Saturday, July 28, 2012

Take a Ride on a Little Red Tractor :)

Today we're going to take a musical ride on a Little Red Tractor.

Cherven Traktor is a group from the United States who plays Bulgarian folk music. This group is a spinoff from two different bands: Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band and Kabile. Zlatne plays high-octane Serbian and Roma music with a mix from Macedonia and Bulgaria. The band originated in New York City and they have been playing since the 1980's.

Kabile is a band from the Thracian region of Bulgaria who play primarily at weddings in Bulgaria. They do reunion tours in the States every couple of years. Both bands are great to dance to; I have been to a number of events they've held in New York City and New England.

Michael Ginsburg and Belle Birchfeld are in the Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band and the other two musicians are Nikolai Kolev and his wife, Donka Koleva, from Bulgaria, who have also played for Kabile; the Kolevs have lived in the United States since 1993.

Here's the link to the Cherven Traktor website, with some information, and if you live in the New York City area, you can check out their schedule to see where they'll be playing.

You can also visit their Facebook page, where you will find pictures of them riding on their namesake :)

In the first video, they play a very popular folk dance from the Thracian region of Bulgaria, Trite Puti.

This is their debut at the 2010 Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, with additional singers, the Kolevs' two daughters.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Zlatne Uste Plays for Surprise Wedding

And you can also spend an Unforgettable Evening with Kabile at Mt. Holyoke College.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Water Mill in Bulgarian Folk Songs

(water wheel, but where's the water? Photo from Wikipedia Commons)

Bulgarians will create folk songs about almost everything and everything. Today's topic is songs about water wheels and millers.

The water mill, or wheel, was used to make power to grind the grain, back in the days before electricity. Harnessing the power of running water was a very clever thing to do, and it's a renewable, non-polluting energy source. The water wheel is the forerunner of today's hydroelectric plants.

In the first video, twins Iva and Eva Valentinova perform a lively song about a water wheel, called "vodenitsa" in Bulgarian. There is plenty of dancing as well, and you can actually see the water wheel in action at the very beginning of the video.

The second song is about a miller in love with a girl...but there's no water to grind the corn! Somehow the lyrics got lost in translation, when I checked them out using Google Translate, the English didn't translate well. It doesn't matter, really, the song is a delight to listen to. The best thing about Bulgarian folk songs is that you can dance to most of them. The dance done to this song is a Devetorka. (If you want to see a Devetorka, there is a link to it in one of my previous posts; check out the list further down.)

For more on water mills in Bulgarian folklore, check out this link from Bulgarian National Radio. (Notice that they mistakenly called them windmills). The stories about them are quite interesting, and the songs are great to listen to.

If you enjoyed this you may also like The Bulgarian Fascination with Water:

A brass band and people in elaborate embroidered costumes dancing a Devetorka (in the first video) on the banks of the River of Many Names is one of the highlights of this post.

If you like proverbs and sayings lost in translation this post is for you :)

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Monday, July 9, 2012

More Odds and Ends: Misconceptions About the Cyrillic Alphabet, Bagpipes, and Bulgarian Geography

This old T-shirt, which reads "Koprishvitsa 2005" was one of the first items I received in the mail from Bulgaria, along with a CD of songs by Kostadine Gugov. (I have never been to the Koprishvitsa festival, which is one of the places on my bucket list.) I got it back in the days when the website, gave a monthly prize in a drawing that the site used to have. In order to enter it, you had to vote on your favorite Bulgarian folk song.

The Cyrillic lettering aroused my daughter's curiosity, since she had taken Russian in elementary school. So she asked me:

"Is that the Russian alphabet?"

I explained to her that it wasn't Russian but Bulgarian.

"It's Russian."

"It's the Cyrillic alphabet. It's used both in Bulgaria and Russia." (there are other countries that use it too, but I wasn't going to get into that.)

"Oh." She had a bemused and confused look on her face. She still didn't get it. So much for explaining азбука (azbuka) to my daughter.

From what I've seen Americans don't see much of the Cyrillic alphabet except in old spy movies which took place in the former Soviet Union, which is why they automatically associate Cyrillic with Russian.

People are often surprised when they first hear Bulgarian folk music played on the bagpipe. In the States, bagpipes are associated with Scotland, men wearing kilts, parades, and sometimes funerals.

In this commercial, men play a Bulgarian folk tune on Scottish bagpipes. This is a cleverly crafted ad for rakia (brandy).

The Bulgarian bagpipe (gaida) is a totally different species from the Scottish. It's made from the stomach of a goat or sheep which gives it a distinctive sound. Although Scots have been known to dance to bagpipe music, Bulgarians sing as well as dance along to it. In this case it's the entire village, and there's a surprising display of firepower near the end.

Another question I've been asked is if Bulgaria has a seacost. Americans, in general, know little of European geography unless they've actually traveled around the Continent.

