Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sometimes Lost in Translation: Bulgarian Proverbs

You can get insight into people and culture from their proverbs and Bulgaria is no exception. The problem sometimes is that translations from one language to another can change the meaning of the original!

Many of these are connected with farming, since Bulgarian society was primarily agrarian until the 20th century.

The chicken teaches the hen to lay eggs.
Do not put all eggs in one basket.
He that wills not to feed a cat, feeds the mice

The proverbs quoted here are literal translations taken from this Bulgarian website, a rich source of folklore
and history as well as wise sayings. The proverb about not placing all your eggs in one basket is a familiar one. And on farms, cats were kept so the mice wouldn't eat the grain, so it was a good idea to keep them happy. And what came first, the chicken or the hen (perhaps it was the egg, but who laid the egg?)

The 500 year Ottoman occupation of Bulgaria must have been connected with the following proverb, although it could have described slavery and oppression anywhere in the world:
Better the grave than a slave.

The next two are variations of Pride goes before a fall.
He that flies high falls low down.
A haughty person will not even reach down to take his own nose if it had fallen to the ground."

If you attempt too much, nothing gets done. This is as true in Bulgaria as it is in the rest of the world, and multi-tasking is frowned upon:
He who undertakes too many jobs does none.

On the farm, people had to work hard, otherwise they wouldn't eat. However, the next proverb gives you the idea that the men have something else on their minds besides work:
It is easier to fondle lassies, than to cut timbers.

Men have had difficulty resisting temptation since the time of Eve:
Money tempts women, women tempt men.

This is a variation on the devil made me do it.
What the devil is unable to do, he asks a woman to do.

Giving up smoking is difficult, if not impossible, and rationalization is a common defense mechanism:
I gave up smoking, smoking would not give me up.

If you don’t watch where you’re going bound to fall:
Watch your step when you walk: you may find nothing but you will not stumble.

Many people wish they had young bodies with the wisdom that comes with age. If there's a Fountain of Youth in Bulgaria, no one's ever told me about it :)
If only youth had knowledge and old age ability!

Here is a musical take on health proverbs from the Bulgarian National Radio:

This final proverb from the Bulgarian Radio website shows a proven connection with anger, heart disease, and death:  He who gets angry gets old quickly.

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Saturday, September 18, 2010

People are afraid of what they know little about....

For a number of weeks the deportation of Roma (Gypsy) people from France to Bulgaria and Romania has been in the news.,8599,2015389,00.html

Xenophobia, or the fear of foreigners, is not unique to France. Racism and intolerance have long been issues the United States as well. Not so long ago, in the American South, blacks and whites were segregated. It was frowned upon for a white person to associate with blacks as friends, and there were seperate facilities, such as schools, for blacks and whites.

Even in the so-called enlightened 21st century racism and xenophobia are alive and well here in the States. The issue these days has to do people from Latin America, specifically, Mexico, who come here illegally looking for opportunity. There is a lot of discrimination against brown skinned people who speak Spanish, and a fear amongst some that they are taking over the country, and stealing American jobs.

The Mexicans, for the most part, are migrant workers, and do jobs most Americians shun. Poverty is rampant in Mexico, and when you're starving, you'll do almost anything to survive. And unfortunately, there are a number of them who are involved with drug smuggling. You will find a bad element in every ethnic group.

A much more humane solution would be for the U.S. government to offer temporary work permits to migrant workers. And of course, Mexico, and the other nations of Latin America need to do more for their own people.

The point I'm trying to make is that people are afraid of what they know little about. Racism, xenophobia, and intolerance stem from ignorance. During hard economic times, the illegal Mexicans make convenient scapegoats.

Deportation is seen as the answer to the problem.

The Roma situation in France is similar in some ways to the Mexican situaion in the States. People in Europe see the Roma as people with a bad reputation, who live in poverty and get involved in criminal activity. There are good and bad people in every ethnic group,and the Roma are no exception.

Despite the poverty and discrimination these people suffered (Hitler tried to exterminate them in concentration camps), somehow the Roma managed to survive. They found they could make a decent living as musicians. And they were very good at what they did, to the point that Roma music has very much become a part of the musical fabric of the Balkans.

Here are several stellar examples of the musical contribution that the Roma people have made to Balkan music. The first is a song by Esma Redzepova, from Macedonia:

Esma is well known for her involvement in advocacy programs for her people and humanitarian work:


Here's a song I really love, a very catchy tune from Bulgaria called Karavana Chajka. The dance for it is called Čoček (pronounced cho-chek, a dance of Romani origin, and the words are in the Bulgarian language). You can sing along with the lyrics and read the translation here:

Romani brass music has had a strong influence on Balkan bands in the United States as well, who have fallen in love with this lively and spirited genre. Here is the Raya band from New York City playing Ciganko.

