The ganga is a type of popular song found in the Dalmatian mountains, a territory that straddles Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. The sounds, passed on from one generation to the next, used to be sung from valley to valley by the shepherds for long-distance communication. This is known as a polyphonic song, a single singer with a choir, thus creating a kind of lament with a loud sound. Although it can only be heard today during village festivals or at meetings with friends, the ganga continues to affect many people, due to its intensity and friendly spirit.
The ganga was originally a form of expression different from raw speech; it used to be directed to a specific person or group; and the message was often the sharing of joy, a feeling of melancholy, an expression of pride, or even a criticism, disagreement or dissatisfaction. There were no learned and rehearsed lyrics as in songs, but instead there was an improvised speech depending on what the singer wanted to express, in his daily life, during group activities. The aim was to give weight to one’s emotions, so that they could be heard by everyone, even if only one person was aimed at.
Even though the ganga was orally transmitted, a mutual fund was created over time, a set of repeated songs which brought the community together. Some songs have names; those of the villages where they were born or the one of the singer who created them.
The lyrics are nowadays almost never improvised, the ganga is mainly heard in coffee shops, family gatherings and village festivals. In this context, we can note a desire to enter into communion with our surroundings and thus share a feeling of conviviality and community spirit.
A polyphonic song
At such events, various songs begin as invitations to the singers, in order to put themselves in the mood and make themselves available to sing together. Then of course, songs begin, more intense and longer. Although very short (about thirty to forty seconds), depending on the length of the singer’s breath, these songs are always divided into three sections. They are called polyphonic because they are made of several people, although at first, a single singer starts. He is known as pjevač, literally « singer », because he is the only one to sing the lyrics. Then, in a second section, two to four partners in unison add their voices to the first singer’s voice. They are called gangaši (singular: gangaš) « those who make the ganga » or, by neologism, « gangers ». Finally, they all conclude together with a sharp lowering of key or, on the other hand, with a kind of brief but steady scream, propelled towards treble notes.
An individual sensory experience, both by and through the group
Singing a ganga requires physical commitment, the singer must be fully involved in order to reach the ganga’s goal, as well as its effectiveness. The intensity of the song triggers a vibration throughout the body, the contraction of the different muscles and a steady physical effort that goes through the restrained breath.
These vibrations are absorbed by both the ear and the body, which memorizes them. However, the singers do not have physical contact, their voices come together to create vibrations which are all felt from within.
Postures and behaviours vary from one singer to another: some close their eyes, others gaze far away or stare at the table or at a partner. In any case, the idea is to extract yourself from your environment to be completely involved in the shaping of the sound, and to change your body into a vocal object. Such a singer does not conclude his ganga as a popular singer who would expect the applause of his audience, but on the contrary modesty is the norm because he ends up with his head down or looking away to a neutral point, so as to leave the impact of the sound to infuse into his body and to take the time to soak himself in the sensation. The fact is that ganga fans sing first for themselves and not for an audience who do not applaud any performance. Moreover, the audience, which has received the sound vibrations from the outside, will not perceive the same emotion. For them, it will be more of an individual pleasure which involves listening.
A moment of conviviality based on identity
Ganga singing, which is hardly ever written, tends to lose some of its importance although it remains an integral part of the traditional musical expression for the Dalmatian hinterland. As a result, it has been registered on Croatia’s list of protected cultural heritage, and so has the klapa, another type of multi-voice song and oral tradition which co-exists with other polyphonic songs on the same territory.
These songs remained alive until today, mainly thanks to local amateur groups who sought to pass on their knowledge and share their passion. Despite a certain lack of popularity, the tonalities of the ganga are used in contemporary creations by new generations of popular singers. The music is also performed during traditional music festivals in the countries of origin as well as abroad.
Many ganga records, meticulously collected and classified geographically by Tomislav Matkovic, can be found on the Croatian site Ganga.hr.
Author: Estelle Pautret
Translated by: Laurane Mandin
For further documentation
- BORNEUF, Anne-Florence, « Plaisir partagé et frissons individuels. Chanter et écouter les chants ganga (Croatie / Bosnie-Herzégovine) ». Cahiers d’ethnomusicologie 23, 2010, p. 71-82. Available at: https://journals.openedition.org/ethnomusicologie/971
- FOURE CAUL-FUTY, Edouard, « Fulgurances harmoniques des polyphonies « ganga » de Dalmatie ». Carnet de voyage, France musique. 28 décembre 2014. Available at: https://www.francemusique.fr/emissions/carnet-de-voyage/fulgurances-harmoniques-des-polyphonies-ganga-de-dalmatie-17162
- « Le chant rera de Sinj ». Sinj Tourist Board, Etno, 2018. Available at: http://www.visitsinj.com/fr/Etno/11/le-chant-rera-de-sinj
- PETROVIC, Ankica, « Perceptions of Ganga ». hr. Available at: www.ganga.hr/index.php/pisani-radovi/item/273-perceptions-of-ganga
Photo credits (only images without specific credits): CC by SA Ancient World Image Bank (cover), Brian Eager.