banner-inside-top Croatian superstar shares faith through music

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Tajci performs at Sacred Heart Croatian Parish in Milwaukee on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. The singer was a widely known singing star in her native Croatia in the late 1980s and early 90s. Accompanying her are, from upper left, Hannah Mergler, from Delaware, Ohio, Larissa Dedoryka, from Athens, Ohio, and Denny Bouchard, from Los Angeles. (Catholic Herald photo by Ernie Mastroianni)

A Central European phenomenon, Tatiana Matejas, rocked stages, headlined magazine covers and drew screaming mobs wherever she appeared.

At 19, Tajci (Tay-CHEE), as she was affectionately known in her native country of Croatia, reached pop star status equivalent to Beatlemania in the 1960s. She won the Eurovision Song Contest, similar to today’s “American Idol,” and the program skyrocketed her career. The platinum selling singer and recording artist had dolls made in her image and was considered a role model to teens throughout Europe.

Energetic and perky, Tajci’s image, bearing a striking resemblance to American singer Madonna, was the perfect accoutrement to the intoxicating sentiments following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Soviet Union. Although she was famous, popular and rich, her soul felt empty. She was alone, and her country was plunging into war.

On her 21st birthday, she sang a song in a tiny chapel about Jesus speaking with Simon Peter and his hearing the message to “leave your boat at the shore, come and follow me.” She believed God was giving her the same message, and she left her family and fame behind and began her journey to follow Jesus.

“I fled to New York with two suitcases and a couple of hundred dollars and left everything else behind. The money I had, I gave to charity,” she said. “I barely spoke English, and didn’t have a place to stay, but that just empowered me to go ahead and do it.”

Spiritual journey was life-saving

Considering it her spiritual journey, Tajci knew that in order to save herself, she had to leave it behind, seek anonymity and a more normal life.

Secretly baptized Catholic as a baby, Tajci sought to find meaning in her faith that was kept hidden from government officials who forbid the practice of religion.

“My dad was also a singer; he had a voice like Andrea Bocelli and especially because of his visibility, we had to keep our faith a secret and be careful not to say anything out loud,” she said. “We knew what Christmas was, but didn’t realize it was something to really celebrate. We sang songs about snow, toys and joy, but nothing about Christmas or Jesus because we would have been interrogated and taken to an island off of Croatia as a political criminal.”

A famous Croatian singer was interviewed on Christmas Day one year, and said “Merry Christmas” on national television.  While he wasn’t imprisoned, due to his overwhelming fame, his music was banned for an entire year. On the surface, Croatia appeared to be open to religious expression, but as Tajci explained, it was a ruse because of the American funding the country received.

“They liked to keep the world thinking that we were more open, but we did get persecuted even though they didn’t want everyone to know,” she said. “There were hundreds of priests who were persecuted – one had his passport taken away and when he left to attend his mom’s funeral, he was not allowed back. It was all those things and more.”

‘Brainwashed’ into system
As a child, Tajci enjoyed performing with her father’s band, and later, tried to please her teachers and the government by perfecting her voice and piano playing. She attended the Croatian Music Conservatory and joined a theater group in the fifth grade.

Tajci performed at Sacred Heart Croatian Parish in Milwaukee
in December and frequently gives concerts in the Midwest.
For more information on Tajci,
her music or to schedule a concert, visit http://www.idobelieve.com
or contact Matthew Cameron at: <!– var prefix = 'ma' + 'il' + 'to'; var path = 'hr' + 'ef' + '='; var addy54525 = 'Matthew' + '@'; addy54525 = addy54525 + 'IDoBelieve' + '.' + 'com'; document.write( '‘ ); document.write( addy54525 ); document.write( ” ); //–>\n Matthew@IDoBelieve.com <!– document.write( '‘ ); //–> This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it <!– document.write( '’ ); //–> .

“I wanted to play piano for our dictator (Josip Broz Tito), played the game and became brainwashed into the system,” she said. “It wasn’t until I was a teen and was singing with my dad at a concert in Canada that I saw people talk about God openly. They had a church together as a community and were brought together by their faith. At first it was uncomfortable and then I thought it was really beautiful.”

