Interview with Tatiana Cameron (Tajči)
Tatiana Matejaš-Cameron (also known as Tajči) is a singer who gave a concert and a testimony on the Youth Festival "Mladifest" in Medjugorje, 2006. This was the first time that Tajči has performed in the former Yugoslavia region since leaving Croatia in the nineties. Tatiana no longer sings pop music, but only spiritual songs. During the last years, Tatiana has given hundreds of concerts all over the USA, where she found her way to God and where she settled and founded her family. See also her official website, www.idobelieve.com)
Interview: Croatian-born singer finds soul, self in church
Catholic New World staff writer Michelle Martin talks with Catholic singer Tatiana.
Tatiana once lived the life of a pop star, a la Britney Spears, in her native Croatia. But the singer came to the United States alone and unrecognized in 1992. Now 36, married with two children and a third due in July, she has resumed her singing career, this time with music that glorifies the Lord.
She performed a series of concerts in Chicago-area parishes in December at the end of a tour that saw the petite blonde singer travel the country in an RV with her husband, Matthew Cameron; sons Dante, 6, and Evan, 2; and her fellow musicians. It was a far cry away from the star treatment she once received, Tatiana said, but she wouldn’t give it up for the world.
The Catholic New World: Why did you decide to leave Croatia and the career you had built there?
Tatiana: I have never been able to answer that question easily and shortly. It’s a combination of things. One, I was really young when I was on top of the world and I had everything. When you’re 20 and your dreams come, it’s kind of overwhelming and frightening. What do you work for? You’re stuck at the top. On the other side, I was ready as a performer to be a star. I’d been performing since I was 4, and I was classically trained, so I could handle whatever music they threw at me, whatever crowd. That wasn’t a problem. But as a person, I was not ready. I was a teenager, and so many questions were unanswered.
And because I was raised in an atheist country and atheist schools, there was no God. … I used to sing for Tito at all the big Communist events. You had to, if you wanted to be a successful member of society, if you wanted to be a successful student. You buy into the lies, and before you know it, you believe it, and you live it and you live for it. But I started questioning. Some things I questioned all along, but never enough to go and seek God.
What it was, when I was on top, I was unhappy. I was a teenager, and I made all the mistakes that teenagers do who don’t have guidance, the Ten Commandments. You don’t know that you’re making these mistakes. You don’t see anything wrong with it, until you find yourself lonely and you feel dirty inside. You don’t know why, because everyone around you is saying how great your life is. With all of that, I was confused. I was like, I have everything. I’m the most famous person in my country. I have money. I have whatever I want, and I still have these horrible feelings. What am I going to do for the rest of my life?
TCNW: Where were your parents in all this?
Tatiana: My parents were very young when I was born, and they were very afraid of communism, so they didn’t abandon their faith, but they baptized us secretly, and then they didn’t talk to us about God. It was too dangerous. They could have taken them to prison, and then what are we going to do? They were trying to protect us. There are many people in my country who stayed faithful, who found ways to do it and not get into trouble. My parents were just too afraid. They got under the influence of the society. It’s amazing how once you get involved with your heart and your mind, you go into it not knowing what’s going to happen to your soul.
TCNW: How did you find your soul?
Tatiana: First I found a friend who brought me to church in Croatia. It was a Dominican church, and I found people who lived a different kind of life and were much happier than the rest of us. They were the first ones who didn’t care that I was a star, and I really appreciated that they cared about me inside. The people in my entire country, all they wanted to know was the clothes I was wearing and who I was dating. So these people, and the Dominican priests, they slowly introduced me to faith, and a new life through it.
TCNW: Why did you leave that?
Tatiana: I knew I had to leave in order to grow.
I was asked to sing a song in a tiny chapel, “Pescador des Hombres,” and in the Croatian translation, it said, “God, is it me you’re calling? Your lips have whispered my name. I will leave everything I have and I will go where you lead me.” I took those words seriously, and I knew I had to leave everything behind. It was just a matter of where am I going?
