Croatian music guide: Oliver Dragojević

Croatian singer Oliver Dragojevic
Singer Oliver Dragojević, a Croatian legend

Some singers have careers so memorable and fruitful that whole generations identify with their songs. People don’t just end up loving them – they end up worshiping them. For Croatians, Oliver Dragojević is one of those performers.

In 2018, Oliver Dragojević left this world after spending the previous year and a half battling cancer. After canceling his concerts in the winter of 2017 due to advanced illness, his fans knew the end was near. Still, his eventual passing brought a lot of sadness and hurt to many.

Everyone was spontaneously bursting into song in the streets, and social media was dominated by dedications to him. It was one of those pivotal moments in Dalmatian and Croatian culture that is difficult to explain to foreigners.

In this post, we cover:

The facts are these…

Oliver Dragojević’s early life

Oliver was born on December 7, 1947 in Vela Luka, a charming island town on one of Dalmatia’s islands – Korčula.

Oliver spent most of his childhood there, but as a teen moved to Split when his father was offered a new job. His musical talents were immediately recognized within the family.

When Oliver was only five, his father bought him his first instrument – a harmonica. Later, he learned how to play the guitar, clarinet, and piano. He went on to graduate from srednja glazbena škola, a music-focused high school in Split.

The entire family on his father’s side was very musical. Both his father and older brother could sing very well.

Oliver’s first public performance happened when he was only 10 years old. With his older brother Aljoša, he entered a singing competition on Radio Split. The brothers continued to sing together as amateurs on the terrace of a popular restaurant Kod Vicka in the Split shipyard’s cultural club.

Oliver joined his first band called Tequila in 1962 when he was 15. The band soon changed their name to Batali and became very popular on the dance circuit. They performed covers instead of their own songs. It was common practice at the time to learn popular Western music by listening to it on the radio.

Oliver once confessed that he preferred the Beatles over the Rolling Stones.

A young Oliver Dragojević
Photo by ZG Magazin

By the time he was nineteen, Oliver was already hooked on performing. When a friend asked him to accompany him to some gigs in Germany, Oliver eagerly accepted.

Oliver spent nearly 5 years touring Western Europe with a band called Tony Stars. It was during this time that his signature, raspy voice formed. Oliver attributed it to smoking a lot of cigarettes, long nights, and singing 7 days a week.

Upon returning to Croatia, he continued his career in Dubrovnik, singing with a trendy group called Dubrovački Trubaduri (Dubrovnik Troubadours).

Oliver moved back to Split and continued performing with his old band Batali. At the age of 27, Oliver was about to catapult his career into superstardom.

Oliver Dragojević’s musical career

Oliver Dragojević started his musical career in the late 1960s, but it wasn’t until 1974 that he won over the sympathy of the audience with a very catchy song called Ča će mi Copacabana (What is Copacabana to me). From that point on, Oliver was a constant in the music world for the next 44 years across Yugoslavia and, later, Croatia.

The first half of his career was marked by a collaboration with the poet Zdenko Runjić. Together, they are responsible for some of the most consequential and important songs that inevitably formed Dalmatian culture, including:

  • Galeb i ja (Seagull and me)
  • Skalinda
  • Oprosti mi, paper (Forgive me, dad)
  • Ča je život vengo fantažija (What is life but fantasy)
  • Vjeruj u ljubav (Have faith in love)

Still, Oliver was never about being exclusive to only one writer. He was very approachable and open to working with new people.

Oliver Dragojević and music awards

In 1992, Oliver collaborated with another well-known Dalmatian writer, Zlatan Stipišić Gibonni. Gibonni wrote Cesarica for another singer, but Oliver wanted to perform it based on the lyrics. Gibonni consented, and the rest is history.

To this day, Cesarica is one of his most memorable songs. In 1994, the newly formed Porin Awards named it Song of the Year.

During his enduring career, Oliver was given numerous awards, recorded 20 original records, five live records, and 10 best-of records. He had countless successful tours in Croatia and abroad. He often mentioned that the highlight of his career was performing in Olympia in 2006, the world-renowned Parisian concert hall.

Despite all the success, Oliver Dragojević remained a simple man, dedicated to his family. Apart from singing, he enjoyed spending time on his boat and fishing in the coves of his beloved home on the island of Korčula.

[Read: Best places to go fishing in Croatia (and the rules you must abide by)]

Oliver may be physically gone, but he will never leave our hearts.

What Oliver Dragojević was to Croatia

Oliver Dragojević’s songs were a soundtrack to life in Croatia. Listening to him over the years as we grew up and experienced life created an indelible bond between Oliver and the Croatians. Everybody agrees this bond is hard to describe in words, but our connection to him and his music is authentic and unbreakable.

The best example of our dedication to Oliver was a farewell to him in Split, where he spent most of his life. His funeral was comparable to no other in Croatia’s history.

Farewell to Oliver Dragojević by Jutarnji list

The whole city of Split came together to say goodbye to Oliver as he was carried down Riva by family and friends, then aboard a naval ship for the journey to his final resting place on the island of Korčula.

In addition to the crowds on Riva packed in like sardines just to get a glimpse of Oliver as he passed, the harbor was filled with boats of all sizes, each covered with even more people to say goodbye and escort him on to Korčula.

Crash course in Oliver Dragojević

1. Ča će mi Copacabana

2. Skalinada

3. Oprosti mi, pape

4. Cesarica

5. Ispod sunca zlatnoga

6. Malinkonija

7. Nadalina

View our other music guides

Please note: Information provided by Expat in Croatia is only for the purposes of guidance. It does not constitute legal or financial advice in any form. Croatian laws and bureaucratic rules often change, and each personal case is individual, so different rules may apply. For legal advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian lawyer. For financial advice, contact us to consult with a licensed Croatian tax advisor or accountant.

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