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The music of Montenegro represents a mix of the country's unique musical tradition and Western musical influences.
In the 10th and 11th centuries a composer of religious chants (Jovan of Duklja) was the oldest composer known from the Adriatic coast. At the end of the 12th century a script was made, now called Ljetopis Popa Dukljanina, which described the secular use of musical instruments.
Seven liturgies from the 15th century, written by a Venetian publisher L.A. Giunta, have been saved in a St. Clara monastery in Kotor. In those centuries the typical music "venetian style" was introduced to coastal Montenegro (then called Albania Veneta).
Religious music development was sparked in the 19th century, when a Catholic singing academy was opened in Kotor. Also, until the musical renaissance of the 20th century, Montenegrin music was mainly based on the simple traditional instrument, the gusle.The oldest singing society, named "Jedinstvo" (Unity) was formed in Kotor in 1839. In 1870 in Cetinje, the first Montenegrin Army Music started being formed—although not many people applied for the orchestra, because being a soldier was much more valued in Montenegrin society than being a musician.
Many scholars believe that the biggest contribution to Montenegrin music was the one from the Italian composer who spent the most part of his life in these areas: Dionisio de Sarno San Giorgio. With his "Balkan Empress" – inspired by the work of King Nikola, got all the praises of Italian critique in the second half of the 19th century.
Due to the country's turbulent history, filled with defensive wars and constant fighting for freedom, the development of culture, especially music, was a secondary interest for Montenegrins. The first notable Montenegrin composer was Jovan Ivanišević (1860–1889). He composed piano miniatures, orchestra, solo and chorus songs that were performed even in Prague. He died when he was only 29 years old.
In the 19th century, there were also many operas with librettos inspired by Montenegro and its culture, like the famous "Balkan Empress". Other prominent 19th-century composers include Aleksa Ivanović and Dragan Milošević, who graduated from Prague music schools.
In the beginning of 20th century, when music schools were first introduced, and culture started developing faster, Montenegrin music started flourishing. There have been a number of notable classical music composers from Montenegro, especially during the 20th century. In the first half of the century, two musical schools developed: one based in Cetinje, and the other one in Podgorica. An important role in the music development of that time was played by Radio Titograd, which broadcast various music programmes daily, and helped popularise the music. At that time, composers started returning to the roots, introducing many traditional elements in modern compositions. Also, during the 1940s and 1950s, musical schools were opened in Kotor, Podgorica, Cetinje, Tivat, Herceg Novi, Nikšić, Bar, Ulcinj and Berane.
The Argentine composer Mauricio Annunziata, taking possession of the Montenegrin culture, religion and music, produced the cantata Akatist Op. 108, Hymns of Praise to Saint Basil of Ostrog at the Basilica Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in May 2008, for solo voices, chorus and orchestra, also in version for organ. This concert marked the second anniversary of the Independence of Montenegro and it was held before the entire diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See and the highest authorities of the Vatican City. The work was hugely successful in the Italian version of the text produced by Dragana Polovič.
Old Montenegro traditional music is based around the traditional instrument, the gusle. The music is mainly vocal, or instrumental-vocal. Many songs are adapted from the epics, and are based on the events and tales from Montenegrin tradition.
Hip hop in Montenegro evolved in the mid-1990s, and was popularized mostly thanks to the most famous Montenegrin hip hop group at that time, Monteniggers. Following their popularity, various hip hop artists emerged, such as Rade Rapido, MC Marko, and to some extent, Rambo Amadeus, who was active long before that. Song themes were often humorous commentaries on everyday life.
After a few years of stagnation, a new wave of Montenegrin hip hop started emerging through a growing number of hip hop oriented artists and bands, such as Who See from Kotor, Barska Stoka from Bar, Radio katakomba from Budva, Montenegro, Psiho Mistik and Bacili from Nikšić and Džej Džej Okoča and Sivilo from Podgorica . The main problem these artists face is lack of support from record labels, and insufficient funds available for hip hop projects.There are currently few active Hip Hop Festivals in Montenegro, the most famous is Asfaltiranje.
In late 1980s and 1990s a dance music was popular, mostly thanks to Elmag radio, which aired those songs. The best known groups are: H2O (from Bar), This Beat, Bass Reflex, Brchko, PG Crew, Maxi Playboy, Koko Kid (from Podgorica), Bianco Nero (Black and White in Italian),Grofovi (from Mojkovac) and many others.
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