Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Boozing it up in the Balkans, via Song and Dance

Part of the experience of visiting a foreign country has to do with the food and drink and the fun things you get to do while mingling with the natives. You can get into the heart and soul of a culture and it's a great way to make new friends.

Today's post is about folk songs and booze. In the Balkans booze is big, and there are many different alcoholic beverages: Greek Ouzo, Bulgarian Rakia, and Serbian Slivovitz to name a few.

Then there is the ubiquitious fruit of the vine. Wine is one of the oldest drinks known to man. When the ancient peoples discovered wine it opened up new horizons, especially when primitive societies found that grape juice not only tasted good after it was fermented, but that it made people happy and sociable. A few drunken individuals entertained the rest of the group by doing really stupid things, this became known as "partying."

An enterprising individual found that he could make the wine stronger by distilling it into brandy, from that, rakia was born. And a very clever woman discovered that by planting a few grape vines, she could create a beverage that could knock a man out. He drank the wine, the rakia and the horse!

You can read about rakia here:

Can you count backwards from ten after a few shots of Slivovitz (the national drink of Serbia)? Niška Banja is a drinking song from Serbia, and that is exactly what they do after a day spent at the thermal baths in town; sing and drink slivovitz. Slivovitz is plum brandy and its taste and effects are nothing like prune juice :) I tried some on an freezing cold day in Germany, it warmed up those insides quite a bit.

Here are the lyrics in case you want to sing along. Make sure to pick up some slivovitz at the local liquor store first. If you have a Serbian neighbor who makes the stuff, it's probably much better than anything you can buy.


Everything you always wanted to know about slivovitz can be found here:


Unfortunately too much of a good thing has its drawbacks. Poor Gino! Don't drink the wine! Now he has an enormous headache. Or is he in pain from the loss of the one he loves?

The dance to the previous video was a lesnoto (galloping-apple-apple), which is a rhythm common in Bulgarian and Macedonian dances.

When I die, drink some red wine and break the glasses. Now that would be a fitting tribute to a life well lived. This beautiful and poignant folk song, Ako Umram il Zaginem, is from Macedonia. This song is also in lesnoto rhythm.

Here are the lyrics (and the music score) in case you want to sing along. We often do Ako Umram as a sing-along at the Sunday night dances, the description, in Bulgarian, for singing while dancing is called "horo na pesen."


If you enjoyed this, you may also like Days of Wine and Roses, Balkan Style


The Bulgarians have a patron saint of wine. Read about St. Trifon the Pruner here:


Wine has a very important significance in Bulgarian folklore.


If you'd like something stronger, there's always Rakiya, the band from the Boston area who plays electric Balkan dance music.


If you're a teetotaler, this post may be more to your taste. Reading this will definitely stimulate the appetite.


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