Then I prayed, and I took a couple of months to figure it out. Every time I prayed, it was as if God was taking me back to when it all began. For me, it all began when I was 4, when I started singing, when music was magic, when I was innocent, when I didn’t have anything from this society put into my heart. What did I desire when I was a 4-year-old girl? I saw the movie “Oliver” and I wanted more than anything to live in a world where people were singing and dancing all the time and where music was magic.
I had a really big love for musical theater, I guess from that. Musical theater was born on Broadway, so I said, that’s where I have to go.
TCNW: Why didn’t you use the resources you had?
Tatiana: I made a conscious decision that when I go, I won’t take very much money with me. It was the war, so I gave all the money to the peace efforts. I won’t use any of my entertainment industry contacts in New York, I won’t let anybody know—because there’s a huge Croatian community in New York—I won’t let anybody know that I am there. I’ll just be an anonymous girl and start my life from scratch.
I got there and I could barely speak English. I auditioned for the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and got a big scholarship from them, and I lived on Broadway for like $150 rent. It was just a miracle. I had to take extra dance classes, and I couldn’t work for money because I didn’t have the papers (she was on a student visa), so they let me work in exchange for classes. One night, I was cleaning the dance studios, and I looked in the mirror and saw the way I looked. I looked very different from the glamorous girl that came a month before that. In that moment, I felt so liberated from my ego. I understood that I had conquered my ego. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t a pop star anymore. It was so freeing, because now I could do really what I set out to do. Finally I found a place that I was happy.
TCNW: How did it feel to be anonymous?
Tatiana: It was very freeing. After a month or so, I was walking down Columbus Avenue on a Saturday morning, and it was empty. Then I heard somebody yelling, “Tajci!” (a nickname for Tatiana).And I thought I was dreaming. I thought I was having a nightmare. Sure enough, there was a Croatian somebody who had recognized me, and I was like, “Oh, no! How could they find me?”
To be honest, I knew that if I wanted to, I could put my makeup on and go into the Croatian community and have all that. I always knew that I could get on a plane and go back. It was always there.
But the one thing that I want to do and I always wanted to do was to sing, and to make music, and to affect people with music.
As long as I can do that, it doesn’t matter if people can recognize me on the street. Even when I became a pop star in Croatia, it was never my objective to be a pop star. I never desired that. Even now, when people say you’re concerts are going and you’re going to be a star again—to me, it’s not about that. Sure, I can handle it. If it’s in my path, fine.
TCNW: How is it different now that you’re grown up, married with kids, singing Christian music?
Tatiana: It’s completely fulfilling. There’s not one side that’s not fulfilled. It’s hard. I always tell the girls (who travel and perform with her) don’t wait until you’re 30 to have babies. Use your energy in your 20s. God made it that way.
One huge thing for me, traveling around and doing concerts, is having my husband with me. Before I had boyfriends, but it was never the same. Performing, for me—I give and I give and I reserve nothing for myself when I’m on stage. Even if I am just an instrument of God and his love and mercy and gift flow through me, I feel all that, and then the feeling comes back to me from the audience. During the performance, all this energy gathers in my heart, or in my soul. Being able to share that with my own husband is priceless.
TCNW: You often perform for young people. What message do you want them to get from your story?
Tatiana: There are a couple of things I like to talk about with kids. I want them to realize that money and fame is nothing. Absolutely nothing. If you want a career just for money, give it up. It’s not going to make you happy. The same with fame.
The other thing I like to talk about is chastity. I learned from my own mistakes. My father always said wise men learn from fools’ mistakes. I’m the fool. I say I’m telling you this not because God wants you to live this way, or it’s what the church teaches us. I’m telling you how you will feel—empty and lonely. So they can’t say, yeah right.
I also tell them how much they have. It’s not just kids who don’t see how much we have in this country—starting with religious freedom.
For more information about Tatiana and her story, or to purchase her CDs, visit cameronproductions.org.
Interview by The Catholic New World