we were joined in singing by our teachers of Russian literature. From borrowed songbooks I copied the songs I liked by hand.

When going through my stuff from my student days, I found a music notebook (brought from Indonesia) to which I had copied songs from borrowed songbooks. Among others, I found one of the most well-known and most interpreted Russian folk songs I had learned at the time. It was many years afterwards that I actually heard the song in various interpretations.

5. Vniz po matushke po Volge/Вниз по матушке по Волге   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/vniz-po-matushke-po-volge-rusija-russia

During the years to follow the number of folk songs I learned from songbooks grew, and so did the number of countries from where the songs came from. It was a period in time when there was no Internet. The sources of information were books, magazines, newspapers… Only rarely did the Zagreb bookshops get shipments from abroad: foreign books, magazines, and vinyl records. However, it was pure luck to stumble upon anything of interest.

I learned new songs, but I did not forget the „old“ ones. It so happened that once again I renewed my singing of songs from one of the American songbooks: “The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs“.

6. Over There  https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/over-there-sad-usa

I had learned the song „Over There“ because the lyrics intrigued me („I wish I was a geese ’cause they lives and dies in peace, and accumulates much grease eating corn.) I was imressed by the illustartion as well and the words under the title: „The origin of this song is a mystery. It was published in 1844“. Only years later would I find the answers to the mystery of the song, and what it was about.

In 1968 Studentsko eksperimentalno kazalište (Student Experimental Theatre) in Zagreb staged the musical show „Viet-Rock“, following the trend of „Hair“ and similar shows, and I was invited to sing thanks to my knowledge of American folk songs. I never had the ambition to become an actress, but this was something I thought I could do, and I grabbed at the opportunity to get to know the theatre from the inside. After the experience I came to the conclusion that I liked best singing to a small circle of friends rather than be instructed to behave in such a way as to comply with the numerous written and unwritten rules of show business.After completing my studies, I began working as a teacher/lecturer of Russian and English with one of the schools in Zagreb, but not for long. When going to Moscow and attending a course for foreign teachers of Russian, I searched everywhere for vinyl records and songbooks with Russian folk songs. It was shocking to hear the words :“Why do you need those peasant songs?“ coming from people working in book shops and record stores. It was then that I fell in love with my first husband who did not find my interest in Russian folk music strange because he himself knew and sang some folk songs (he was not Russian). We got married and sang together for a while.

So once again my life changed completely. I lived in Russia for almost twelve years. Of course my guitar was with me and I continued to sing to my new friends those „peasant“ songs. Those songs remained to be my favorite ones. Of course, I continued acquiring folk song songbooks, and they were not from Russia only, but from some other countries too. My repertoire grew.

7. Hrej suňiečko, hrej   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/hrej-su-ie-ko-hrej-slova-ka-slovakia

However, I did not forget the Croatian ones. A favorite song from a songbook given to me as a present was the song „Slavuj, tico mlada“. Like many other songs I learned, it was a song I had never heard before, and so the interpretation was my own.

8. Slavuj, tico mala  https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/slavuj-tico-mala-hrvatska-croatia





The song was collected by Ludvik Kuba (Czech folklorist, musician, painter, professor at the Academy of Fine Arts) during his field trip in Slavonija. It is one of the songs in the songbook „Narodne pjesme i kola iz Slavonije“ (“Folk Songs and Folk Circle Dances from Slavonija”), published in 1963, edited by  Stjepan Stepanov and Ivo Furić.

Variations of the song can be found in other parts of Croatia, and also in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The melody in the similar song collected in Dalmatia is different, but the pattern of the verses is similar: three sorrows and their “description”.

I was surprised when I first noticed that I was unconsciously changing some words of the folk songs I was singing. I was sometimes forgetting the original lyrics and even the melodies;”original” meaning the songbooks as the source. It was not much : a word or two, or a note or two. It worried me at first, but then I realized it was similar to what happened with the singers of long ago. They did not have any written or recorded sources to remind them of the “original” song versions, everything was interpreted on basis of memory. Sometimes they were even deliberately creative in order to present their own interpretations of a song’s emotions or “stories”.

When arranging this song for the voice and guitar, I deliberately omitted some of the verses, wishing to make the song more simple and thereby more versatile/universal. It is not clear on basis of the lyrics recorded by Ludvik Kuba what the person in the song was grieving about, so we can  make our own assumptions. I liked this much more than to have a more detailed description as,  for instance, in the case of one of the song’s versions where the man is unhappy because he is ill.

I kept my guitar arrangement for this new interpretation, and Roko Margeta added some more instruments taking the song to a different level (tapan, small percussion, bansuri, kalimba, rainstick).

My first arrangement of the song was made and recorded for the 1995 album ETHNO AMBIENT LIVE (a live concert with Lidija Bajuk and Legen) https://youtu.be/pK43sp92gKk

A beautiful and unusual sounding melody caught my attention when I decided to learn a song from Belarus, a love song.

