Friday, August 26, 2011

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

Bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise. E. K. Kruger

The Eastern European gaida, or bagpipe, is an instrument that gets around the Balkans. It's extremely popular in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Greece. Believe it or not, the Romanians like it too.

Romanian music is usually associated with panpipes (also called panflutes), and with another unusual folk instrument, the cimbalom. A cimbalom is also known as a hammered dulcimer, and belongs to the percussion family of instruments.

You can read about the panpipes and Romanian folk music here.

In this video is some traditional Romanian music played by a bunch of Dutch guys in Amsterdam on clarinet, accordion, violin, cimbalom and panpipes, and they are pretty damned good. This instrumentation is typical for folk ensembles in Romania.

I don't know if the Romanians got their liking for the bagpipe from their Bulgarian neighbors across the River of Many Names, but you'll find that the music of southern Romania is very big on the cimpoi (Romanian for bagpipe). Don't confuse it with the cimbalom, the cimpoi is a totally different animal. (Just so you know, the cimpoi is made from either goat or sheep hide). Both panpipes and bagpipes have been used as instruments of torture on susceptible people (but not on Bulgarians). I'm sure that the Bulgarians are flattered that their friends across the Danube have taken up the gaida.

Last year, I wrote about the bagpipe in Bulgarian folk music, you can read the post here:

Now it's time to hear those bagpipes in action, along with cimbalom and panpipes, the "unholy trinity" of instruments of torture :) This dance is Hora de Mina. Hora means "dance" in Romanian, and can be easily confused with horo, the Bulgarian name for the same thing.

Sârba pe Loc, a dance from the region of Muntenia in southern Romania, is another example of the gaida (oops, cimpoi) in action. Sârba is a generic name for energetic dances from Muntenia and Oltenia (another province in southern Romania) with lots of stamping. This dance is extremely popular among folk dance groups, probably because it's a socially acceptable way to get your frustrations out.

This hora from the Oltenia region of Romania is titled simply Cimpoi. You'll understand why when you hear it.

The dance notes for Cimpoi can be found here:

If you're interested in more interesting and unusual Eastern European folk instruments, including the kaval, the gadulka, and the panpipes you may enjoy this post:

If you've had a bad week, here are some socially acceptable ways to relieve stress:

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Some Different and Modern Arrangements of Bulgarian Folk Dances

Although I like traditional instrumentation in Bulgarian folk dances, once in a while something different catches my attention.

The first one is a very modern version of Pajduško Horo, played by the Bulgarian Police Band. (I think the combination of career in law enforcement and a career in music is little bit odd, although their musicianship is excellent). The Pajduško is a dance with an odd rhythm, like a heartbeat. The time signature is 5/8 (quick-slow). The Bulgarian Police Band has a varied repetoire, which includes American big band tunes, military marches, and Bulgarian folk dances, and there are many videos of them on The Universe of YouTube. Check them out.

Gankino Horo on an accordion and a gadulka is a more traditional version of this folk dance from northern Bulgaria. La Vieja Orkestina performs it in a bar in Barcelona, Spain. (Which makes you wonder, why does a band with a Spanish name play Bulgarian music? Bulgarians, I've noticed, are quite fond of music from Spain and especially Latin America, and one of the musicians in this duo is a Bulgarian). The musicians jazz it up in the middle, which makes it rather interesting. This is a very danceable piece in 11/16, the time signature for kopanitsa.

For an explanation of kopanitsa read:

This is a modern version of a rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, played by a Greek ensemble. The rachenitsa is another dance in an odd rhythm, 7/8 or 7/16, depending on how fast it is. The clarinet really stands out here, and so does the accordion. This is an excellent performance!

If you enjoyed this, you may also like Dancing to the Rhythm of a Different Drummer, everything you always wanted to know about rhythm in Balkan music (but were afraid to ask..)

For an in-depth look at the different "flavors" of Bulgarian rachenitsa read:

You can also read about the Travels of Pajduško Horo:

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Friday, August 12, 2011

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

(picture from Wikipedia)

Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter. ~Mark Twain

If you live long enough aging is inevitable. You look in the mirror and wonder where those gray hairs and wrinkles came from. Your body hurts in places it hasn't hurt before, although in your heart and mind you feel the same as when you were twenty, only a lot wiser. The thought of your eventual demise becomes more a reality than an abstraction as you see friends and relatives make their way to the Great Beyond.

That is why you should have a blast while you last and enjoy life as much as you can.

