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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Albania

They were always Albanians. You know what that means. Some Catholics, some Orthodox. And some, in time, were Muslims, too. But the first religion of the Albanian, as they say, is Albania.
Jason Goodwin

If the first religion of the Albanians is Albania, the second one is dance. Today's post features some easy and fun dances from that country.

Video #1 is Sa Gjijile.  It is similar in structure to čoček and has a very catchy tune.  For some reason many tunes from the Balkans are earworms and can take up residence in your head for hours, even days.



Albania used to be one of the most isolated countries in the world during communist rule, which lasted from 1944-1990. Travel and tourism were very rigidly controlled, and few Westerners were allowed to visit.   Although the current  government promotes tourism, it is still seen as an out of the way and exotic country that doesn't attract too many travelers from the Western Hemisphere.

From what I've read about Albania it sounds like a place I'd like to visit.

More Albanians live outside Albania than in it. Many left after the fall of communism to find economic opportunities in Europe and North America. They keep their traditions alive at folk festivals.

Video #2 is Koritsa, an Albanian dance with a Greek name. It translates to girl in English. The music is more modern than traditional and very mellow.



If you enjoyed this you may also like:.

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Serbia

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Romania

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Bulgaria

Fun and Easy Folk Dances from Macedonia

You can read about a local Albanian dance group here.

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Thursday, January 28, 2016

Time to Celebrate a Birthday!

You know you're getting old when the candles cost more than the cake.
Bob Hope

Today's post celebrates the birthday of Aneta Stan, Romanian folksinger.  Next week, February 2, she will be 72.

When people get past a certain age, too many candles on the cake can activate the smoke detector.  That is why number candles are popular with those who have double digit birthdays.

Here's a birthday greeting in Romanian from Talking Tom.  Tom is about to give himself a lactose attack.  He's a virtual cat so maybe milk doesn't have that effect on him. Maybe he would be better off eating cake?



Video #1 was taken recently during a TV progam honoring Aneta Stan.  It's a folklore show from Romania that reminds me of the Bulgarian program  Ide Nashenskata Muzika. The name is Noi suntem români (We are Romanians). Everyone on stage is dressed in elaborate embroidered costumes and flags are everywhere because it's a Romanian national holiday. 

The song translates to Happy Birthday Beautiful Country. The dance to this is geampara, closely related to Bulgarian rachenitsa (apple-apple-pineapple).



Video #2 is Sarba din Oltina. Sarba or Sirba is a very popular dance in Romania and this one is from Oltina, a village in the Dobrogea region.



Music from the Romanian region of Dobrogea is characterized by odd rhythms that are similar to those on the Bulgarian side of the Danube, River of Many Names.  This song is in cadeneasca rhythm, similar to Bulgarian daichovo.

Video #3 is one of Stan's earlier videos taken 1974 during the bad old days when Nicolae Ceaușescu ruled the land. Romania didn't have color TV broadcasts until 1983, and during that period programs were on for only two-three hours a day because Romania cut back its use on electricity in order to pay back foreign debt.

The song translates to Young Men in Dobrogea.



Aneta Stan is a native of Dobrogea, and her home town is Cernavoda, the town with a nuclear power symbol on its coat of arms.This song is a tribute to her native city. What is really cool is the bagpipe (cimpoi) solo in the introduction. By the way, you can dance to this as well, it's a sirba.



If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

More Songs from the Romanian Folklore Region of Dobrogea

Some Famous (and not so famous) Folk Songs from Romania

There is a bio as well as a playlist of songs performed by Aneta Stan on the Cernavoda Blog (in Romanian).

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bring on the Border Crossers!

The question of the value of nationality in art is perhaps unsolvable.
Edward Hopper

Today's dances have a reputation for crossing borders. There are elements of one or more country's influence in all of them.

The first is Arap .Although it is often listed as a dance from Macedonia, it is also very popular in Bulgaria.

