Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Horo and the Diversity of the Different Folklore Regions

Bulgaria has a lot of diversity for a country its size, and has six folklore regions. Today's post will explore three of them, by way of music.

The rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria and you can discover the different "flavors" of it here:


Horo means "chain dance" in English. The rachenitsa, on the other hand, can be danced solo, in couples or in a group. This is the group version, "na horo."

The first region is northwestern Bulgaria (Severnjasko) which borders Romania and Serbia. The dances of this area are characterized with exuberence, feet hardly touching the ground, arm swinging in time with the steps,and are often accompanied by brass band music. By the way, Diko Iliev, who composed the famous Dunavkso Horo, was from this region, and was a master of music for brass bands. You can read about him here:


This is a performance of Chichovo Horo by Berkovska Duhova Muzika mixed with a little tequila. This is from a Bulgarian TV show and fun to watch!

The next video is that of three ladies from the United States performing Dobrudjanska Reka, a very popular dance that just about every international folk dance group has in its repetoire. Dobrudja is in the northeast part of Bulgaria, bordering Romania, and the dances there are characterized by stamping, bent knees and strong hand movements. As the man in the video remarks, "that's the way to do it!"

The next video is of the dance Bucimis, from the region of Thrace in central Bulgaria. The footwork is tricky, and so is the rhythm, especially when you're holding the belts of the people next to you. The time signature for this dance is 15/16 (for you music theorists out there, 15 beats to the measure, 16th note takes the beat.) In English translation, that means quick-quick-quick-quick-slow-quick-quick. Bucimis is very popular with international folk dance groups, probably because of its complexity, and its speed. These dancers make it look easy.

The three other regions (Rhodope, Pirin, and Shoppe) will be covered in part 2.


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Favorite Bulgarian Folklore Videos on YouTube

One of the greatest ideas around has to be the creation of YouTube. It's amazing what you can find there.

Some of my YouTube videos are shown on this blog, and you can find them here:



Here are some exceptional videos from the Universe of YouTube. What makes them so good is the amazing choreography, the colorful costumes, the beautiful scenery, and in two of them, the cute little kids.

The first one is of an adorable little girl singing Jovano Jovanke, as mom proudly watches her (in the background).

I'm partial to kids, and I love it when they sing and dance in traditional garb. The setting is charming, and the adults are dancing rachenitsa. The second song, Snoshti E Dobra, is a very well known song (and dance) from the Pirin region.

The Bulgarian Folk Dance Masters is a series produced by http://horo.bg/ . (This webpage is also available in English if you click the word "English" in the upper right hand corner). This particular video is of the Filip Kutev ensemble performing dances from the Shoppe region of Bulgaria. There are about 15 videos in the series, and they're all worth a look.

One of the videos from the series From Dunav to Strandja was featured on this blog recently. http://katleyplanetbg.blogspot.com/2010/10/river-of-many-names-part-2-danube-in.html This is part two. The gadulka player at the very beginning plays a beautiful solo with the Danube as a backdrop, and shortly afterwards is the Thracian Dance, which is one of my favorites.

The dance with spoons is pretty cool, too, performed by the Dunav ensemble of Vidin. No boat to distract you this time!

If you have a favorite folklore video or two, please post a link to it in the "comments" section. There is a lot of good stuff out there, and feedback is always appreciated :)

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Accordion in Bulgarian Folk Music (another instrument some people love to hate....)

The accordion, along with the bagpipe, is another musical instrument that people either love or hate. No one is sure if it was Damian in Vienna or Buschmann in Berlin who invented it, although its idea was most likely conceived in a German-speaking nation. Musicians have been using it as an "instrument of torture" ever since.

Much of the folk music around the world is played on the accordion. It is a multiculturally friendly instrument, popular in the United States, Germany, Poland, Serbia, Bulgaria, France, some countries in Latin America, among others.

By the way, if you hate the accordion, you should not even be here, because these videos will want to make you want to jump off the nearest bridge :)

This is the kind of music most commonly associated with the accordion. Here is one of the strangest polkas I've found, it's a Austrian gem called the "Sauerkraut Polka." I have never seen polka musicians wearing kilts, and two of them have bagpipes! With instruments of torture such as these, they can easily take over the world... (by the way if you want to know more about bagpipe music, click here http://katleyplanetbg.blogspot.com/2010/06/bagpipe-and-bulgarian-folk-music.html )

There are people I know who detest both polka music and sauerkraut. This is for them :)

The reason the accordion is so popular, especially with folk musicians, is that it's easily portable and loud enough to be heard in a large room full of dancers, despite a lot of background noise.

Boris Karlov was a Bulgarian musician of Roma descent. Unfortunately he departed this world at the age of 40, in 1964. He was a virtuoso of the accordion. Folk music was his specialty, and his recordings are still popular at dances many years later. Here's his version of the Kyustendilska Rachenitsa:

Just about every folk dance group has this Karlov recording. This is a tune from the Shope region of Bulgaria.

One of my favorite musicians on YouTube is a lady from Holland (who must have lived in Bulgaria in a previous lifetime, she plays this music so well.) This is a dance tune from Dobrudja.

By the way, I happen to like accordion music, but don't worry, I will not take it up, since my dexterity is terrible, and my family would probably evict me. They nearly threw a fit when I mentioned taking up the clarinet again( which was the instrument I played in 7th and 8th grades). With winter just around the corner, that would not be a good idea....

