With a population of less than 5 million people, Croatia still has one of the most strongly flourishing domestic pop scenes in Europe, producing dozens of household names in their own country, although still no artists who have yet reached the international recognition of a Goran Bregović.

Unlike the Swedish pop industry, which has accounted for a large proportion of the European gold disc mountain ever since four Scandinavians in woolly jumpers Waterloo-ed their way to Eurovision glory, Croatian music might not translate so well to the mass market, but that may not be so much of a bad thing. Dance music aside, the vast majority of songs are written in Croatian, and aimed at the domestic market and the rest of former Yugoslavia.

Quite a few Croatian pop songs aren't a million miles away from one or other of the various folk traditions, either. Mandolin-laden Dalmatian ballads are pretty much ubiquitous, and the klape, male a cappella groups from the Dalmatian coast, are often pressed into service as backing vocalists when one or other diva needs a hand.

Another string-section favourite is the tamburica from Slavonia, especially popular in rural areas where nationalist kitsch can still reign supreme. It appears forbidden to play one of these unless you're wearing the traditional Slavonian costume of a floppy white shirt and a waistcoat with gold coins sewn on.

Other songs wouldn't sound too out of place in Greece or Turkey, and throwing in a tin whistle from the Medjimurje in the north allows the friendly arranger to stay faithful to etno tradition and at the same time cash in on the worldwide fad for 'Do you want Celtic with that?'. The most disconcerting addition, if you're not expecting it, is the droning Histrionic scale, although thankfully the Istrians keep tabs on this one and don't let it wander off on its own.

On the other hand, just as many songs would fit squarely into the Italian or even French traditions if it wasn't for the overload of consonants, and some of the singers currently breaking through sound as if they're auditioning for the Max Martin stable.

The wars in former Yugoslavia affected Croatia until 1995; nothing in Croatian music rivalled the Serbian regime-serving turbofolk phenomenon, although everyday music understandably came served with a high side-order of patriotism. Most of the leading singers of the time came together for the Hrvatski Band Aid event, and typical songs of the era include Đani Maršan's hymn-like Bože, čuvaj Hrvatsku (God save Croatia) or Doris Dragović's belter Dajem ti srce, zemljo moja (My country, I give you my heart).

The one that makes the local-colour sections of the history books is Danke Deutschland, in gratitude for Germany's early support of Croatia's bid for international recognition.

To date Croatia has no boy bands, and no singles chart either. (It's not clear whether the two are connected.) Instead, songs are promoted by airplay and an all-year-round calendar of festivals of which the largest is Split's Melodije Hrvatskog Jadrana, or Melodies of the Croatian Adriatic.

Every coastal town worth its salt, with the exception (so far) of Dubrovnik, has its festival, as does Zagreb, and Požega takes care of the tamburaši with the appropriately named Zlatne žice Slavonije - the Golden Strings of Slavonia. A tried and tested shortcut to winning the public vote is to turn up with a song about the host city, leaving many back catalogues groaning with odes to Split or even Diocletian's Palace therein.

Refreshingly, most Croatian singers seem to be doing the job because they actually know how to sing, not because somebody was holding open auditions in the next town along and they didn't fancy working on a fishing boat all their lives. (Admittedly, in certain cases they just sing about fishing boats all their lives instead.)

The Divas

No Croatian festival would be complete without a woman wailing her head off within the first few numbers. Tereza Kesovija, who's been on the scene since the mid-1960s, sets the general tone, while Doris Dragović worked the synth-arrangement melodrama throughout the late 1980s but has now settled down into syrupy love songs and a recent mostly-dance album in the style of Cher's Believe.

(Switching into the first person, as all the style guides tell one never to do, I can't let the run-through go any further without a mention for the soaring voice of Maja Blagdan, without which I'd probably still be poring through the racks of Celine Dion.)

On the shortlist for Most Likely To Break Europe, if any of them will, are Vanna, now in her fourth year of Anastacia impersonation, the suspiciously spherically-chested Ivana Banfić, and Severina, possibly Croatia's biggest star right now and from the sounds of things trying to represent Spain, Russia and Dalmatia all at once.

