Former European pop star now singing from the heart
by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven
TOPEKA — At age 19, she had it all — fame, money, designer clothes, platinum and diamond records, and throngs of fans.
But when Croatian-born Tacji (TY-chee) became a superstar in Europe, she found it left her feeling empty and lonely. When a few friends invited her to go to church with them, Tacji admitted she was unsure at first, but went anyway. The experience changed her life.
Now, the singing sensation uses her voice to help change others’ lives — and she’s coming to the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas for Christmas performances in Topeka and Overland Park. (See sidebar.)
Connecting others with God through her spiritual music was not always Tacji’s lifework. Born Tatiana Matejas in Zagreb, Croatia, Tacji grew up in then-communist Yugoslavia. By age four, she was singing with her father’s band. Eventually, Tacji was admitted to the Croatian Music Conservatory, receiving a music education with a focus on classical piano. As a girl, she often performed on the national stage, even singing for communist leader Tito.
At age 19, Tacji participated in the Eurovision Song Contest, performing for an international TV audience estimated at one billion.
With the release of “Hajde da Ludujemo” (or “Let’s Go Crazy”), coupled with the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the teenager was catapulted into superstardom. Thousands attended her concerts, her records went platinum, then diamond, and the European press filled its pages with stories about her.
Tacji’s life became a blur of constant activity, from video shoots to personal appearances. But life at the top brought deep feelings of isolation, loneliness and emptiness.
“I never wanted to be a famous pop star,” Tacji said in a recent interview. “For me, music was that place of escape. . . . [With music] there was magic in the world.”
And her success brought unexpected consequences.
“Two things happened. First, a lot of people changed toward me,” said Tacji.
People were more concerned about her as a star, she said — what she looked like, how she performed, what clothes she wore, etc. — than with her as a person.
“As my fame was growing, I was a teenage girl, struggling to figure out who I was as a person. We all suffer at that age,” said Tacji.
“In my heart, there was a lot of confusion. People looked at me as this big pop star with makeup and designer clothes,” she added. “So, naturally, I had a false sense of value.”
Secondly, she found herself longing for something that her glamorous life didn’t provide her.
Often after a performance, said Tacji, she’d remove the designer clothes and makeup, then just sit and experience a deep silence, a tremendous silence.
She would close her eyes and be alone with her thoughts.
But she would not pray.
“I had everything, but I felt empty,” said the singer.
In one such moment, Tacji said she wanted God to exist.
“That’s when I decided to go on a journey and find God,” she said.
And so, when a few friends offered to take her to church, Tacji agreed.
“The way they accepted me and looked at me was so different than what I was used to. They let me introduce myself and said they didn’t know me,” she continued. “The whole nation knew of me, but they didn’t know me as a person. They just knew me as a pop star. I really appreciated that.”
Around this same time, war broke out in Croatia.
“The war happened, and that was a tremendous wake-up call. Here I was, one of the most popular people in my country, and I couldn’t do anything,” said Tacji.
Eventually, Tacji’s friends asked her to sing a song in church.
“I was very nervous. I kept asking myself, ‘Did I deserve to sing to God?’ I continued to have doubt and fear. . . . When you don’t have faith, all you have is self-doubt,” said the singer.
Despite her fears, Tacji finally sang “Pescador de Hombres” (“Fisher of Men”) in church. The experience practically overwhelmed her.
“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,” she said.
So, at age 21, Tacji surprised everyone by walking away from it all. Not wanting to hang onto any part of her former self, she donated most of her money to the peace efforts and settled in New York where she worked menial jobs, studied musical theater and learned to speak English. Far from the throngs of fans, bodyguards and photographers that used to surround her, Tacji prayed and wrote music detailing her experiences.
Then, while at a Carmelite retreat house in Los Angeles, she met her future husband, Matthew Cameron, who encouraged her to share her journey with others.
Tacji took Cameron’s suggestion. After their wedding, the newlyweds hit the road in a donated minivan, crisscrossing the country for concerts in hundreds of churches, writing and producing albums, and raising three children. Since 2000, Tacji has done more than 600 concerts. Performances of two of her programs have aired on both EWTN (the Eternal Word Television Network) and TBN (Trinity Broadcasting Network).
Along the way, Tacji said she has learned important lessons that she tries to share with those who attend her concerts, especially the young. She heartily discourages teens from pursing a career, ministry or vocation for money or fame.
Rather, Tacji said, she encourages the young to look deeply into their hearts and allow God to speak to them to discover the gifts they are supposed to share with the world.
When you discover that, she said, the rest of life will fall into place.
As for the Christmas concerts, Tacji said she would like to encourage everyone in the archdiocese to come and hear the Christmas story in a different way.
“It is a chance for you to really and truly slow down,” she said. “You will feel completely refocused and be reminded of what Christmas is all about.”