Friday, November 25, 2011

Bits and Pieces: More Folklore and Pop Culture From the Universe of YouTube

I love many kinds of music: world music, jazz, classical, pop. Anita Diament

Those of you who regularly read this blog know that I have a fascination with folklore and pop culture, especially that related to music from the Balkans. Today's post gives you both with music from Greece, Bulgaria and Macedonia.

The Muppets are extremely popular; a new Muppet movie was released recently. There was also The Muppet Show which was broadcast on TV in the 1970's and 80's. Everyone knows them from the show Sesame Street. The Muppets have even ventured into Greek folk music as you will see in the first video.

A friend sent me this excerpt from a 1978 episode of The Muppet Show. Miss Piggy sings Never on Sunday, accompanied by dancing pigs, a Greek folk ensemble, explosions, and plate breaking. This is the wildest crowd of Muppets that I've seen :)

There are bottles of Ouzo on the table, a liqueur similar to anisette; it has a strong licorice taste. It's the national drink of Greece.

Part of the Balkan cultural experience involves booze. This is a Bulgarian commmercial for rakia (brandy) with men in kilts performing a folk dance, accompanied by a Scottish pipe band (playing Bulgarian music). It's very cleverly done.

The final video in this post is a rap song with a Jamaican accent and a Romani beat. The performers are Ras Tweed from Jamaica and Esma Redzepova from Macedonia. This delightful and eclectic mix of folklore and pop culture is Raise Up Your Hands.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture:

Folklore and Pop Culture (again!)Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Count Dracula (this one includes a vintage Sesame Street clip)

How Bulgarian Folk Music Induces Altered States

For more on The Muppets read:

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Bagpipe in Macedonian Folk Music

"Gaidasheep", photo from Uncyclopedia

These are bagpipes. I understand the inventor of the bagpipes was inspired when he saw a man carrying an indignant, asthmatic pig under his arm. Unfortunately, the man-made sound never equalled the purity of the sound achieved by the pig.
Alfred Hitchcock

If Alfred Hitchcock had lived in Macedonia, the pig probably would have been replaced by a goat.

Today's topic is the bagpipe in Macedonian folk music, also known as a gaida. The gaida plays a very important part in the music of Macedonia, and they love it as much as the Bulgarians, if not more.

If you are a regular reader of The Alien Diaries, you've probably noticed that I'm fond of music played on the gaida (Eastern European bagpipe). It has a unique sound, and can be haunting and annoying at the same time. For example, when one or more members of my family start to get on my nerves I find the loudest and most obnoxious piece of gaida music and play it from my computer. That usually keeps them in line. They think of it as an instrument of torture. To some people, it is.

Traditional instruments in the Balkans are created from the skins of animals; sheep, goats, or pigs. For example, the gaida is made from the hide of a sheep or goat, and the tupan (double headed drum) is often made from a pig's hide.

Balkan cuisine is very heavy on the meat; the farmers utilized just about every part of the animals they slaughtered. The skins came in very handy in the creation of musical instruments.

What really caught my attention in the first video is that the man plays a gaida made from the body of a goat, with the head still attached. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) would not approve, despite the fact that these instruments are very much part of the cultural fabric of Macedonia.

The musician is a Macedonian living in Australia who makes his own bagpipes, tupans, and kavals and advertises them on YouTube. If you're looking for a one of a kind gift that stares back at you send Risto Todoroski an email at If you order one soon, it just may get to the recipient in time for Christmas :)

This eponomous piece is Gaidarsko Oro. It is also known as Narodno Oro, which means simply "folk dance." The piper is accompanied by an ensemble of traditional instruments; the tambura (lute), the tupan (drum) and the kaval (flute).

The Tanec folk ensemble of Skopje are ambassadors of Macedonian folklore. They have given numerous performances in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas since the group was founded in 1949. In this video, there's a great gaida solo (sans goat head). This video is a part of Tanec's 60th anniversary celebration in 2009. The group performs Osogovka Oro, a men's dance. Notice the men wearing short skirts, these are called "fustanella" and are part of the traditional costumes of Macedonia and Greece.

