Tamburitzas (or "tamburas" in Croatian or Serbian) are a family of fretted, steel-stringed acoustic instruments frequently used in playing the music of several countries in Sputhern Europa. "Tamburica" is the diminutive of "tambura". "Tambura" originates from the Turkish word "tambur", which is a similarly styled stringed instrument.

What's Tamburitza Music Like?

The music of the tamburitza is equally at home at a country picnic, in a cafe, bar, nightclub, or concert hall, or as part of a church service. The styles of music played by the tamburitza include traditional folk tunes ("village music"), urban music from the early part of the 20th century ("old city music"), modern tunes written in the folk idiom, Western classical music, the music of Hollywood and Broadway, and pop music with the addictive rhythms and beats of Western rock and roll.

A tamburitza typically has four to six steel strings differing in thickness and pitch. It is usually played using a celluloid pick but can also be played with the fingers. Strings can be struck once or with a tremolo technique to sustain tones. A tremolo is a series of very rapid up and down strokes of the pick played smoothly over a string. The tamburitza produces both sweet and mellow as well as loud piercin tones.

Origins and Early History

The name "tambura" may have originated from "tamburu", the Persian word for "string". Another possibility is the Buddhist god Tamburu. Who, according to Buddhist mythology, is the protector of music and musicians. Finally, some suggest that "tambura" may be derived from the Sumerian "pan-tur" meaning "small bow." From "pan-tur" came "pandura" and then "tambura."

Because of its popularity among the Croatian people, the tamburitza is sometimes claimed to be the national instrument of Croatia. However, its origin was in Persia with the Assyrians over 5000 years ago. Ancient carvings from this era depict musicians playing lute-like instruments. Tamburitzas have a distant relationship with the 14th and 15th century Turkish long-neck lute called the "tanbur" and today's "tar", a 6-stringed round back lute with a skin resonator found throughout Central Asia, Azerbaijian, Iran, and Turkey.

The tamburitza's first appearance in the Balkans was in Bosnia about 500 years ago. Following the Ottoman Turkish invasion, musicians introduced tamburitza-like instruments into this region. Historic documents and poetry clearly record the existence of the tamburitza in the 16th century.

However, a much earlier pre-Ottoman presence in the Balkans is possible. The 922 annals of the Bulgarian embassy report descriptions of tambura players by an Arab diplomat. In addition, the following reference is found in a Greek report written in the 7th century A.D. by a chronicler named Theophylactus of Simocatta, who wrote of the wars the Byzantine Empire fought against the Slavs and Avars:

In the year 591 A.D. the Byzantine King Mauricius was contesting the Roman Empire in Thrace. Here he captured three Slavs. To the astonishment of Mauricius, he found these Slavs unarmed, carrying with them only a cithara. With surprise he asked these Slavs who they were and what was that in their hands? They replied, 'We are Slavs and we live along the Western Seas (Adriatic). We play the cithara because in our country there is no iron and we live in peace. We do not know the meaning of war bugles.


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