From the Center in the Middle: Working Tambura Bands and the Construction of the In Between in Croatia and its Intimates

MacMillen, Ian

In November 2009, Croatian pop singer Miroslav Škoro performed in front of some twenty thousand fans at Arena Zagreb, the capital city's much lauded new sports hall. This was the second largest audience drawn by a Croatian act since the hall's opening the previous December, I a testament to Škoro's continuing status as one of Croatia's most popular patriotic performers (as well as television star and, in recent years, politician and record mogul). Aside from the notably large attendance, the concert in Zagreb was of particular significance to Škoro for its timing: held on the twentieth day of November, his performance celebrated twenty years' work in the music industry as a professional singer and songwriter. Accompanied by his band (on backup vocals, tenor saxophone, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboard, drums, and electric bass) and a number of guest musicians from past projects and from his family, Škoro performed repertoire from throughout his career and thereby commemorated his twenty years of hit songs and his many musical collaborations with these and other musicians. In this article, I examine recent economic strategies and difficulties of Croatia-based semiprofessional tambura bands in light of their relations with musical celebrities such as Skoro and with Croat fans in both domestic and international contexts. Drawing on fieldwork conducted with numerous bands at rehearsals and concerts between 2007 and 2011, I situate their present endeavors and concerns in a deeper historical context, focusing especially on musical trends and economic changes (and their continuing role in musicians' discourses on the state) since Croatia's secession from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1991.5 I argue that the circulation of tambura music and mobility of ensembles in foreign extensions of the Croatian tambura scene have become integral to the current social positioning of Croatia as both occupying an economically and culturally intermediary position (in relation to its more "Balkan" and "European" neighbors) and constituting a musical center (related constructs that I explicate below). I further analyze the commercial limitations that working tambura bands face in establishing their music within Croatian popular culture and examine the impact of these conditions on the construction of a Croatian tambura "sound:'

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Columbia University
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April 9, 2014