9. A na vozery/А на возеры   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/a-na-vozery-bjelorusija-belarus



When living in Moscow (during the 20th century’s Seventies and Eighties), meeting with friends and talking and singing with them was still the usual thing to do. It was a period when everyone was singing songs by the most popular singers-songwriters then: Okudzava and Vysotsky. Their songs became folk songs, everyone knew them. But I continued to love my favorites – the  real „peasant“ folk songs. I loved to surprise my Russian friends by singing Russian folk songs they had never heard before, the ones I learned from songbooks.

10. Oy, Ivan/Ой Иван   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/oy-ivan-rusija-russia

After returning to Croatia life continued to be easier with the help of music. I continued to sing but I did not often have the time and energy to learn new songs. A dramatic turning point in my life was in 1993, when war circumstances made an impact on all our lives. I finally looked into some songbooks I did not have time to study previously. I could not believe it: I did not know a single song from the book „Hrvatske pučke popijevke iz Međimurja“ (Croatian Folk Songs from Međimurje), a collection of folk songs collected by the Međimurean poet Florijan Andrašec. The songs that impressed me most at the time were songs linked with people caught in circumstances of war, and it was something I could relate to, even though my situation was not as dramatic as that of others. The songs describing life stories of people who had to go to war or of those left behind by men leaving their families and loved ones were very emotional. The impulse to learn the songs was very strong and this was necessary in order to learn songs that were unknown to me, from a part f Croatia I had never visited, in a dialect I did not speak or fully understand. It was very difficult at the beginning, but the songs were so beautiful that I was under their spell completely.

Of course, I sang them to friends who were amazed to hear such magical songs they had never heard before, and a friend organized my first concert open to general public. The program consisted of the „new“ songs I had discovered. From that moment onward, songs from Andrašec’s collection of forgotten or almost-forgotten traditional folk songs took me on a long journey, for almost 30 years now.

12. Poveč, golob   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/pove-golob-hrvatska-croatia

Video: https://youtu.be/MDAU4NbkUlg


I became a folk singer, and began recording albums. The goal has remained the same: to record as many traditional folk songs from Croatia as possible, especially the ones I had never heard before, or those that had been recorded in the past, but there was no-one singing them anymore.

I „discovered“ many other Croatian folk song songbooks I did not know existed: the older collections by Vinko Žganec, Franjo Kuhač and others, as well as the growing number of songbooks newly published during the Nineties and to date.

The following photo is of my sister Biljana, her son Goran and me at a moment in our lives when we didn’t know that one day (now in 2021) he would be living and working “over there”.

A decade ago I unexpectedly found the answer to the mystery of „Over There“, the song I mentioned describing my early years singing songs from songbooks. My sister Biljana brought me a wonderful gift after visiting the USA : a songbook she stumbled upon in a second-hand bookshop with songs collected by Burl Ives, my favourite folk singer since my childhood days. I had no idea such a book existed. One of the songs in the book entitled „The Praties They Grow Small“  has a similar melody and lyrics to the ones in „Over There“.

11. The Praties They Grow Small   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/the-praties-they-grow-small-engleska-england


It is evident that the song had been brought from Ireland when many traveled to America because of the great disaster caused by several years of crop failure. They brought many songs with them, and sometimes adapted them fully to new circumstances. It is an excellent example of how folk songs traveled and changed depending on many factors. They are an interesting source of information for historians and they tell us many stories about life in different times and different places.

There is a long list of songs I have chosen to record one day for some future album of forgotten or semi-forgotten traditional folk songs. The following song has made its way to the shortlist for this album of songbook songs. I hope I will succeed in recording the other ones as well.

13. Moj se dragi u boj sprema   https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/moj-se-dragi-u-boj-sprema-hrvatska-croatia


And finally, “Prepelica prepeluje” – a Međimurean song collected by the well-known Vinko Žganec. The number of songs collected by him amounts to many thousands.

14. Prepelica prepeluje  https://dunjaknebl.bandcamp.com/track/prepelica-prepeluje-hrvatska-croatia

Video: https://youtu.be/rToKuJDIh9o

This song tells about the fears of a mother-quail for her young ones because they will face many dangers in life regardless of the road they take. She gives them the best advice she knows: „Eat and drink, my young ones, so that you grow strong enough and then you can fly!“

A great message for all…

It is great to fly on wings of songs, but to do this we sometimes need – books.