Later, she read a poem written by a Croatian poet that told about the non-talked about God, Christmas and creation. It was then that Tajci says she began discovering and playing with the fire of Christianity.

Faith blossomed in New York
Her Catholic faith blossomed in the obscurity of New York, where she immersed herself in prayer, and explored God’s plan for her. She changed her name back to Tatiana, performed menial jobs, studied musical theatre and learned to speak English fluently.

“I turned to God and had a friend who took me to a Dominican church – they didn’t care that I was famous and looked at me like I was everyone else,” she said. “I learned about Jesus and how he was and about all he said. Those things spoke to me – he didn’t own anything. He was a carpenter – not just the rabbi – and he was walking in sandals in the road and around his area. He didn’t accumulate stuff. His whole thing was for others. All the wisdom and riches and treasures were available in his life and yet, he cared about others. And then, his final sacrifice – everything about him just moved me.”

Later, Tatiana moved to Los Angeles and stayed at a retreat house run by the Carmelite Sisters. While there, she met her future husband, Matthew Cameron, who encouraged her to tell the story of her spiritual healing and she was once again comfortable with the name Tajci.

For the past nine years, she, Matthew and their three children, Dante, Evan and Blais, have traveled the U.S. freely sharing her music and her testimony.

“I put my heart and soul into whatever word I sing,” said Tajci. “If you are able to come and silence yourself and leave all the craziness of the world at home, you will be moved. I am a believer and truly believe that God dwells in our hearts and if you let him, he will shine through the vessels of his grace and that is what I believe.”

Family lives by faith
For those reasons, she does not charge for her performances, and instead accepts free will offerings if audience members are moved to do so.

“We say if you feel like this is something you want to continue and you experience something beautiful, than gift it to us; if not, please take it and spread it around,” explained Tajci. “We live by total faith and because we are human, we struggle, too, because our world is not set up to do this. But, it is liberating and free. My existence really is to find people who will barter, doctors, dentists and others and hopefully there is something I can do for them.”

A far cry from the packed stadiums in Croatia, Tajci’s venue is primarily within Catholic churches throughout the United States, although she has traveled to Central Europe to perform. The size of the crowd matters little to the petite singer who seeks only to touch hearts, especially the hearts of the youth, through her music.

“I like being around kids and relating to them,” she said. “I recently got the best compliment from a 22-year-old kid who said to me. ‘You know, I really don’t care about the style of music you do, but I sat through the concert and it was weird – it was like it went to my heart and not through my ears.’ He was a tough kid, not like a mama’s boy. He was in leather and piercings – but that was the best compliment I ever had.”

Life now filled with Holy Spirit
Living simple and free but with a soul filled with the Holy Spirit is more important than a house filled with new furniture, cars and toys, according to Tajci, who remembers a happy childhood, but one that had few material possessions.

“We didn’t have much, but we had so much love and music,” she said. “I remember getting two oranges at Christmas and I was excited. When my dad died, he didn’t leave anything material and did we care? Not one bit. I have a trinket of his, a hat – I can keep it around a bit and I have some of his recordings. Those are more important to me than anything material.”

Making their home in Cincinnati, the family attends St. George Parish within the Newman Center of the University of Cincinnati. The faith community embraces Franciscan spirituality, a way of living that the Camerons find most comfortable.

“Our children go to a little Catholic school in the neighborhood and the teachers are just wonderful,” she said. “Since we take the kids on the road with us most of the time, they work with us so they don’t get behind on their assignments.”

Her faith and family are most important to the singer and her husband of 10 years, but it is the message to follow the longing of one’s heart that Tajci tries to share with all she meets.

“If you believe that you have everything you need,” she explained. “You just have to follow that truth that is written in the depths of your heart. I wasn’t brought up in the church and yet, I fought and knew it was written in my heart for so long. There is no place for greed, selfishness and struggle with those things.”

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