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Monday, June 13, 2016

The Alien Diaries Best of the "Worst": Earworms from the Balkans

There are, of course, inherent tendencies to repetition in music itself. Our poetry, our ballads, our songs are full of repetition; nursery rhymes and the little chants and songs we use to teach young children have choruses and refrains. We are attracted to repetition, even as adults; we want the stimulus and the reward again and again, and in music we get it. Perhaps, therefore, we should not be surprised, should not complain if the balance sometimes shifts too far and our musical sensitivity becomes a vulnerability.
― Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

In previous posts I have written about songs called "earworms." They take up residence in your head for hours and refuse to move out. Today's post features earworms from five Balkan countries.

Video #1 is Valle Kosovare/Shqiptare from Albania.  The group is Valle Tona from Worcester, Massachusetts. This song rang in my head for hours the first time I heard it.  You can find the lyrics here, in Albanian and in English translation if you'd like to sing along.



The song in Video #2 is by Maria Tanase, a Romanian singer who passed away in 1963 at age 49. During her relatively short life she gave performances around the world, and also had parts in movies and in a musical by Ralph Benatsky.  Her most famous song, Ciuliandra, is very popular at folk dances.

Ciuleandra  is not as much of an earworm as Bun ii vinu'ghiurhiulul.  You will definitely need more than a glass of wine to remove this song from your head.  You may even need an entire bottle!

Notice the 7/16 rhythm and repetitive refrain. It is the rhythm for the dance Geampara in Romania and Rachenitsa in Bulgaria.



Earworms tend to have an element of repetition; a distinct rhythm and catchy lyrics, which is why they tend to stay in memory for a long time.They can even drive you crazy as you find ways to purge them from your head.

There is a science to this which is explained in Musicophilia, Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sachs, M.D. I borrowed the book from the library to check out his take on music.  His research is primarily focused on neurology and experience with stroke, Parkinson's and dementia patients, musical savants, and classical composers.

There is an entire chapter devoted to rhythm and another devoted to what he calls "brainworms".  I saw nothing on Balkan music and its asymmetric rhythms, nor does he mention folk instruments like the gaida and zurna. (If you want to read about how the Ottoman Turks used the zurna to intimate their enemies, see the list at the end of this post).

The song in Video #3 is from Croatia. For some reason, Croatian songs tend to stay in the brain forever.  It's the repetitive lyrics and the tamburitza music that accompanies them.

U Selu Pokraj Dunava (In a village near the Danube.) is about a man in love with the young woman who lives in the village. You can find the lyrics here, but no English translation.



One of the best sites for folk song lyrics in the original language, English and German is the Songbook for Nearsighted People, so named because because the lady who compiled typed the lyrics in a large font so they could be seen in places with poor lighting. It is also good for those who are visually challenged.

You can find the lyrics and sing along to Oj Shope Shope in the Songbook. It has a German translation for the song which is about a young man from the Shope region of Bulgaria who thinks he's God's gift to the world. This is a song that refuses to be evicted from the brain. Last year it was part of a gala concert featuring several Bulgarian women's groups.  It  kept me awake that night.



Video #5 is a song from Macedonia, Dedo Mili Dedo,   It tells the story of a day in the life of an elderly couple who still love each other after all the years they've been together. This song has that earworm quality: repetitive lyrics and a catchy rhythm.  There is also a dance that goes with the music.



If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Some Famous and Not So Famous Folk Songs from Romania

The River of Many Names Part Six: The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs

Age is an Issue of Mind Over Matter: Old People in Balkan Folk Songs 

The Zurna in Bulgarian Folk Music 

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