Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bulgarian Folk Dances Named After Cities and Towns

We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.
Maya Angelou

Bulgaria has seven folklore regions. Oftentimes the dances are named after cities and towns, and sometimes the region. Despite the fact that it's a relatively small country, Bulgaria has a lot of diversity in its music and dance.

For those who are not familiar with Bulgarian folk dancing, the two major groups of dances in this country are rachenitsa and horo. Horo simply means "dance." It can be any rhythm, and some of them can get quite interesting, especially the asymmetrical ones.

Radio Bulgaria's translation of horo is "chain dance." The dancers hold hands or each other's belts, the idea is being linked like a chain. Rachenitsa, on the other hand can be done in singles, couples, and groups. It's a dance in an irregular rhythm, apple-apple-pineapple. There are seven beats to the measure.

There is a well-known rachenitsa from the town of Kyustendil, a town in the Shope region (west central Bulgaria) near the capital Sofia. Here's a description of Kystendil from Wikipedia:


The video is of Kystendilska Rachenitsa, performed by the Bulgarian ensemble Accent. This is an example of "rachenitsa na horo", which means the dance is done in a group.

The next dance, Vidinsko Horo is a lively number from the town of Vidin, in northwestern Bulgaria. In the dance notes below you can read about the Romanian influence in this dance; the steps include stamping and arm swinging. The dancers shout and make a lot of noise....that's Romanian too. There's a lot of cross-cultural pollination in the Balkans.


The shouts, or "calls" are known as "strigaturi" in Romanian, and they have crossed the border, however, I don't know the Bulgarian name for them. Maybe someone can enlighten me on this.

This very graceful and smooth dance, Varnensko Horo is from the seaside town of Varna, in the folklore region of Dobrudja, northeastern Bulgaria. Dobrudjan dances have also been influenced by nearby Romania in that a good number of them involve stamping (this will be covered in a future post). This one is definitely an exception to that rule.

Pazhardiska Kopanitsa is a another dance with the irregular rhythm pattern that Bulgarians are famous for. Pazhardik is in south central Bulgaria, in the region of Thrace. This dance is a Kopanitsa, a dance in 11/16, and the rhythm is like this: quick-quick-slow-quick-quick. I call the "slow" beat in the middle the hiccup.

For more on Kopanitsa and other related dances, this may be of interest:


If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Horo, Part 1


The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Horo, Part 2


Dancing by the Numbers


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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Falcon in Bulgarian and Macedonian Folk Songs

A wise falcon hides his talons. Proverb, source unknown.

Why is the falcon so prominent in Bulgarian and Macedonian folk songs?

First of all, the falcon is a bird of prey. It symbolizes strength. Falcons have very keen eyesight, which enables them to hunt, and the nobles of medieval Europe used this to their advantage, training them specifically for hunting. They are also beautiful and very intelligent. If you've ever seen one in the air, they seem to fly with very little effort.

The falcon is a very important symbol in Bulgarian folklore. The legend of the martenitsa is connected with Khan Asperuh, founder of the first Bulgarian Kingdom and the falcon who led him to his sister, Huba. You can read the story in the next video while listening to some very beautiful music.

The falcon is also prominent in rebel (Haidouk) songs. The Haidouks fought the Ottoman Turks, who ruled the Balkan lands for nearly 500 years. A Macedonian folk song, More Sokol Pie (sokol is Macedonian/Bulgarian for falcon) describes a falcon drinking water from the Vardar river. I get the impression from the translation that the woman, Jana, is asking the falcon if she's seen a hero pass by with nine bullet wounds and one from a knife. (It's doubtful he would have survived with more holes than a Swiss cheese). This is a very beautiful and passionate performance by Elena Risteska. Too bad the last few seconds were cut.

The translation for this poignant and tragic song can be found here:


The last song, Malka Moma, is about a young girl praying to God, who wishes for the "wings of a falcon" so that she can fly and find the man of her dreams. This choir sounds like it came right out of a church. According to the person who posted the video on YouTube, the soloist was very nervous. Despite the "nervousness", she and her group do an excellent job.