Most groups dance Arap to a familiar song about a rabbit headed for Thessaloniki to find a bride. There are other tunes for this dance as well, some with singing and some without.

The Bulgarian version is done to different music, with no vocals.



Recently, one of the ladies in the Sunday group requested Bregovsko Horo.  It is a dance from northwestern Bulgaria near the Serbian border. We hadn't done that one in a long time.

This dance is part Bulgarian, part Vlach and part Serbian.  The steps are similar to Serbian čačak and the music sounds Serbian as well! There is also Vlach influence in the stamps.  The Vlachs in Bulgaria originally came from Romania and influenced the music and dance of the Vidin region. They traveled far and wide all over the Balkans because they often worked as shepherds.

This dance probably has dual or even triple citizenship from all those border crossings :)



Here is a čačak from Serbia for comparison; it is also known as the Five Figure Čačak.



If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Travels of Padjusko Horo

The "Flavors" of Serbian Čačak

Three Variations of the Bulgarian/Macedonian Dance Arap

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Voices from the Past: Classic Bulgarian Folk Songs, Part Two

It is easy to time-travel, the physicist says—we do it every day. Traveling backward is the problem.
― Rebecca Curtis

Today's post is another adventure in time travel: a musical journey into the world of classic Bulgarian folk songs.

The first video is Čuškata ljuta, pak ljuta (the hot red pepper song) performed by the Adjovi sisters.. It  became a favorite with the group Lyuti Chushki from Washington D.C.

The Adjovi twins bear a striking resemblance to the Gabor sisters (remember those actresses with the Hungarian accents and big hair?)  According to the bio on Bulgarian Wikipedia they were born in 1947, and as far as I know are very much alive.  They gave a performance not too long ago on the Bulgarian TV show Ide Nashenskata Muzika.

You can find the lyrics here, in Bulgarian and transliterated, along with a video and sheet music. Google Translate came up with a cute ditty that didn't make much sense (in English, anyway), but the song is catchy and fun, and best of all, you can dance pajduško to it!

If you like earworms, you will also like this song. It will take up residence in your brain for hours!



Kostadin Gugov was born in Sofia in 1935. His family came to Bulgaria as refugees from Greek Macedonia..  Like many other famous folksingers of his generation, he performed for the Bulgarian National Radio and later for Bulgarian National TV.

His specialty was mellow songs from the Pirin region. Some of his most popular songs are Ako Umram il Zaginam,  Zaiko Korkoraijko and Jovano Jovanke.  Shown below is a performance that he did many years ago.  He passed on in 2004.

You can also dance to the song; it's a lesnoto (pravoto).



Video #3 features the singer Pavel Sirakov, born in 1918.  He lived to the ripe old age of 88 and during his lifetime traveled all over Bulgaria with Boris Karlov, accordionist; singer Boris Mashalov and many other folk artists of the 20th century.

The performance is an excerpt from the TV show Ide Nashenskata Muzika and shows a performance from the year 1983 of the song Na Razdumka.  According to Google translate the song has something to do with gossip.  I don't see gossiping here, instead there are people toasting with glasses of wine during the holiday season. Maybe the wine loosens their tongues after they've had a little too much.

It is listed here as Chudno Horo. The dance to this music is a rachenitsa  in 7/8 rhythm (apple-apple pineapple).




If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Parts One and Two

A Visit to Bulgaria and a Little Spicy Music

The Travels of Padjusko Horo

A Look at Peppers in Bulgarian Food and Folk Songs

Voices from the Past: Classic Bulgarian Folk Songs, Part One

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Voices from the Past: Classic Bulgarian Folk Songs Part One

“Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”
Stephen King

A Happy New Year 2016 to all my readers!

This week's post features classic Bulgarian folk songs by artists from the 20th century. Although they have all passed on, these voices from the past are the legends of Bulgarian folk music.

The best thing about these songs is that you can dance to them.