For more on the Roma influence in the Balkans read:
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Monday, September 13, 2010

To Greece and Bulgaria and one weekend!

It was a "beautiful day in the neighborhood" for Balkan music and dance. There was a Greek festival and a Bulgarian band performance within a 30 mile distance from each other. Seldom do such enjoyable events happen in the same weekend :)

First was the annual Glendi, a celebration of Greek culture, food, music, and dance. The St. George Greek Orthodox Church hosts a three day festival every year on the second weekend of September. It draws people from miles around, and the biggest attractions are the food and the costumed folk dancers. Saturday, especially drew a huge crowd; parking was difficult to come by, and from what I was told they ran out of food sometime Sunday afternoon.

Here are several videos of the church's youth group performing on Saturday night:

The next video is of a Pentozali, a dance from Crete. The prefix "pento" means five, which means it has five basic steps. The Greeks contributed much to our knowledge of math, especially geometry (a pentagon is a five-sided figure.) Balkan dancing tends to appeal to math-minded people, as I mentioned in a previous post:

This is a dance called Tsamikos, which goes three steps to the right, and one to the left, a very common pattern in folk dances.

Now it's time for some music from Bulgaria, performed by Kabile. They are a band from the Bulgarian region of Thrace (there is a Thrace in Greece, too!) and have been playing together since 1980. When the band members were all living in Bulgaria, they played at weddings and other celebratory events.

Two of the members, a husband and wife, emigrated to the United States 15 years ago, and now live in New York City. Every so often, they have a reunion tour. I was at their final 2008 performance in the States, which was at Mt. Holyoke College.

And here is Sunday night's performance of a beautiful lesnoto. In musical notation it has the same time signature as rachenitsa but the accents are different, the rhythm being "galloping, apple, apple." The time signature is 7/8. Notice the band performing in the center of the circle instead of on the stage. It draws its energy from the dancers and vice versa, this is done at village dances in the Balkans.

For an explanation of rachenitsa read:

The final video is a dance from the Thracian region of Bulgaria. It's called "Trite Puti" which means three times. The Greek fascination with math must have traveled to Bulgaria, too :)

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Monday, September 6, 2010

Is this small, quiet New England community prepared for a Bulgarian invasion?

A small, quiet new England community will become an unlikely venue for a group of Bulgarian musicians. One of the oldest settlements in Connecticut, Wethersfield was founded by the Puritans, who would have totally disapproved of this kind of entertainment. They will be looking on from Above, shaking their heads as they behold all the wickedness going on. Men and women joining hands and dancing is the Devil's work and must be stopped :)

The Temple Beth Torah, where the event is being held, is pretty cool about the idea, since the event is being held in one of their community rooms.

Kabile, a wedding band from Thrace, has been invited to play at a dance party held by the Always on Sunday Folk Dance Group.

The quiet residential neighborhood, which folds up the sidewalks after 7 p.m. will become a hotbed of activity and resound with the rhythm of horo and rachenitsa. Parking will be almost impossible to find, and hopefully the local police have been notified that things will be a little crazy in town the evening of September 12.

The residents of Wethersfield, who have most likely have not been exposed to this kind of entertainment (except for folk dancers who live in the Hartford area), will probably wonder if an alien invasion has occurred when they see the musicians dressed up in elaborate embroidered costumes carrying their "instruments of mass destruction." And yes, that includes a bagpipe (gaida) and a formidable female voice.

It will be an interesting evening :)

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Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Travels of Pajduško Horo

Pajduško horo is a dance very popular throughout the Balkans, and it was one of the first that I learned many years ago. It's a dance that's gotten around and in this post, it visits four different countries. The rhythm stays the same, but the music and the choreography change. And as you will see, it's quite an aerobic workout.

Music in the Balkans, especially in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece, and to a lesser extent, Romania, is characterized by assymetrical rhythms. An easier way to describe this would be odd numbers in the time signature.

The Pajduško has a time signature of 5/8. What this means is that there are five beats in each measure and the eighth note gets the beat. It actually sounds like the rhythm of a heartbeat: quick-slow, quick-slow, quick-slow. Sometimes it's called the "limping dance" or the "drunken dance," the latter probably being the effects of imbibing too much rakia.

If music theory is Greek to you, don't worry. Here are several videos from the Universe of YouTube. First is a Pajduško from Bulgaria:

And here's the Macedonian take on the dance, similar to the Bulgarian version in the previous video:

This Pajduško is from Greece:

When Pajduško travels to Romania, the footwork gets fancier and faster. The quick-slow beat is still there, though. This is an international folk dance group from the United States.

For more on Pajduško, click here:

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