Part of translation the for Malka Moma can be read here:

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

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

This Brings out the Animal in Me: Critters in Balkan Folk Music


The Rebels (Haidouks) in Bulgarian Folk Songs


Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Martenitsa, But Were Afraid to Ask:


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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Tambura in Macedonian, Bulgarian and Croatian Folk Music

(monument to tambura musician Janika Balázs, from Wikipedia commons)

This week's post is about another musical instrument popular in the Balkans, the tambura. According to Wikipedia, it is "a long-necked metal-strung fretted lute used for rhythmic accompaniment as well as melodic solos." Some may view it as an instrument of torture much like the accordion or the bagpipe (gaida), which are also traditional Balkan folk instruments. This is the kind of music people either love or hate, there is no middle ground.

The first video is of a of a musician playing a Macedonian dance tune, Tropnalo Oro, on a solo tambura.

This link explains the Macedonian folk instruments, including the tambura, along with pictures.


The next tambura piece comes from the Pirin region of Bulgaria. The first part of it is a rachenitsa, a Bulgarian folk dance in 7/8 time. Tambura music is very popular in the Pirin, probably because southwestern Bulgaria shares a border with the Republic of Macedonia, and music does not recognize national boundaries.

Now we travel further west, to a country which used to be a part of Yugoslavia, Croatia. Tamburitza orchestras are quite common in Croatia, and an integral part of this country's folk music. Tamburitza is another name for a tambura; in Croatia they come in a variety of sizes and shapes. The ensembles that play tamburitza music have a distinctive sound, and there's no mistaking them for anything else! This group is from Chicago, USA and they sing as well as play!

If you're interested in the instruments that make up a tamburitza orchestra, check out this page from Wikipedia.


The last video in this post is an excerpt from a folk opera, Ero the Joker by Croatian composer Jakov Gotovac. Although Gotovac was primarily a composer and conductor of classical music, Ero s onoga svijeta is a work based on folklore. The finale, Završno Kolo, is done in true Croatian style, and played by a tamburitza orchestra accompanied by an accordion. The music and dancing here are a treat for the eyes and ears.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

More Interesting and Unusual Instruments in Balkan Folk Music


Check out the gadulka, a folk instrument very popular in Bulgaria. This post is funny as well as informative.


Classical Composers Inspired by Balkan Folk Music


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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The "Flavors of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Part 2: Masculine, Feminine and Flirtatious

The subject of today's post is about one of my favorite dances, Bulgarian rachenitsa. Although rachenitsa has been covered many times on this blog,  I couldn't resist writing about it again. Rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria, and for you music theorists out there, the top number on the time signature is a seven. If you prefer words to numbers, the rhythm is apple-apple-galloping.

There are many varieties of the rachenitsa. Today we will explore masculine and feminine versions of the dance, as well as its part in a courtship ritual. Rachenitsa can be done solo, in couples, and groups; groups can be male only, female only or mixed, the group version is called "na horo."

The first example, Drianovska Rachenitsa is definitely masculine. A male chorus sings the song, and there is a emphatic stamp at one point in the dance. Notice that a woman is in front of the line and another woman in front of the dancers (she is teaching the dance). Since the The Alien Diaries is an equal opportunity blog, I like to show women leading dances. This is a high-energy dance, performed by a group from the United States.

Back in the old days in Bulgaria there was a definite hierarchy as to who should lead dances. According to the Radio Bulgaria website, "As with all levels of patriarchal society, horo dancing had its own hierarchy. The first to join and lead the dance were married men followed by young unmarried men. Very often brides and girls danced in a separate row." This applied to rachenitsa as well. Fortunately, that is not the case nowadays.

For more on the fascinating subject of Bulgarian dance, check out this link.


The next rachenitsa has a very feminine touch. Although there's no dancing here, these young ladies from the Yale Women's Slavic Chorus sing Ergen Dedo with style, tapping and clapping to the beat. The person who posted this video described it as "impromptu Bulgarian genius." That it certainly is.

Ergen Dedo is about an old man at the village dance looking for a young woman to marry. He scared the girls away because he was too old! (Or perhaps he was a pedophile?) The translated lyrics can be found here.


The next dance can best be described as "feminine rachenitsa with attitude." It's performed by the group Horo, from Brisbane, Australia.

