The Zagreb Festival (also called the Zagrebfest from 1984 to 2013) is the oldest festival of popular music in this part of Europe, and is held continuously from 1953. It was founded only four years after its model and the most important festival of its kind – the San Remo Festival.
In the past sixty years, it has become a must event on the Croatian and Yugoslav popular music scene. It played a role in affirmation of popular and dance music as a cultural phenomenon and has played a part in the forming of the regional and national musical expressions. The Festival popularized thousands of compositions that have become the corpus of traditional popular music of the region over the past several decades, and all major performers have performed regularly at this Festival.
At its peaks, the Festival was a great cultural and social event, held in large concert halls before audience of thousands, and was known to last a full week with a series of concerts of different genres and styles of popular, dance and light music – pop music.
From the very beginning, the Zagreb Festival was conceived as a festival for composers, that is their works, and not for performers (singers). It was for this reason that only two performers (Ivo Robić and Rajka Vali) sang at the first festival and performed eight songs. Although this concept of festival singers was abandoned later on, the Festival has always put emphasis on the presentation of authors and evaluation of their songs, and not the singers themselves.
A number of the leading Croatian popular music composers served as the directors of the Festival. After its founder Fedor Kopsa, who managed the Festival until 1955, its directors were Krešimir Oblak, Ferdo Pomykalo, Miljenko Prohaska, Nikica Kalogjera, Bojan Hohnjec, Vanja Lisak, Zvonko Špišić, Ivica Stamać, Hrvoje Hegedušić, and Drago Diklić who managed an imposing number of seventeen festivals. Ante Pecotić has been the artistic director of the Festival since 2013.
Since 2014, the Festival is held at the beginning of the year and is produced in cooperation with radio and TV stations that play songs in power play before the Festival. Such cooperation has proved to be crucial for getting the songs airtime, and is recognized by both authors and performers. In this way, the Festival has adapted to the contemporary media environment and after several decades has rediscovered the function it primarily had for many years.