Uncategorisable is Josipa Lisac, a serious-artist-if-you-please with more raddled a voice than Marianne Faithfull. The nearest thing among the younger generation is Alka Vuica, almost certainly the most innovative of the stars, whose most recent album veers from radio-friendly balladry, via Greek and Bregović cover versions, to a song about Titoist youth brigades.

The folk scene, if by 'folk scene' one means 'Tonight, I'm going to be Joan Baez', is carved up between Lidija Bajuk and Dunja Knebl, so similar that if the record shop's run out of one, you're likely to be offered the other. Although the Milla Jovovich-esque Ivana Plechinger spends most of her time writing for other artists now, when singing in her own right she's likely to be All That And Natalie Imbruglia Too.

The Guys

Ignoring the fishing-boatmen (it's hard to get through a festival without a few of these, either), the male equivalent of Tereza is Oliver Dragojević, likewise still revered in most of ex-Yugoslavia as well. Standing out among the balladeers is Goran Karan, a rock singer until he was discovered in 1998 by Croatia's great songwriter Zdenko Runjić and perhaps the only card-carrying Hare Krishna with long hair.

Petar Grašo has a good claim to the title of the Adriatic George Michael, with the voice, the goatee, and the requisite rumours about his personal life. (No Croatian singers are out of the closet yet, but you might like to start laying your bets.)

The rising star on the male side is a macho nationalist rocker by the name of Marko Perković Thompson, who apparently doesn't think it dents his image to storm the charts with a Croatian version of Super Trouper.

Rather more critically acclaimed than the trio above is Zlatan Stipišić Gibonni, a gravelly-voiced soft-rock singer who generally sweeps the board at Croatia's annual music awards, Porin. His latest album, Mirakul, contains a smash-hit collaboration with Putokazi, a new age girls' choir from Rijeka.

The Groups

One or two of the major groups today have been going since the early 1980s with several changes of lead singer in the meantime. Egotistical songwriter Tonči Huljić's pet band, Magazin, seems to have had a roster of identikit blondes at the microphone, apparently much to Mrs Huljić's dismay. (The last but one, Danijela, is an A-list star in her own right.)

Stijene, or (I'm afraid) The Stones, have gone through six, who bear rather less resemblance to each other but have nearly all had relatively impressive solo careers; they include Maja Blagdan, and Danijela's sister Izabela. Less than 5 million, remember; there's bound to be a dynasty or two.

Two other bands, Novi Fosili (New Fossils) and Srebrna Krila (Silver Wings), only petered out a few years ago, but there can hardly be a former-Yugoslavian who couldn't whistle at least one of their 1980s hits.

The three leading rock groups have existed for just as long; Crvena Jabuka (Red Apple) were formed in Sarajevo in 1985, part of a Yugoslavian rock movement known as the New Primitives. They're comparative newcomers next to Prljavo Kazalište (Dirty Theatre), who first recorded in 1978, and Parni Valjak (Steamroller) who go back to 1976.

Rijeka seems to be the centre of the Croatian rock scene: it's produced En Face, possible candidates to be this decade's Parni Valjak, and Belfast Food, trying and mostly succeeding to sound as Irish as The Pogues. Their debut CD, (Melodije Irske i Kvarnera - a play on the title of Rijeka's local festival, Melodije Istre i Kvarnera, which showcases music from the Istria and Kvarner regions), contains a version of The Wind That Shakes The Barley and the rather less traditional Bilbo's Dream.

The surf band Bambi Molesters, meanwhile, aren't particularly well-known at home, but so far they're the only Croatian band to have been featured in the British press, presumably because questionably Sapphic teenagers and orange-haired wannabe Pop Idols are thin on the ground where they come from.

Croatia's two most famous dance bands, Electro Team and Colonia, have been going throughout the 1990s; ET, from whose ranks Vanna graduated, still succumb to the temptation of English Rap Sections For English Rap Sections' Sake. The Colonia formula - two men and a diva - has recently been copied with almost as much success by the group Matrix, who even come from the same home town. For extra credit, try to guess which year they might have been formed.
With thanks to shallot for prodding me about the rock music...

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