The elderly are celebrated in Balkan folk songs, and sometimes become the butt of jokes. In this Bulgarian song, a young woman looking for a man should be careful where she tosses her apple. It lands on a man old enough to be her grandfather. The girl, Lenche, begs Mom to get rid of him. Mom sends him out to the forest to cut wood hoping that a falling tree will hit him or a bear will eat Mr. Pedophile for lunch.

This song, about grandparents and their love which lasts into their golden years is Dedo Mili Zlatni. It's also a popular folk dance from Macedonia.

A famous female vocal group from Bulgaria, the Bistritsi Babi (babi is plural for grandmothers) shows that fun doesn't stop after fifty. Age is just a number after all. Although they usually perform in traditional costumes, this is what they REALLY look like, and they dance as well as sing.

Here's more about them from the UNESCO World Heritage site:

This is a crazy Croatian dance song, Sučacko Kolo, about a cook who was (supposedly jinxed) when the old man looked at her and the gibenitsa (cheese pie) burned. Most likely the evil eye was involved because the situation became a humorous recipe for a kitchen disaster. According to the song "the turkeys had gotten singed, the cook roasts a chicken and all the water comes out of it." (Aren't translations fun?) One of the couples in the video has done a role reversal which makes the dance even funnier :)

The refrain for the song (and the solution to the problem) was to throw some cold water from the Danube on the burnt food. Then "they danced the whole night, and ate a hen, feathers and all."

You can find the translation for this and many other folk songs in the Songbook for Nearsighted People.

The woman who compiled it had difficulty reading small print in dark rooms when performing; and the Songbook was born. The Songbook For Nearsighted People is a excellent source if you're searching for lyrics to your favorite folk dances, with songs for more than ten different countries, translated into German and English.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like Sometimes Lost In Translation, a humorous take on Bulgarian proverbs.

For more on the rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, read:
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Friday, August 5, 2011

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs (part 2)

Bulgarian folk music has a quality which transcends time and leaves lots of space for improvisation, much like jazz in the States. The songs featured here, in their modern incarnations, remind me a little of American jazz, while retaining their distinct Bulgarian sound.

In a previous post, I wrote about modern renditions of some well-known traditional Bulgarian folk songs. You can read about them here:

Today's post features more Bulgarian folk songs, along with their modern incarnations performed by Diva Reka, a band which mixes traditional music with modern jazz. Here is a writeup on them from the Bulgarian National Radio along with some of their music.

Diva Reka was also the featured band on a very popular Bulgarian TV reality series, Nadigrame, which finished its eight week run in July, 2011. The show featured dance competitions between rival cities from different regions of Bulgaria. It was very well done, and despite the fact that I understand very little Bulgarian, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The show can be found here (episodes are each about an hour except for the finale).

The first song is a traditional interpretation of Nayden, performed by Pavlina Gorcheva.

This is the Diva Reka version, recognizable as a folk song and yet...different.

The Pirin Ensemble does some fantastic renditions of folk songs and dances from southwestern Bulgaria. Here they perform the traditional version of Dobra Nevesto. The rhythm is 7/8, the dance is a rachenitsa.

This is the modern interpretation of a group of songs from the Pirin region. Dobra Nevesto is somewhere in the middle, at about 2.40.

If you enjoyed this post you may also like An International Look at Reality TV Shows.

For more on Bulgarian rachenitsa (dance in 7/8 rhythm like the songs featured here) read:

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Monday, August 1, 2011

Cowboys, Aliens, Pop Culture and Čoček

There is an interest in aliens out there, judging from the release of the recent movie Cowboys and Aliens. It's an unusual combination of shoot 'em up Western and Science Fiction. Although I haven't seen the movie yet, this short clip was enough to get my attention.

Unfortunately, the aliens are the bad boys in the film. Aliens, in general, have a bad reputation. They are seen as invaders and threats to society. I'd be willing to bet they are living among us and most people, except for the enlightened few, are not even aware of that.

Are you looking for proof that aliens exist and live among us? According to Bulgarian physicist Lachazar Filipov they do. Read on...

The Mothership must have landed in Bulgaria recently, and I found this video on the Universe of YouTube. By the way, these aliens are excellent dancers, although they can use a little fattening up. Perhaps aliens are supposed to be slender but they look a litle anorexic to me. A little food and wine should do the trick. They do a really great Čoček, a dance of Roma (Gypsy) origin, which is very popular in the Balkans. And if they take over the planet with music and dance, I'm all for it :)

If you want to see earthlings dancing Čoček, watch this video.

For more on movies about aliens read:

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