Two Years Without Oliver Dragojevic: Croatia Remembers the Beloved Singer on July 29

Daniela Rogulj

July 29, 2020 – Oliver Dragojevic lost his battle with cancer on July 29, 2018, at the age of 71. Two years later, we remember the region’s most beloved singer. 

The famed and favorite Split musician forever closed his eyes in the early morning hours of July 29, 2018, following a tough battle with lung cancer discovered in August 2017.

Oliver Dragojevic left behind his wife Vesna, sons Dino, Davor and Damir, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous bereaved colleagues and fans. The day of his death was proclaimed a national day of mourning, and for his final farewell in Split on July 31,  2018, tens of thousands of people paid their respects in a spectacle that will be remembered and recounted for many years to come.

Hajduk Split fan group Torcida said goodbye to the musician by lighting a flare with Oliver’s image from the bell tower of Sv. Duje, and for the last time, Oliver embarked on his final journey to Vela Luka with hundreds of boats glittering the sea. Oliver was buried In Vela Luka on August 2, per his wishes, and locals paid their respects for days, leaving flowers in front of the home where he was born.

In memory of his fruitful musical career, concerts and events under the ‘Trace to Infinity – Memory of Oliver’ theme will be held in Vela Luka this year, too.

Oliver has left an irreplaceable place on the Croatian music scene and in the hearts of his fans. Still, the memory of him undoubtedly lives on through his works and people who will participate in various ways this year in commemorating his life and work.

Slobodna Dalmacija writes that in order to preserve his heritage, various events are held throughout the week in Vela Luka, and the highlight of this year’s event will be tonight’s big concert, which will be held in front of the church of St. Joseph. The concert will feature Oliver’s longtime associates and friends: Nina Badric, Petar Graso, Petar Dragojevic and Oliver’s Dupini, along with many musicians, a string orchestra, all under the direction of producer Ante Gela.

The exhibition ‘Oliver u Luci/Luka u Oliveru’ by Rade Dragojevic Cosovic, dedicated to Oliver, was opened in Vela Luka, and tonight, before the concert, Zlatko Gall will present a book dedicated to Oliver Dragojevic – ‘Trace to Infinity’. Wreaths were also laid and a mass and recital will be held in the church.

“It’s a great honor for me to be a part of that story. For me, it’s not just a concert, it’s a lot of memories, my whole childhood, holidays, pranks, sadness and happiness … it simply binds me to this concert which, I’m sure, will be full of emotions from song to song,” said Petar Dragojevic in preparation for tonight’s concert in honor of Oliver.

Oliver was born on December 7, 1947, and spent his childhood in Vela Luka on the island of Korčula. He fell in love with music already in his early childhood, after his father Marko gave him a harmonica. 

“I could have broken it, but I kept it safe and played it all day. I was maybe 3 or 4 years old,” Oliver revealed in an interview. Oliver would entertain his peers from the neighborhood with his harmonica playing, but also the boat passengers traveling the Split-Vela Luka route.

In 1963, he was entrusted as a singer and keyboard player of the famous Batali band from Split. Four years later at the invitation of Zdenko Runjić, he made his debut at the Split Festival. He performed Runjić’s “Picaferj”, though his performance did not get him to the final.

Oliver then joined Dubrovački trubaduri and quickly participated in the founding of the popular group More. He returned to the Split Festival in 1995 with Runjić’s song “Galeb i ja“. Though he did not win, this performance pushed Oliver alongside the biggest stars, and the rest was history.

Oliver’s success is confirmed by the fact that he is one of the few Croatian musicians who can boast performances in New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Albert Hall, the Olympia in Paris and the Sydney Opera House. Although he could live anywhere he wanted, his heart had always brought him back to his favorite Split – a place he never wanted to leave.

Apart from Split and Hajduk, Oliver’s heart was full thanks to his wife Vesna, whom he fell in love with at first glance.  He first noticed her on the Stradun in Dubrovnik while he was playing in 1973, and married her only one year later.

Even though Oliver had to cancel the concerts he had planned due to the progression of his illness, his positivity and strength carried him through to the very end. Oliver’s wife and sons were by his side as he closed his eyes forever. 

Today, and always, we remember Oliver Dragojevic.

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