The Early Days
CP: Hearing you sing, you gentlemen sound as if you sung together for centuries. Did you always sound so good? Could you tell us a bit about your early days?
RV: Thank you. Klapa 'Ragusavecchia' was formed in the Fall of 1998 when several Dalmatian folk-song enthusiasts, headed by Maro Saulović and Viktor Kužnin from Cavtat, endeavored to engage their musical talents in klapa-style singing.
CP: We're surely glad they did that. Would you say that, at the time, you were, at lest theoretically speaking, 'equipped' for the challenges that such endeavors surely must bring on?
RV: Well, speaking theoretically or otherwise, we were 'equipped' with nothing but desire to sing klapa-style polyphony. You could say we knowingly ventured into the world of challenges.
'Klapa is a name commonly given to an ensemble (5 to 8 members, usually)
CP: For those who are not acquinted with klapa-style songs, could you briefly tell us what klapa is?
RV: Sure. Klapa is a name commonly given to a five to eight member ensemble that performs primarily polyphonic Dalmatian folk songs. Occasionally a klapa will perform other songs but those are by rule interpreted in the specific klapa-style. Also, while most klapas sing a cappella , some occasionally incorporate string instruments such as guitar, mandolin, etc. into their songs. Ensembles can be all male, all female or, less commonly, mixed.
CP: Now, back to challenges you had to face. What carried you through? I mean, besides reveling in klapa-style polyphonic sounds.
RV: To be quite honest with you, we just played a chord after the other, did a performance after a performance . . . It helped that we also had a clear goal in mind: to be able to sing a true song.
CP: A 'true' song?
RV: Yes. A true, genuine, uncorrupted song which one could love 'from one's soul' -- with one's whole heart and soul . . .
CP: I see. Now, to slightly digress. Why Ragusavecchia?
RV: Well, we knew we wanted to honor the place that we come from. Taking the town's old name was an obvious way to do that.
'We decided to go with Ragusavecchia (the old Ragusa)
CP: Cavtat had a few names throughout history . . .
RV: True, we could have chosen to call ourselves Epidaurus, or Civitus Vetus. But we decided to go with Ragusavecchia (the old Ragusa) as this is the name literally imbued with the historical importance the town of Cavtat has, this little town of ours that we love 'from our souls . . .'
CP: OK. So, we have the name, we have the desire to sing a 'true' song, we have the crew of enthusiasts . . .
RV: The original crew, that is. You see, and this is quite common when it comes to klapa-ensembles, thus far some twenty singers went through Ragusavecchia. Every one of them was important in his own right, each one brought something special to the developing sound that is now the well recognizable timbre of Ragusavecchia.
CP: Today's Ragusavecchia has eight members. Is that right?
RV: Yes. Today's klapa numbers eight:
Rikard Kužnin (tenor, contrabass, journalist at Dubrovacki list), Ivica Puljić (2nd tenor, 2nd mandoline,journalist at Radio Dubrovnik), Nikša Stahor (2. tenor, Chief Officer in the Organized Crime Prevention Unit of the Dubrovnik Custom’s Bureau), Maro Saulović (Baritone, 2nd mandoline, Director at a travel agency ‘Gulliver’, Viktor Kužnin (Baritone, 1st mandoline, an entrepreneur), Nikša Matičević (Bass, Guitar, boatmaster, the eldest member of Ragusavecchia), Marko Šilje (2nd bass, Mandola, tax auditor), Vedran Ivanković (Ragusavecchia's manager, 2nd Bass, Guitar, also trains and oversees the vocal talent at Folklore Ansamble Linđo from Dubrovnik).
CP: We know most klapas have outsourced managers, some don't. How about you guys?
RV: For the last five years, until just recently, we've also had one.
'. . . to take on the challenge and rely on only ourselves. . .'
CP: Are you now looking for one or . . .?
RV: No, we actually decided to take on the challenge and rely on only ourselves for all musical and performance arrangements.
CP: How come? What prompted the decision?
RV: While we are thankful for all the guidance by the schooled musicians, we are also well aware of the fact that no vocal technique can substitute the sentiment. And this is something we already have. So we decided to manage ourselves, perhaps egotistically enjoying all that we do.
CP: Was there a difference in sound after you decided on being self-managed, did you characteristic timbre change?
RV: We are aware of our shortcomings and imperfections but are not very concerned with them. Probably had them and still do, though to a significantly lesser degree. Rather than worrying about such technical aspects of performance, if you will, we always thought it more important to perform for our audience the 'true' song, to share with them the very same sound that we enjoy so much and which we love ‘from our souls'.
RV: Interestingly, the moment we started thinking we were enough unto ourselves and started to perform with this frame of mind, was the moment audience really accepted us. Public recognition and awards followed.
The Dynamics of Practice
'When it comes to the klapa-style songs,
CP: How about giving us a behind-the-scenes look. Is there a specific routine you follow in practices?
RV: When it comes to the klapa-style songs, there can be no routine. Namely, the very meaning of singing a Dalmatian folk song is the expression of one’s sentiments. If that expression becomes a routine, than something is amiss. This might sound weird to you, but there is more of a routine during performances than during the practices.
CP: What is one of your practice sessions like?
RV: In our practice sessions we sing only to ourselves and are quite content when we're able to produce a sound that simply sounds good. From the technical point of view, the session would consist of a warm up (20 min), the work on the new songs (30 min), and the rework on the previously ‘read’ songs (60 min).
CP: I am curious. I mean, there has got to be hundreds of songs to chose from. And that's not counting the new hits which you also sometimes incorporate in your performances. How do you chose the songs?
RV: Really, it's strictly based on the feeling we get while we sing them. If a song doesn't ‘sit’ right with us, we quickly move on to another. In any case, we only sing those with a particular meaning.
Continued in Part 2