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Monday, August 22, 2016

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Song: Kaval Sviri

Gabrielle: Xena, this was our only frying pan! Why do you do that? You do have weapons, don't you?
Xena: I like to be creative in a fight. It gets my juices going.
Gabrielle: Can we cook with your juices?

from Xena, Warrior Princess, Episode: A Day in the Life

Today's post features variations of the Bulgarian folk song Kaval Sviri, which was used in the series Xena, Warrior Princess. It ran from 1995 - 2001 and was extremely popular. Despite its popularity, I never watched an entire episode, and never knew that the theme music was from Bulgaria.I found out entirely by accident while traveling through the Universe of YouTube.

Xena, Warrior Princess was a fantasy show based on Greek, German and Norse mythology. Xena attempts to redeem herself from the sins of her past by using her fighting skills to help the defenseless. Her sidekick and best friend, Gabrielle, is also a major character.

Kaval Sviri is a song about a young woman who falls in love with a young man who plays the kaval (also known as a shepherd's flute).  I found the lyrics (in Bulgarian) with transliteration.

Video #1 is the song as used in the program, played by the group Dashina from the Berklee College of Music. It is a very powerful piece and familiar to fans of the show. I really like this passionate, modern rendition of Kaval Sviri. There are no traditional Bulgarian folk instruments used here. Instead, there are a bass, violins, viola, a keyboard, drums, clarinet, and an electric guitar.

Video #2 is what Kaval Sviri sounds like with a large ensemble, a capella (no instrumental accompaniment)  with male and female performers.  The group is the London Bulgarian Choir.

Video #3 is performed by Ensemble Trakia. It was released in 1988 on the album Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. II.

Video #4 is the same song,  also a capella, with a small group this time.They have very powerful voices that harmonize well.

You can read about The Nightingale Trio here.  Surprise, none of the ladies is Bulgarian! They used to perform with the Yale Slavic Chorus, and started their own group after they graduated.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs, Parts One, Two and Three

Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

How to Recognize Regional Differences in Bulgarian Folk Music: Part Two

Unity Makes Strength
-motto on Bulgarian coat of arms

This week's post features the regions of Severnjasko (northern) and Pirin (southwest).

Video #1 is an example of music from northwestern Bulgaria .The name of the piece is Vlashki Igri (Vlach Dances).

This piece is a dance in two parts: the first part in 5/8 (quick-slow)  and the second in pravo rhythm. The instrumentation is in the Vlach style.  The dominant instrument in the first piece is the gadulka; in the second dance (at 1:23)  the dominant instrument is the kaval (at 2:27). 

The musicians are instrumentalists from the folk ensemble Dunav from Vidin. You can see the costumes of the northern region in the video. The predominant colors are red and white, the colors of the Martenitsa.

Here's another way to recognize music from northwestern Bulgaria.  If a song has Dunav in the title it is most likely from the northern region.  Dunav means Danube in Bulgarian, the ensemble is named after the river, which forms the border with Romania.

Brass music is also very popular in northern Bulgaria due to the influence of composer Diko Iliev (1898-1984).  His best known work is Dunavsko Horo, played at celebrations and especially during the New Year in Bulgaria..

Video #2 is an example of a rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, a dance in 7/8 rhythm (apple-apple-pineapple). It is Svatbarska Rachenitsa, composed by Diko Iliev (1898-1984), and played by a brass orchestra.  Diko Iliev created many pieces based on folk dances from the northern region: Daichovo, Elenino, and Gankino are some examples.

Svatba means "wedding" in Bulgarian. One of my daughters will be getting married next month..  Unfortunately, she won't allow any Bulgarian folk music at this gig.

Video #3 features the dissonant harmonies of the mountainous Pirin region in southwestern Bulgaria.  The Bisserov sisters perform a traditional song from the village of Pirin.  The two ladies on the left play tambourine and tarambuka, the one on the right plays a tambura, an instrument very popular in the Pirin region.

Here's another way to recognize music from the Pirin: many of their songs and dances are in 7/8 lesnoto rhythm (pineapple-apple-apple).

