Slovenian Folk Pop and the Nation: A Brief History of an Invented Tradition


Aligning sound with feeling, or perhaps even more abstractly with the “vibe” of a nation, invites us to consider sound in the context of specific sonic organizations. Our introductory Magnifico case points to one of these: an organization of sounds that has superficially been described as Slovenian by our protagonists, but that in fact refers to the most ubiquitous musical genre in Slovenia: Slovenian folk pop. Given its prominent social presence, we begin by briefly outlining its organization from the perspectives of the genre’s history, infrastructure, and symbolism. This should equip the reader with an understanding of the basic factors and implications of folk pop’s consolidation as a “national” genre.


Applying Hobsbawm and Ranger’s (1983) terms, Slovenian folk pop can adequately be described and discussed as an invented tradition, but it has thus far only tangentially been researched using scant audience studies and studies of musical taste in Slovenia. These studies reveal that folk pop is considered the most widespread, mainstream, proverbial Slovenian music genre that has continuously exerted a great influence on Slovenian national aesthetics (Mlekuž 2015; Močnik 2009).[4] As this genre was not only the subject of the aforementioned recent political row, but one which also dominates many prominent soundscapes in Slovenia, we believe its absence from academic discussions is an oversight. In Slovenia, folk pop is the type of music that most often accompanies sporting events, various celebratory social gatherings, and it is even the most common sonic background in places such as public transport, hair salons, pubs and restaurants, among others (Stanković 2015; Majsova 2016). 


The genre’s history, most scrupulously documented by industrious fans including author Ivan Sivec,[5] is the history of a modern popular musical genre. The origins of folk pop date back to the 1950s and point to the newly founded socialist state of Yugoslavia. It was in this context that the innovations of the entrepreneurial brothers Slavko (1929–2015) and Vilko (1928–2017) Avsenik marked the start of the genre that has since become known as Slovenian folk pop music. The brothers updated some elements of Slovenian folk music with certain western musical influences, from Germanic folk pop to popular jazz arrangements (Sivec 1998; Stanković 2015). Moreover, their original “Slovenian” folk pop ensemble consistently performed in traditional attire, characteristic of the north-western Slovenian region of Upper Carniola (Slov. Gorenjska), a region known for its Alpine summits. Gradually, and in line with the modern Slovenian symbolic imaginary which is disproportionally skewed toward this part of the country, the Avseniks’ aesthetic came to be widely recognized as the aesthetic of the entire genre. National identity – as assumed in folk pop – is thus an invented tradition in which one region, its visual cues, and its sound came to represent the whole country with its various and varying music traditions.


The alignment of folk pop and national identity has progressively gained momentum and public recognition since the 1980s, thereby reflecting political developments including a surge in nationalism across the (post)Yugoslav space and the genre’s capacity to incorporate diverse musical influences. The latter can be explained by the genre’s modern combination of rural linguistic, visual, and sonic reference points and its essentially urban, studio-based production context. Since the 1980s, folk pop has repeatedly reaffirmed its malleability, as artists increasingly incorporated elements of pop, rock’n’roll, and even turbofolk elements to achieve diverse effects, from irony to party beats.[6] The rigid coordinates of Upper Carniolan iconography grew looser as bands began to alternate between traditional apparel and modern casual clothes, the latter often used to emphasize the playful or even sexual motifs that feature in some of the songs.


More recent Slovenian folk pop music is the result of transformations that have mostly occurred over the past decade, during which the genre has become even more intertwined with popular music. It has also gained popularity among particular, previously atypical audiences, such as university students, and in the once unimaginable urban context (Stanković 2021).[7] The reasons for this latest transformation are manifold but the Slovenian media’s enthusiasm for folk pop should be highlighted as one of the most important factors. A glimpse into the programs of Slovenian radio and television channels over the past thirty years reveals more than a simple preference for folk pop: the genre has been aired on national television during prime time (e.g. on Friday night) since the early 2000s, in the context of thematic musical shows led by active folk pop performers (Stanković 2021; Bobnič, et al. unpublished research). 


The very brief overview of the recent history of Slovenian folk pop provided here stresses that this style of music, that has been accepted as a national and traditional sound, is actually a fairly recent, dynamic, and malleable genre that has been propagated and supported by the media, including national and local radio and television stations. Any historical account of the invented tradition of Slovenian folk pop has its conceptual and political limitations, since no tradition is truly authentic – every tradition is invented, and must be both ideologically and institutionally reproduced. Ideological critique could certainly dismantle the symbolic architecture of the Slovenian folk pop tradition, perceived as the “sound of Slovenia” by the general public and agents such as Magnifico and Janša. However, it does not tell us much about the feeling and (supposedly merry) emotion that takes over as soon as the sound of Slovenian folk pop kicks in.