I lived in Germany for four years, so ignorance of geography was not an option, especially when guiding my husband with the map (yes, we actually used those in the days before the GPS!) And we did sometimes get lost!

Bulgaria not only has a seacoast, it is a very popular vacation spot for Western Europeans, especially those from cooler, rainier climes like Germany and Holland. The North Sea is too cold (even in summer) and the main attraction of the Black Sea towns, so I've been told, is the endless party, especially for the under 30 crowd. Then of course, there's the beach.

Judging from the travel ads I've received in the mail, Bulgaria is not a very popular tourist destination in the United States (except for people involved in folk music, who see visiting this country as a pilgrimage of sorts.) Friends of mine who actually been there have told me their visit was religious experience of the musical kind, especially that aforementioned Koprishvitsa festival.

The problem with a tourist destination becoming popular is that it loses the local flavor. I'm for traveling off the beaten path, which I was able to do when I lived in Germany; living in a foreign country is a lot different than visiting during a short vacation.

Maybe it's a good thing Bulgaria isn't infested with tourists from the United States :) Otherwise the entire country would resemble Sunny Beach.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Bagpipe and Bulgarian Folk Music (it's an instrument some people love to hate)

The Cyrillic Alphabet: Cracking the Code (have you ever wondered is there is such as thing as Cyrillic alphabet soup?

Listening to Bulgarian folk music can induce altered states in susceptible people.

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

There's a First Time for Everything.....

(photo 1: view of Round Pond from the back of my cabin at Pinewoods Camp) (photo 2: C#minor, one of the dance pavilions where workshops were held both taken by KDB)

When the student is ready, the master appears. ~Buddhist Proverb

Although I've been doing Balkan dance for a long time, I have never been to dance camp. For those of you who have been wondering why I haven't posted in a while, I didn't fall off the planet, although there were times I thought I did :) This also was the first time I'd been on vacation without my husband and family (who think Balkan dancing is a form of torture set to music).

There are times you have to try something different. This spring I decided to get brave and try something new and that was spending a weekend at a folk dance camp near Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The camp was in the middle of nowhere and practically off the grid, with little internet or cell phone access, although we did have electricity, and the food was excellent. I was expecting mass-produced cafeteria food, what we had were gourmet meals made from scratch with fresh ingredients, served family-style in a dining hall with a view of one of the lakes. Now that was totally unexpected.

Camp was a great way to get away from the everyday world. I stayed in a cabin with seven other people and had two roommates. We went to dance parties in one of the large pavilions every night; since the grounds were extremely dark one of my cabin mates always accompanied me back after parties since it is easy for a newbie to get lost here even during the day. By the way, flashlights were mandatory for every camper, but the brightest headlamp in the world would not have kept me from getting lost.

One of the reasons I went to camp was that there were workshops in Serbian folk dancing. Many years ago when I first took up Balkan dancing, Serbian dance was one of the first things I learned. I loved the music, which is what sold me into going to camp for the weekend.

The workshop leader and teacher, Miroslav, is the artistic director of the Academy of Serbian Folk Dancing in Toronto, Canada. You can visit his site by clicking the link below.

If you want to see the Academy of Serbian Folk Dancing in action, watch this video. You will get exhausted just watching them, they have amazing energy. By the way the first dance in this medley was one that was taught in one of the workshops but for the life of me I can't remember the name...

Here they are again, performing in Orlando, Florida:

Miroslav was energetic, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He taught us a number of dances, most of them unfamiliar to me: Cicino Kolo, Pre Picor, Vlasinka and Veliko Backo Kolo. There was also an advanced class for those who were brave enough to try it; in that class was taught Toplicki Cacak and something I can hardly pronounce (let alone dance), Svrljig.

Not only were there workshops during the day, there were dance parties at night accompanied by the Pinewoods Band. The musicians played favorites from the Balkans, Turkey and English Country Dances (they were workshops in this as well, but since English Country is not my thing, and the weather was hot, I spent country dance time cooling off in one of the two lakes on the grounds.) The picture on top was the lake in front of my cabin, you could walk outside down a flight of stairs and be in the water.

Bre Devojce, from Kosovo, was one of the songs I learned during the singing workshop, held on the porch of the dining area after lunch. There was also a dance to go with it, which Miroslav taught. It's on the next video, along with the lyrics, you can sing along.

How was my first time experience at dance camp? I brought back memories of good times: nighttime parties where the smell of bug repellent was so strong that I will always associate DEET with outdoor folk dancing. Other memorable moments included an impromptu chorus of women singing beautiful Bulgarian folk songs and midnight swims under the stars.

The exhaustion caught up with me when I arrived home. I felt like I had participated in a form of Folk Dance Olympics. Now I'm ready for a gold medal :)

If you like Serbian folk music you can check out two of my earlier posts.

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