Meet the Music Icons of Split: Oliver Dragojević

Daniela Rogulj

Because your Saturday could use a bit of Split music. 

When talking about the music that is quintessential to the city of Split, it’s hard to begin the conversation without mentioning Split’s finest and most famous, Oliver Dragojević.

Oliver Dragojević was born in Split on December 7, 1947. While he spent his childhood in Vela Luka on the island of Korčula, he attended the music school in Split to learn the piano, clarinet, and guitar. The singer’s first performance was in 1961 at the Split Children’s Festival where he sang “Baloni”. 

It’s safe to say that people began to take notice of Oliver’s musical talents in 1963 when he was the singer and keyboard player of the cult Split band ‘Batali’. In an amateur competition, Batali won first place for their rendition of John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s song “Yesterday”. 

In 1967, Oliver began collaborating with composer Zdenko Runjić who wrote the song ”Picaferaj” for Oliver which he performed at the Split Festival. While the song did not make it to the finals, it brought the singer fame just a few years later, and would soon be known as one of Oliver’s most famous hits.

Over the next five years, Oliver performed at clubs throughout Western Europe which gave him the experience of a lifetime. From there, Oliver had an international band including Germans, Dutch, and Turkish people, and in 1973, he joined the Dubrovnik Troubadours, followed by Grupa More with Meri Cetinić. In 1974 returned to the Batali, and his solo success hit a high note.

At the Split Festival, Oliver won the Golden Coat of Arms in Split with the number “Ča će mi Kopakabana“ and then released many singles on Jugoton. Oliver continued working with Zdenko Runjić which resulted in the song “Galeb i ja”, performed by Oliver at the 1975 Split Festival – the song still wins the audience over to this day. Oliver continued collaborating with Runjić until his death in 2004, creating around 200 songs together.

While Oliver worked with the great poet Jakša Fiamengo for lyrical inspiration on some of Oliver’s biggest songs (“Nadalina”, anyone?)  he ultimately released his first album on Jugoton in 1975. The album was titled “Ljubavna pjesma” (Love Song). After winning prestigious awards at music festivals around Croatia nearly every year from 1975 on, no one was surprised at Oliver, the music sensation – and his fans kept wanting more.

One of Oliver’s most incredible achievements was that he was the winner of the first Croatian Porin award in 1994 in the category of “Song of the Year”. You can hear the winner “Cesarica” below.

Oliver’s album “Dvi, tri, riči” in 2000 proves that there is only one of his kind on this earth. A power and voice which has continued to attract all generations over all these years, it is no surprise that this album particular album sold in platinum print, meaning over 50,000 copies made it to the hands of his fans. This truly valuable acknowledgement was given on the celebration of the 40th anniversary of Zdenko Runjić’s work, precisely July 8, 2001.

Just one month after in 2001, Oliver held a humanitarian concert at the Pula Arena and proved once again that his extraordinarily rich and successful music career gives the throne to him alone. In a sold-out Pula Arena, Oliver was joined by generations young and old and saw guest appearances by some of Croatia’s most famous names including Gibonni, Vanne, Otto Pestnera, Tedi Spalata, klapa Fortunal and Toni Cetinsk. All of the proceeds from the concert went to help the General Hospital in Pula.

In October 2010, Oliver held a concert in the city of his heart, in Split at the Spaladium Arena. He is also one of the few Croatian musicians who can boast performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Paris Olympia and the Opera House in Sydney.

For me, Oliver’s songs are a symbol of my childhood. Growing up Croatian in the United States, the songs of Oliver would sing me to sleep at night, softly spoken from the lips of my grandparents. On car trips up the Californian coast to family gatherings, Oliver would blast through my grandfather’s Acura speakers with the windows slightly opened on the freeway so he can sing with his cigarette.

Oliver induces this same feeling of community, love, and nostalgia for fans across the country, and it is no wonder why he sold out both days of his Spaladium Arena concert this December in less than 24-hours. The singer is celebrating his 70th birthday, after all. 

The most significant music legend Split can boast, sit down with your family today and keep Oliver’s legacy alive. 

Source: Biografija


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