Boris Mashalov is perhaps the most famous of the older generation of folk singers.  He was born in Sevlievo in 1914 and sang ballads as well as dance tunes.  One of his most popular songs Myatolo Lenche Jabuka, is a rachenitsa, a dance in 7/8 meter (apple-apple-pineapple). This song describes a girl who throws an apple to choose a mate.  Big mistake.

Although most dancers are more familiar with the modern rendition of the song performed by Nikolina Chakardakova, the Mashalov version is the original.

This song is a blend of two talents: singer Boris Mashalov and accordionist Boris Karlov.



Mita Stoicheva, born in the village of Mekish, northern Bulgaria in 1909, based her songs on the region of Veliko Tarnovo.

This song translates loosely as What an Excuse to Dance.  Since this is a padjusko (dance in 5/8 meter, quick-slow rhythm). there is no excuse. Dance on.



Magdalena Morarova was a native of the Pirin region (town of Bansko). She is best known for the song Petruno Pile Shareno,
which accompanies the dance Petrunino Horo.

The song Okol Pleven is in pravo rhythm and is a narrative about the Siege of Pleven during the Russo-Turkish war of 1877-78. The Russians beat the crap out of the Ottomans because the Sultan was unable to supply them with food, clothing, and weapons. Bulgaria won its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1878.

There will be more voices from the past in Part Two.



If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance Petrunino Horo

Bulgarian Folk Songs Reincarnated

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Best of the Alien Diaries: 2010-2015

I would say happy new year but it's not happy; it's exactly the same as last year except colder.
Robert Clark

It is the end of 2015, and we have been very fortunate.  This time last year was a lot colder and snowier. Yesterday was the first winter precipitation, mostly in the form of freezing rain and slush, but there's no escaping cold weather where I live.

Back in 2010, I started The Alien Diaries because at the time there were very few blogs in English about Balkan music, folklore and dance. I had no idea that almost six years later that I can still create a new post almost every week, and that so many people look forward to reading them. My goal was to make Balkan folklore interesting, accessible, and entertaining. It is also a plot to get more people (especially the young ones) on the dance floor.

Since 2016 is almost upon us, this year end post will focus on the best video(s)  from each year (my choice). If you have a favorite, let me know in the "comments" section.

How do you mix folklore with pop culture?  Dress a woman up in a Bulgarian folk costume. Poke fun at the World Cup, soccer players, Germans, and a psychic octopus named Paul.

During the playoffs of the 2010 World Cup, Paul picked the winning teams with a surprising degree of accuracy. Unfortunately, Paul lived in an aquarium in Germany, and when he predicted Spain as the winner of the World Cup, the Germans posted octopus recipes on the Internet.  Fortunately he survived all the brouhaha and went to Pulpo Heaven later that year.

In Paul's honor, the Bulgarians created a satirical dance-song, the Octopod Rachenitsa.



One of the highlights of 2011 was Balkan Music Night.  It is an event that takes place in the Boston area every year right around mid-March and features numerous musicians and dance ensembles. Balkan Music night has two parts: the concert from 7-9 p.m., and afterwards, participatory dance to live music.

I took this video just before midnight when everyone was high on endorphins and finishing a medley of dances played by the tamburitza group Pajdashi. What's really cool is how the dancers flow around the room and end up in a circle, which is the definition of kolo.



The best video of 2012 is an excerpt from the Bulgarian TV program Ide Duhovata Muzika. It featured brass band music and songs performed by Daniel Spassov. The backdrop is the town of Vidin, Bulgaria.

You can usually recognize Daniel Spassov by his shades (they look like Transitions lenses).  In this video he looks different with a mustache minus his glasses. The group dresses like gypsies, and the woman wears a colorful outfit.  She is the only female in the video.

The song is Tsiganko. It sounds upbeat but is actually a lament about a man who's in love with a gypsy girl. According to the lyrics, he can't sleep and misses her badly because she's far away. You'd never know it from the music.