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The River of Many Names (part 2) The Danube in Bulgarian folk music

(photo by Preslav, from Wikipedia Commons)

If you missed part 1. click here: http://katleyplanetbg.blogspot.com/2010/10/river-of-many-names-musical-journey.html

In part 2, we explore the Danube in Bulgarian folk music. By the way the Bulgarians are fascinated by water for some reason I have yet to figure out. One singer even compared water to their folklore. For more on this subject, click here: http://katleyplanetbg.blogspot.com/2010/03/bulgarian-fascination-with-water.html

There are a number of songs and dances written about this legendary river. It is mentioned in the Bulgarian national anthem and frequently in folk songs. The composer Diko Iliev wrote a dance piece, well known and loved in Bulgaria, and played on festive occasions. It's called Dunavsko Horo, and is considered by some to be the second national anthem of Bulgaria:) For more on Diko Iliev, along with some of his delightful music, click the link below:


The lyrics for the Bulgarian national anthem can be found here:

Now it's time to check out the Universe of YouTube, where you can find almost everything :) The first video features a folklore group from the city of Vidin. The ensemble is named after the river, which in Bulgarian is called Dunav. You can see them in performing in the first 2 1/2 minutes (the rest is worth looking at as well, with dances from different folklore regions of Bulgaria). By the way this is beautifully done, especially the introduction with the dancers superimposed on the water, accompanied by a kaval solo. That ship behind the dancers is a bit of a distraction, though....

The next video features a folk ensemble performing two dances from northwestern Bulgaria, which borders Serbia and Romania. The first is Krajdunavsko Horo, the second is Dunavsko Daichovo Horo (at 2.04). Daichovo is lively and spirited dance native to this region. It has an odd number in the time signature, which is 9/8. The rhythm is quick quick quick slow, with the accent on the first beat.

I couldn't resist yet another version of Dunavsko Horo, since it's so popular in Bulgaria.

The Danube is often mentioned in love songs. Here is a particularly lovely solo by Nelly Andreeva, accompanied by the Filip Kutev choir. The song, Malka Moma, describes a young girl, praying to God, asking him to help her find a boy she can love. (See English translation below).

"Please god give me eyes of a dove,
please god give me wings of a falcon,
so I can fly over Dunav river,
so I can find a boy that I love.

And god gave her wings of a falcon.
And she found a boy that she loves."

Radio Bulgaria (BNR) had an article recently about Danube cruises, and also about a bike path along the river from the source to the end. Something I would like to do one day is combine the two. It would be a very interesting journey indeed.


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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The River of Many Names: A Musical Journey

That old and faded picture of one of the most unusual boats I've ever seen was taken about 10 kilometers downstream from the Danube town of Passau, on the border of Germany and Austria.

I would have liked to have spoken with the crew, but they cast off shortly after I took the picture. The name of the boat was "Stadt Wien" (city of Vienna) and my guess is that they had started in Ulm, a German town about 200 miles upstream.

This unusual watercraft, I found out years later, was an Ulmer Schachtel, (Ulm Box) a boat used to transport people and goods downstream from Ulm to Vienna and even as far as the Balkans. They had no motors and could only go with the current; they were steered with rudders and paddles and when the boats reached their destination, they were taken apart and the wood re-used.


My husband and I found this very beautiful campground on the way to Vienna and had pitched our tent here for several days. The owner, not having met Americans before, was thrilled to talk with us, and absolutely delighted that we spoke German. He gave us a site with the most magnificent view of the river.

The Danube has been in the news lately with the recent environmental disaster in Hungary, since the toxic red sludge flood (by-products of aluminum production) occurred in a village on one of its tributaries. Between the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and now this, our environment is under assault (again). What's really tragic is that these events were man-made, and possibly could have been prevented.

I've said my piece and it's time to get off the soap box. Today's post is a musical journey down the River of Many Names, which are: Danube, Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, and Dun─ârea.

The Danube starts in southern Germany and flows through some interesting territory (including the Balkan countries of Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania), and there is music all along its banks.

This pop-folk song from Germany celebrates the city of Passau, which I visited many years ago. The architecture is magnificent, and some of the buildings date from the Middle Ages. Passau is at the conjunction of three rivers, Danube, Inn, and Ilz, and it is here that ships can travel all the way to the Black Sea.

The next video is of the Eva Quartet from Bulgaria singing a folk song. They are on a boat passing through Vienna, the Donauturm TV tower is in the background. I went up to the top of the tower, and on a clear day, you can see Slovakia, Hungary, and looking south, the foothills of the Alps.

This was taken during the Danube Music Festival, back in 2007, which was the brainchild of Bulgarian film maker Zlatina Rousseva. For more about it, click on the link below.


Now, these guys are really having fun and making music on a beautiful spring day. So they decide to take a boat on the river and sing a folk song (in English translation the title is "Danube, My Sea.") My guess is that they are somewhere in Serbia or Croatia, where it is quite wide.

This quote from Kenneth Graham's The Wind in the Willows sums it up: "There is nothing--absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats."

Let's hope the recent disaster in Hungary doesn't destroy the River of Many Names. (so far it hasn't although it has destroyed part of the Hungarian countryside, caused the death of 8 people, and killed a tributary stream, which is certainly bad enough, although a Hungarian friend told me things could have been worse).

Here is the link to part 2: The River of Many Names in Bulgarian folk music:

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