Nazivi knjiga iz kojih su pjesme na albumu/Titles of songbooks where the album songs can be found

  1. The Wraggle Taggle Gypsies (Engleska/England)

Fireside Book of Folk Song

Simon and Schuster, 1947

  1. Tari Bali (Indonezija/Indonesia)

LAGU2 Indonesia 2 – nema podataka o izdavaču /no info on publisher

  1. Ked som ishol /Кед сом ишол (Rusinska/Ruthenian)


Naklada autorova/ self-published by the author

Tisak Nakladnog zavoda Hrvatske, Zagreb, 1946

  1. Не питай /Ne pitay (Ukrajina/Ukraine)

Pjesma iz izgubljene knjige ukrajinskih narodnih pjesama, prema sjećanju /Song from a lost Ukrainian folk song booksong, as remembered

  1. Вниз по матушке по Волге/Vniz po matuške po Volge (Rusija/Russia)

Pjesma prepisana davno iz posuđene knjige zaboravljenog naslova/Song copied long ago manually, from a borrowed songbook, the title of which I don’t remember

  1. Over There (SAD/USA)

The Fireside Book of Favorite American Songs

Simon and Schuster, inc., 1952

  1. Hrej suňiečko, hrej (Slovačka/Slovakia)

Slovenske l’udove piesne IV

Vydavatel’stvo Slovenskej akademie vied, Bratislava 1964

  1. Slavuj, tico mala (Hrvatska/Croatia)

Narodne pjesme i kola iz Slavonije

Savez muzičkih društava i organizacija Hrvatske, 1963.

  1. А на возеры /A na vozery (Bjelorusija)

Анталогія беларускай народнай песні (Anthology of Belarusian Folk Songs)

Выдавецтва “Беларусь” Мінск 1975

  1. Ой, Иван / Oy, Ivan (Rusija)

М. Стахович: Русские народные песни (M. Stahovich: Russian Folk Songs)

Издательство Музыка, Москва, 1964

  1. The Praties They Grow Small (Engleska)

The Burl Ives Song Book

Ballantine books, New York, 1953

  1. Poveč, golob (Hrvatska/Croatia)

Florijan Andrašec – Hrvatske popijevke iz Međimurja (Croatian Folk Songs from Međimurje)

Tisak/Publisher: „ZRINSKI“ Čakovec, 1981.

  1. Moje se dragi u boj sprema (Hrvatska/Croatia)

Pjesmom na vezove

Turističko društvo „Đakovački vezovi“, Ogranak Matice hrvatske Đakovo

„TIPOGRAFIJA“ d.d. Đakovo, 1994

  1. Prepelica prepeljuje (Hrvatska/Croatia)

Vinko Žganec: Hrvatske pučke popijevke iz Međimurja, Knjiga I.

Zavod za istraživanje folklora, Zagreb, 1990.


My life story would have been completely different if I hadn’t begun learning folk songs from folk-song books since I was 13. When you are 75, everything seems clearer, there is a certain pattern to it all.

This will be a stroll through my life, with the focus on b o o k s. It will be a chronological story about what preceded my „Croatian folksong story“–  my autobiography with the help of books from which I learned songs, singing them at home or to my friends.

Books are important! The Internet does not have it all…

I learned through the years that songbooks, books containing collected traditional folk songs (music and lyrics), are especially important because they preserve songs that cannot be heard anywhere any more. The „problem “lies only in the fact that some traditional folk songs have never been recorded, and one can learn to sing them or play them only on basis of sheet music.

There is a vast number of musicians today who are great artists, even though they do not have formal music school or conservatory education. Most often they do not know how to read music because they do not consider this to be necessary for them, and most often this is all right for the kind of music they perform.

Project goals:

  1. – to stress today’s absurd circumstances when folk songs are being forgotten because they can be found only in written form in books/songbooks, whereas they had been collected in this form by ethnomusicologists and enthusiasts for centuries now, – NOT to be forgotten. Instead of rearranging the already recorded songs that they hear from others or find in „Most popular folk songs … “ editions, perhaps the musicians who do read music and like folk music would look for inspiration in books, if they knew what a vast number of beautiful forgotten folk songs are buried there. The folk songs that have been recorded previously, the ones that have already become popular, are being recycled over and over again. On the other hand, thousands of songs from many old songbooks will probably never be heard again. This is the basic reason I began singing in public at 47, and recording forgotten Croatian folk songs.

This project is not just about forgotten folk songs, but about the general state of things in music: if it is not on the Internet –  it does not exist. On the other hand, if music is not recorded, if it does not have audio files – it cannot be on the Internet.

  1. – to list the titles of the books/songbooks from which I learned the songs on the Songbook Songs album (Release date: November 5, 2021), because I have been learning folk songs in this way my whole life.
  2. – to list the titles of Croatian songbooks I did not know existed, the ones that have changed my life completely. Perhaps some musicians would find this interesting and try to learn and make arrangements for some of the forgotten songs.
  3. – perhaps this could be interesting to people in other parts of the world too, because there is a similar situation in many countries: forgotten songs in forgotten songbooks.

The overall message is : Take care of your heritage! There are many interesting things that you cannot find on the Internet. Try searching for them in books!

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