There is an introduction in English with a short description of the song.  It is dedicated to the people who died for the freedom of Bulgaria during the Ottoman occupation.


If you enjoyed this you may also like:

How to Recognize Regional Differences in Bulgarian Folk Music: Part One

The River of Many Names Part Three: Folk Ensembles Named Dunav

The Best of the Bisserov Sisters and Family

There is a group, Leb i Vino that specializes in village music from southwestern Bulgaria.  You can listen to them here:

Leb i Vino: Traditional Music from the Pirin Region of Bulgaria

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev (three arrangements of Dunavsko Horo)

Author's note:  There is someone out there who has stolen material from this blog.  The link is  Please make note of that and mention it on his Facebook plug in.  Plagiarism will not be tolerated!

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Saturday, August 6, 2016

How to Recognize Regional Differences in Bulgarian Folk Music: Part One

We don't need a melting pot in this country, folks. We need a salad bowl. In a salad bowl, you put in the different things. You want the vegetables - the lettuce, the cucumbers, the onions, the green peppers - to maintain their identity. You appreciate differences.
Jane Elliot

The quote above could have been said about a regional dish in Bulgaria: the Shopska Salad, as well as about regional differences in Bulgarian folk music.

Today's post is about how to recognize regional differences in Bulgarian folk music. After many years of listening to and dancing to Bulgarian folk music, I've learned how to recognize subtle regional differences.

Songs from this region are often accompanied by a large bagpipe, the kaba gaida, which has a distinctive sound.  The songs have an otherworldly quality about them.

The song, Bela Sum Bela Junace is about a shepherd who finds a blonde girl in the fog. He asks her to marry him.

Songs from the Shope region can be distinguished by the "whooping" sound.  The harmony in this is amazing. This song was featured on the Bulgarian National Radio's website in Musicbox Bulgaria for the month of July. It takes true musical ability to sing like these women do.

Chichovite Konje translates to Uncle's Horses.  Anyone know where I can find the lyrics and a translation?

The next folklore region is Dobrudja. The example in Video #3 is Tervelska Tropanka. You can hear the stamps in the music even without looking at the dancers. The main instruments in this piece are the accordion accompanied by a bagpipe.

There are a number of dances unique to Dobrudja: Tropanka, Sborenka and Opas (Dobrudjan Pravo Horo). All of them are punctuated with stamps.  Tropanka is accented with strong arm movements (see video below).. 

If you are a frequent reader of The Alien Diaries, you will recognize the Chinese "Bonding Folkdance Class."

The Bulgarian Thracians love clarinet music and the dance Pravo Horo. There are many variations of the Pravo; and many regional differences in style.  Bachkovsko Horo is an example of a Pravo from Thrace.

Notice that the music is played by a brass orchestra, which is more typical for northwestern Bulgaria than Thrace. The clarinet comes in loud and clear at about 2:14.

The dancers are from the city of Stara Zagora.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Singing Demystified

More Stamping it Out: Bulgarian Folk Dances from the Folklore Region of Dobrudja

Dancing Across Bulgaria: The Pravo and Regional Folk Dance Styles

Part Two will be about the music of Northwestern Bulgaria and Pirin.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Bulgarian Folk Dance in Texas: Ensemble Lyush from Dallas-Fort Worth

If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent out Texas and live in Hell.
― Philip Henry Sheridan

Although Texas is best known for its hot, humid and long summers, there is a hardy group of Bulgarians who have made the Dallas-Forth Worth area their home. Today's post features Ensemble Lyush.

The group consists of members from the Bulgarian-American Cultural Center in Dallas. The ensemble came into existence before the cultural center was built in 2009.They have performed at festivals, state fairs and celebrations since 2008.

What is really cool is that the dancers are immigrants and first generation Bulgarian-Americans whose goal is to keep the culture alive in the United States. They are a joy to watch.  Their interpretations of some of the dances in their repertoire are a little different than the ones done in recreational groups and you can watch the variations in the videos below.  The "different village" comes into play here.

