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The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress presents

The Homegrown 2008 Concert Series
Traditional Ethnic and Regional Music and Dance that's "Homegrown" in Communities Across the US

September 17, 2008 Event Flyer

The Bajich Brothers :
Serbian-American Tambura Music from Kansas

The Bajich Brothers flyer

Tambura music holds a special place in the hearts of numerous ethnic communities of Serbians, Croatians and Slovenians, in the Kansas City metropolitan area and throughout North America. The emergence of Tambura orchestras in the United States followed the wave of Serbian, Croatian and Slovenian immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They flocked to the industrial and mining areas of the United States seeking jobs. In Kansas City, Kansas, early immigrants worked in the stockyard and meat packing factories located in the "West Bottoms" near the Missouri River, and settled in the neighborhoods of eastern Kansas City.

Both Serbians and Croatians brought traditions of folk melodies, songs, dances and instruments. Of particular importance was the Tambura (or Tamburitza), a family of five-fretted stringed instruments, similar to mandolins. Early in the 19th century, before emigration, a tradition of playing Tambura instruments in ensembles emerged and gained popularity in both Serbian and Croatian areas. When the two groups converged in Kansas City, however, religious identity defined cultural boundaries Croatians were overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and Serbians, Eastern Orthodox. Distinct communities formed around their respective religious institutions.

For the Serbian-American community, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church, founded in 1906, has long served as a vital center of cultural and artistic expression: community festivals, religious celebrations, food traditions, the Kolo (circle) dance, and of course, Tambura music. The Bajich Brothers, Robert, Boris, Peter, and Paul, are a unique “homegrown” product of this Serbian-American community. Born into a musically gifted family, they are the sons of the late Very Reverend Milan Bajich and Mary (Coso) Bajich. Their father, an Orthodox priest, immigrated to the United States after World War II, escaping the Communist takeover of Yugoslavia. He met his wife while serving as the choir director at her Serbian-American Church; she was the choir president, an important, honored position. After being called to Kansas City, Milan Bajich served as the parish priest at St. George Serbian Orthodox Church for 38 years and as its choir director for over 40 years, until retiring in 1994. His son, Peter, became the choir director, carrying the family tradition forward.

From birth, the Bajich Brothers were surrounded by the rich musical environment of their church. It had distinctive, choral liturgical and folk hymn traditions, as well as Tambura music played by their own St. George Tamburtiza Orchestra, led by Joseph Gerba. The brothers started to play Tambura instruments by 6th grade. They collected and listened to recordings of orchestras and ensembles from all over the country, which were more readily available to their generation than they had been in the past. They also experienced the Tambura music of local Croatian and Slovenian communities in the Kansas City metropolitan area. As the brothers matured, they continued to advance their music and performance skills. In 1981, the brothers came together to form the Bajich Brothers Orchestra. Today, the vitality of Tambura music within this Serbian-American community rests on the shoulders of these four brothers.

No tradition stays in frozen in time. The Bajich Brothers are a wonderful example of tradition and innovation at play. They retain the traditional Tambura-only instrumentation of the smaller orchestra. Peter, the oldest brother, plays Tambura cello; Boris, the bugarija; and twins Peter and Paul, bass and prim, respectively. They possess an extensive repertoire of upbeat instrumental dance tunes associated with the Kolo (circle) dance, and the more pensive, emotive Tambura song traditions about love, loss, war, death, tragedy and perseverance. At the same time the Bajich Brothers are of a generation influenced by many different sources, and reflect the merging of Serbian and Croatian musical traditions. They are also particularly well known for taking American popular tunes and playing them in Tambura style.

Nor does a community stay frozen in time. The old Serbian- American neighborhood in Kansas City, Kansas dispersed some years ago to the city's Kansas suburbs. In 2006, after years of planning, St. George Serbian Orthodox Church relocated from the old neighborhood to the suburb of Lenexa, Kansas, a move that brought a mixture of sadness and excitement. Serbian- American communities across the country have absorbed a new generation of immigrants, the direct result of the last Balkan conflict. For some Serbians, the accordion has emerged as an important instrument, sometimes supplanting Tambura. In Kansas City, though, the new arrivals originated from a rural area where a vibrant tradition of Tambura instruments and music still existed. The recent arrivals brought with them a new layer of musical influence and, for the Bajich Brothers, exciting new sources of inspiration.

The Bajich Brothers are well known among the tightly knit Serbian Orthodox community networks. They have traveled to numerous cities across the United States and Canada, and have performed at all sorts of family and community events, from weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, church festivals, and community dances to large-scale events that draw Serbians from all over the country. They have been invited performers at the famous Tambura Extravaganza, which features performances by Tambura groups across cultural lines. All this, while holding down full-time jobs.

The Bajich Brothers attribute their success to the support of family, friends and, in particular, their late parents.Their parents' love of their Serbian heritage and their wish to perpetuate their culture instilled in the Bajich Brothers a desire to sing and play Tambura music for as many people as possible.

Deborah Bailey
Missouri Folk Arts Program

American Folklife Center Logo The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.


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