A vintage movie clip from 1958 shows how much the rachenitsa is embedded in Bulgarian culture. Here it becomes an endurance contest as well as a flirtation between a man and a woman, who waves a "rachenik" (handkerchief) in the man's face as she challenges him to dance with her, with the entire village watching. Want to find out who wins? Watch the video and find out.

For more information on the rachenitsa, check out Dick Oake's Phantom Ranch folk dance site.


If you enjoyed this you may also like The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa


The Yale Women's Slavic chorus does some amazing interpretations of Bulgarian folk songs, and you can watch them here:


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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The River of Many Names Part 5: The Danube in Serbian Folk Music

(photo: Strudel, from Wikipedia Commons)

(photo: Iron Gate, from Wikipedia Commons)

If you're wondering why this post starts with a picture of strudel, read on, you will find out later.

Are you ready for another close encounter of the Danubian kind? This post takes us to Serbia for yet more folk songs from the Universe of You Tube.

I found a couple of folk songs about Dunav, the River of Many Names, from Serbia. One is fun and one is romantic, both of them are great to listen to.

The first video is a group of crazy musicians having a blast 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 Dunave, Dunave moje more (Danube, My Sea.) For some reason there are no women along for the ride, although they are watching on shore...why is that? Do the guys have a monopoly on music and fun?

The way these musicians carried on in the boat, I thought Dunave moje more would have been more of a party song, but the actual translation was something totally different. The gist of the song was that the person in the song sees Dunav day and night and that he has given his life to the river. (I presume he dreams about it, as well.) I have dreamed about it since I was eleven years old. And for me it's a recurring dream which pops up in my subconscious periodically.

The lyrics (in transliterated Serbian) are here, but there is no translation. I had to resort to Google Translate.


Despite the fact I was able to travel to Europe and actually camped out on the banks of the Danube 14 years after the first dream, the dreams haven't stopped. Now that is the persistence of memory at its finest. Except that I don't dream about melted clocks :)


The next video conveys a completely different mood, although the lyrics have a similarity to Dunave, Dunave moje more. This song conveys nostalgia and longing. From what I get from the translation (again, courtesy of Google) it's about a man who grew up along the Danube, who had to go far away, left his heart there, but still sees it in his dreams (the dream theme seems to be a recurring one....)

Next is a musician playing a lively kolo on an accordion, the most popular instrument in Serbia. The kolo is a folk dance popular in Serbia as well as Croatia. It is usually (but not always) done in a circle. You won't see any dancing in this video, except maybe for the accordionist's fingers moving over the keys. He does an amazing job with this piece; the name of it (in English) is Danubian Whirlpools.

Now it's time to see what inspired the composer of the previous piece of music. It has something to do with strudel.

Water is fascinating. Like the other elements of antiquity, fire, air and earth, each has its good side and its destructive side. The River of Many Names is no exception. Although the beauty of it is celebrated in poetry and folk songs, flood season wreaks havoc and destruction. In the city of Passau, Germany I saw buildings along the Danube with high water marks. Written next to them was the day, month and year of the flood, which in a few instances was as high as the second story of the building.

Then there are the mysterious whirlpools and cross-currents which can be dangerous if you're not careful. By the way, in German, strudel has two meanings; the first one is the fruit filled pastry that everyone knows and loves. The second meaning is that of a whirlpool or vortex, and something you definitely don't want to have for dessert. The music matches the mood of this video which looks quite ominous...

By the way, the cafés in Passau have delicious strudel, and great coffee too. And if you go further down the Danube, to Vienna, you can get your strudel in fancy surroundings, like the Hotel Sacher.

If you enjoyed this post, you will also like the series The River of Many Names., parts 1-4. The first one is a musical journey.


Part two has songs and dances from Bulgaria related to the Danube:


Part three features folk ensembles from Bulgaria, Croatia, Great Britain and Israel named after the river.


Part four has more Bulgarian folk songs inspired by (what else?) Dunav, along with some stunning scenery and dancers in elaborate embroidered costumes.


If you didn't get enough Serbian folk music here, this post will satisfy your cravings as well as relieve your frustrations, since there are lots of dances with stamping!


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