You can read about Tanec here:

If you liked this you may also enjoy:

The Bagpipe and Bulgarian Folk Music:

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music:

More Interesting and Unusual Instruments in Balkan Folk Music

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Romani Potpourri

You cannot offend anybody by a song. Romani proverb

If you like Romani (Gypsy) music you have come to the right place. Today's post features some lively songs and dances played by talented Romani and non-Romani musicians. All songs are in the Romani language. Romani has many dialects, and it's one language you won't find on Google Translate. For more info on the language, read this article from Wikipedia.

The Roma people, who originally came from the Indian subcontinent, were nomads. They made their way westward to Europe, and many of them settled in the Balkans. They encountered much discrimination because their customs and physical appearence were different than the mainstream population. Despite the prejudice, the Roma managed to survive wherever they settled. They found they could make a decent living as musicians and were very good at it.

The first video is of a very popular dance song, Opa Cupa, performed by a band from the west coast of the United States, Brass Menažeri (pronounced "menagerie"). Their specialty is Romani and Serbian brass music. It will make you want to get up and dance, and the enthusiasm from the audience is contagious!

The next video is a song from Macedonia very popular amongst folk dancers all over the world, Rumelaj. The Dunav group is based in Jerusalem, Israel. They have numerous teaching videos on YouTube; this is one of them, and their website is one of the best places on the Internet for information on Balkan music and dance.

To visit the Dunav website, click here:

Here is a totally different rendition of Rumelaj, performed by the Hungarian band Besh O Drom. If you like music on steroids, you'll love this.

You can read more about Besh O Drom here:

Esma Redžepova, the "Queen of the Gypsies" is a very well known singer, songwriter and humanitarian from Macedonia. She has been performing since 1957, when she was "discovered" during a singing contest sponsored by a radio station, back in the day when Macedonia was part of a bigger country, Yugoslavia. You can read more about her here:

In this video she sings the anthem of the Roma people, Djelem, Djelem., a very emotional and beautiful song.

The translation can be found here:

And finally, here's Esma performing her most famous song: Chaje Shukarije with the Gyspy Kings and Queens. She puts her body and soul into it, which is why she's been so popular, not just in Macedonia, but all over the world, for over 50 years.

If you enjoyed this you may also like People Are Afraid of What They Know Little About which describes the situation of the Roma in Eastern Europe, and includes lots of music.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Gadulka in Bulgarian Folk Music: Another Instrument of Torture Heard From (fifth in a series)

photo by KDB of "Oreo"

"The gadulka just isn’t meant to bring happiness to modern people." Rayko Baychev, from The Gadulka is Burning

You're probably wondering...why is there a picture of a cat here? Read on, you will find the answer later.

This is a musical intrument most people (except for Bulgarians) know little about, and some would consider it an instrument of torture like the bagpipe (gaida) or the accordion. People either love it or hate it. I describe it as a fiddle with attitude.

To get a sense of what a gadulka is about, first read this article from Wikipedia.

Now it's time to hear what a gadulka sounds like when played by a virtuoso. This is a solo performance by Nicolai Kolev. The piece is a rachenitsa, a Bulgarian folk dance in 7/8 time (apple-apple-pineapple).

Here is another piece with some beautiful scenery in the background...a gadulka serenade, how romantic :)

The gadulka is an integral part of the Bulgarian folk ensemble, and not usually featured as a solo instrument. It gets lonely all by itself, and prefers plenty of company. One of my favorite bands, Kabile, plays Bulgarian wedding music, and they go on tour in the United States every couple of years. I have danced to their music on several occasions, and they are one of the best groups around! In this video the gadulka is accompanied by its friends the gaida (bagpipe), accordion, clarinet, tupan, (drum), kaval (flute) and of course a singer! Synergy at its finest :)

A little gadulka humor is in order. This link goes to a memoir (in English translation) by a Bulgarian musician and gadulka player, Rayko Baychev. You will especially enjoy his description of how the Bulgarian folk orchestras use dead animals (cats, goats and pigs) to make music. Don't worry, it's funny, not gory. This is some excellent writing, enjoy!

If you enjoyed this you may also like The Accordion in Bulgarian Folk Music

The Bagpipe and Bulgarian Folk Music

The Clarinet in Bulgarian Folk Music

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.