Video #1 is Svornato Horo from the Rhodope region of southern Bulgaria. This performance took place in March 2016. In March there are three holidays special to the Bulgarians: Baba Marta on March 1st, Liberation Day on the 3rd, and International Women's Day on the 8th.

Video #2 is also part of the March celebration.The dances are Chichovo Horo from northwestern Bulgaria and Kyustendilsko Horo from the Shope region. This is one of the most amazing renditions of Chichovo that I've seen: the man dances like someone possessed! He throws his hat at 0:57,  the cue for the women to begin dancing.

Kyustendilsko Horo is related to Graovsko Horo.  The choreography here is top notch. (Notice the main joining the line at 5:53.)

If you have a half hour to spare or  watch Video #3 from WorldFest 2011, held in Addison, Texas.  Lyush performs a group of dances from different regions of Bulgaria,  They are listed in the order played with notes (below the video).

The announcer has a charming Bulgarian accent.  She describes the dances, the regions where they originated, and she has a delightful sense of humor.  The entire video is worth watching.

1. Trite Puti - from Thrace region.  There are several choreographies for this dance, and this group prefers a relatively slow version. 

2. Daichovo - northern Bulgaria.  There are several variations of Daichovo,  the most well known is Zizaj Nane, a fancy version of this dance with music by Boris Karlov. 

3. Dunavsko - also from northern Bulgaria. This choreography is fancier than the standard version of Dunavsko  that people dance to celebrate the New Year, usually done to music by Diko Iliev. Lyush uses Severnjasko Pravo Horo.

4. Graovsko - Shope region. This version is played on the gaida (bagpipe). There are several versions of Graovsko, including an accordion tune arranged by Boris Karlov. This dance is very popular in Bulgaria.

5. Women's Dance (done before Easter)- from Shope region. Includes Pajduško and Kopanitsa. There is much waving of handkerchiefs and fancy footwork.

6. Varnensko - From the region of Dobrudja. Here it is a men's dance.

7. Bistriška Kopanitsa -A difficult dance from the Shope region

They finish with the music for Trite Puti.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Call and Response: Daichovo Horo

Happy New Year 2014: Same Dance, Different Music, Dunavsko Horo

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance: Chichovo Horo 

Three Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Dance: Trite Puti

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Vlach Dances from Bulgaria and Serbia

Vlachs have been called "the perfect Balkan citizens" because they are able to preserve their culture without resorting to war or politics, violence or dishonesty. (from article)

It would be nice if the entire world lived by the Vlach philosophy.  There would finally be peace on earth.

The Vlachs traditionally worked as shepherds, and wandered all over the Balkans to search for pastures for their sheep.  They speak a language related to Romanian, and wherever they traveled, they brought their language, music, and dance with them.

Today's post shows examples of Vlach dances from Bulgaria and Serbia.

Video #1 is a group of people in elaborate embroidered costumes.  They are the Severnjaski Ensemble from Pleven.

The dance is Shira Horo.  There are a number of variations of this; depending on the village where it originated.

Vlach dances have a number of steps in common: crossovers, stamps and arm swings.  Sways are also common (you will see those in many Romanian dances as well).

Video #2 is the version from Kula, a town in northwestern Bulgaria.

Video #3 is Kulsko Horo, another dance from the town of Kula. This one has arm swings and stamps. Each figure builds on the previous one.

The dancers are from Jerusalem in Israel. There are actually two Balkan dance groups in Israel: Dunav from  Jerusalem and Balkanitsa from Haifa.  Both have been featured regularly on this blog, and if you're looking for new dances to teach your group, their videos on YouTube are an excellent resource.

Video #4, Zenske Vlashke Igre is a women's dance from Serbia. Hang on to your belts, ladies, this one is going to be fast....

If you want to skip the introduction the dance starts at 1:30. Check out the jumps and the stamps (3:20 to 3:40).  It is thought that stamping drives away evil spirits; no evil can survive what these women do. There were no notes to be found, and the link to the group's web page, KUD Polet, was a dead end.  They do, however, have a Facebook page.