One of the best videos of 2013 took place at a dance workshop in Austria : "Schmitz mit Fritz." It was the most fun that I've seen during a dance teach.  Fritz called the steps, and the dancers hummed along with the music. They didn't sweat very hard because Pogonishte is a slow dance. You can find the lyrics here, in the original Albanian with German translation.



In 2014, Miss Piggy and her entourage of dancing pigs were a big hit on The Alien Diaries with Never on Sunday. The setting is right out of a Greek taverna, with bottles of ouzo on the table.The tradition of celebratory gunfire is part of the culture on the island of Crete and other regions of the Balkans, so the creators of this episode knew something about Greek celebrations. The characters also went crazy breaking plates.

The Muppet Show was broadcast from 1976-1981 and it was designed to appeal to both adults and kids.  I see things here that would never be allowed on a children's show today...though I have to admit this video was fun to watch and my kids, who were fans of the Muppet Show, suffered no ill effects.



Another Muppet who made an appearance on The Alien Diaries in 2014 was the Count from an early episode of Sesame Street (1973). He is the only Muppet with a Romanian accent, and the coolest vampire on the planet.



During the summer of 2015, there was a series of posts on Danube songs from Bulgaria.  Part Three featured modern folk songs.  My favorite was this plum from Plam.

The band takes its name from accordionist  Plamen Dimitrov.  It looks like the group added more members; there are five on the website, and nine in the video.

The song is Kray Dunava, or how people amuse themselves along the Danube, River of Many Names. There's a man shaking a bottle of sparkling wine, another man with a broom, attractive women, and the Bulgarian version of aerobic exercise, with the river as a backdrop.



Another fun video from the blog in 2015 was the Romanian dance Hora Veche, also known as Horror from Veche. A group of young people took this dance and made it fun.  It was a stellar performance. "We did it!"



Since the New Year is upon us, let's have a blast with Diko Iliev.  Somebody paired an excerpt from a war movie with Iliev's Dunavsko Horo. The explosions are timed perfectly with the music, and, yes, you can dance to it. It is a tradition to dance to this music at midnight on New Year's Day in Bulgaria.

Happy New Year 2016! A big "Thank You" to Alien Diaries readers and followers. May the New Year bring peace and joy (not war).



You can find the posts where these videos originally appeared below, except the Diko Iliev link.  Enjoy!  See you next year.

Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

Balkan Music Night 2011

Two Variations on the Albanian Folk DanceValle Pogonishte

Dancing Through the Alphabet Letter P (bonus video)

Beli Dunav, Part Three: Modern Bulgarian Danube Songs

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Real Men Can Dance

“Those move easiest who have learn'd to dance”
Alexander Pope

Today's post features men who are very good dancers.  It is unfortunate that men in the United States think of dance as primarily a female activity.  If they saw how dancers are viewed in other cultures, they might change their minds.

Traditionally, in the Balkans, dances were places for young people to find marriage partners, and the men's dances were especially flamboyant because they were showing off for the women.  The best dancers got the prettiest girls.

Here's a group of guys at a wedding, and what you see is testosterone in action. I don't know where the wedding took place.  The title is in Bosnian and roughly translated means "Have you seen these men dance?"

The dances shown here are from the Shope region of Bulgaria. They start with Shopska Rachenitsa, then Graovsko Horo at 1:45 and finish the with the rachenitsa.  What energy!



Here's some eye candy for the ladies: three young shirtless men from Romania dancing sirba. This particular sirba is a fast, difficult dance.  I would definitely have an interest in them if I were young and single..They certainly weren't ashamed to have this posted on YouTube. If they were advertising for potential mates, I'd say they were doing an excellent job. Men who dance like this are sexy!

For more on the Romanian dance sirba, there is a link below with more information.



If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors of Bulgarian Rachenitsa Part Two  Masculine, Feminine and Flirty (one of the videos shows a female group dancing Shopska Rachenitsa)

Wedding Dances and Bloopers from Bulgaria and Romania

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

In the spirit of the season, here are some Bulgarian Christmas Songs.

The next post will be published shortly before the New Year. Happy Holidays to all!

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