Video #5 is Vlaski Sat,a  popular dance in the Sunday night group in Wethersfield.  Several members of the group learned it at Pinewoods, a music and dance camp held every June in the Boston area.

This dance has both sways and stamps. 

The teacher here is the very energetic Bianca de Jong; this took place at a workshop in Austria in 2002.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on a Vlaško Theme 

Stamp it Out: Vlach Dances from Serbia

Two Variations on a Serbian Folk Dance: Stara Vlajna

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Dances to Music Arranged by Boris Karlov

I knew nothing of the real life of a musician, but I seemed to see myself standing in front of great crowds of people, playing my accordion.
Lawrence Welk

My mother used to watch the Lawrence Welk Show on TV. The show never interested me because Welk was not into Bulgarian folk music. He was more into polkas, waltzes and ballroom dances. Back in those days I thought an accordion was an instrument of torture.

Today's post features music and dances connected with the great Bulgarian accordionist: Boris Karlov, 1924-1964.

His music will live forever as long as there are people who like to dance Bulgarian horo played on the accordion. If you go on YouTube, there are numerous videos of his compositions.

Video #1 features George Terzieff leading Dudino Horo and Kyustendilsko Horo (not be be confused with Kyustendilska Rachenitsa,a totally different dance that Karlov also arranged). Both are from the Shope region of Bulgaria, and very fast.

I couldn't find any dance videos with Kyustendilska Rachenitsa. This tune is very popular at our dances, so here it is, played by Karlov himself:

Video #3 is another Karlov piece. The Bulgarians call it Pazardishka Rachenitsa; we know this dance as Gjuesevska Rachenitsa.  This is a particularly fast and difficult dance from the Shope region.You can always tell, with the Dunav group anyway, how difficult a dance is going to be by the number of people dancing.  Here there are only two: Yehuda and Mika.

The Dunav website is an excellent source for dances from the Balkans and the Middle East.

In Video #4 the dancers use Karlov's version of Eleno Mome, also known as Elenino Horo.  There are many different tunes for this dance, some for accordion, some for brass band (look up Diko Iliev on YouTube) and even vocal versions (see Songbook for Nearsighted People).  Although it's only 2 1/2 minutes long, it's very fast and requires aerobic endurance.

Remember what I said about the number of dancers?  This time there are five, so this dance is relatively easy.  It is also very popular.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dances Inspired by Elena

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Tune Gankino Horo

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Black Sea Folk Songs from Romania and Bulgaria

 "Seagull Flying in a Blue Sky"by Michael Haddad (from Wikipedia)

There comes a time in a man's life when he hears the call of the sea. If the man has a brain in his head, he will hang up the phone immediately.
Dave Barry

Today's post features folk songs about the Black Sea. Seagulls are part of the seaside experience, and people tend to romanticize them (especially those who have read the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. They are obnoxious birds that are a big nuisance at the beach and they will eat just about anything.  Seagulls especially like to hang around while you're eating a sandwich; the smell of meat attracts them. A friend of mine used to feed them (bad idea!) and they never left us alone after that.  They got into the potato chips while we were in the water. My husband saw one eat a spare rib bone, whole!

The Black Sea coast is a big resort area, and there are places that have a reputation for being party towns overrun with human seagulls :) especially Sunny Beach (see Video #1).

Video #2 is a song from Romania in an uneven rhythm (9/8): Cantec de la Marea Neagra (song from the Black Sea). The Black Sea region of Romania, also known as Dobrogea, is an area known for music in odd rhythms. The dance to this is cadeneasca, similar to Bulgarian daichovo.

Video #2 is of a Roma song from Bulgaria, Karavana Chajka. The lyrics (in Bulgarian) are about the group Edessa, who have been invited to play at the Café Seagull on the Black Sea coast. You can find the lyrics here, along with an English translation. You can sing and/or dance along to the music (the dance is a cocek).

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Quirky, Odd and Unusual Folklore Videos from the Universe of YouTube

More Songs from the Romanian Folklore Region of Dobrogea

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