Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forbidden Fruit and its Implications: The Apple in Bulgarian Folk Songs

Adam was but human-this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. Mark Twain

There is something about the forbidden that people find attractive. Apples are featured prominently in the folklore and mythology of many cultures. They are laden with symbolism and power.

They grow in many places around the world, in many different varieties, and they are very tasty. They also appear in Bulgarian folk songs.

Rusi Kosi is a song about about a blonde who has no comb and no powder for her face. Her ambition is to find a man to marry, so he can buy her these things; the refrain is "Elena, bring the red wine and the two red apples." (Does she think she will get a man that way?) It's a very pretty song despite the not so feminist lyrics :)

The next song, Myatolo Lenche Jabuka is even more provocative: it describes a girl throwing an apple, saying "the man the apple falls on is the one I'll marry." It landed in front of an old man, much to her dismay. (Of course the old man was pleased). The girl, Lenche, and her mother plot to send the old man into the woods in the hope he will either get eaten by a bear or knocked down by a tree. To their surprise, he returns, leading a bear by the ear! Moral of the story: be careful where you throw those apples!

If you enjoyed this you may also like some songs about wine:

If wine isn't your thing, try some peppers instead. This will really spice up your day.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Folklore as Destiny: Yves Moreau and Bulgarian Folk Music

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper. ― Albert Einstein

In our little folk world, everyone seems to know everyone else. Most of us know each other by sight, if not by name, we are constantly meeting at dances and workshops. We know the names of the workshop leaders as well as their specialties.

One name well known in folk dance circles in North America and Europe is Yves Moreau. A French Canadian from Montreal, he got into folk dancing in the most unusual way; as a member of a boy scout troop. You can read a short bio of him here:

For Moreau, folklore became a destiny. He was especially bewitched by the music of Bulgaria. The Bulgarian government invited him to visit the country when he was still a college student.

During the Communist days of the 1960's and '70's Moreau did field work in Bulgaria with a tape recorder and a microphone. He visited villages all over the country (some of them quite remote, the government had discouraged him from going to some of these places, but he went anyway). His recordings featured folk songs and musicians from different regions. This collection became a series of CD's titled "Beyond the Mystery." It is Bulgarian folklore in its purest form; music unsullied by commercialism, simple and beautiful; much of what would have been lost without these recordings.

You can check out some samples, and order CD's and DVD's here:

Oftentimes he was in the middle of a wedding or a celebration when he captured musicians for posterity on his tape recorder; he didn't have the sophisticated equipment that we take for granted nowadays; nowdays people (like myself) record amateur videos on inexpensive digital cameras.

While doing fieldwork in Bulgaria, Moreau also learned the folk dances; he introduced many of them in workshops in North America and Europe.

The first one, from the Pirin region in southwestern Bulgaria (near the Macedonian border) is Bicak, performed by a group from the United States.

This lively dance from northwestern Bulgaria is Kulska Shira. Each set of steps gets progessively more difficult; they build on each other.

One of my favorites (and one that I sometimes lead) is Dospatsko Horo from the Rhodope region of southern Bulgaria. You can see it has travelled a long way; this "Bonding Folkdance Class" is from China.

This dance Varnenska Tropanka, from Dobrudja (northeastern Bulgaria) is extremely popular. Just about every group does it.

If you want to see Yves Moreau in action, check out this video of him teaching and leading ┼Żensko Kapansko Horo during a workshop in Toronto, Canada. Although this is technically a women's dance The Alien Diaries is an Equal Opportunity Blog, so men are allowed to lead :)

If you didn't get enough Bulgarian folk music here, you can listen to this interview that Yves Moreau gave on KDHX in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, in March of 2012. The music is wonderful, and the interview itself is quite interesting. The broadcast is almost two hours long, make sure you have plenty of time.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

This is Your Brain; This is Your Brain on Bulgaria (or how Bulgarian folk music affects susceptible individuals)

An even more provocative idea may be explored here in How Bulgarian Folk Music Induces Altered States:

If you like women's dances from the Balkans, here is a good place to start:

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Friday, August 10, 2012

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

“A writer doesn't dream of riches and fame, though those things are nice. A true writer longs to leave behind a piece of themselves, something that withstands the test of time and is passed down for generations.”
― C.K. Webb

Writers as well as musicians want to be remembered after they die; although material success is important it won't follow you into the afterlife :)

If you came here looking for Boris Karloff, the actor who played Frankenstein's monster in vintage movies, you've just been hijacked to a blog about Balkan folk music. The Boris Karlov mentioned here is a musician, and even if that wasn't exactly what you were looking for, read on, you may enjoy this post.

Boris Karlov, the musician, was born in Sofia, Bulgaria on August 11, 1924 to a family of Roma (Gypsy) musicians. His passion was the accordion, and he and his music became famous well beyond his homeland. During his short 40 years on this earth, he created pieces for this instrument that are played at folk dances to this very day.

Here is an example of classic Karlov; the dance is Gankino Horo from the northwestern region of Bulgaria, the dancers are the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel. By the way Gankino Horo is a kopanitsa, a dance in 11/16 meter (11 beats to the measure; the 16th note gets the beat); odd rhythms are par for the course in the Balkans, but in Bulgaria especially.

Another Karlov rendition of a popular Bulgarian folk dance is Elenino Horo; most of us know it better as Eleno Mome. This is another dance in an uneven rhythm, try tapping your foot out to this one. It's in 13/16.

Here's the dance, the music was "borrowed" from Boris Karlov!

An accordionist from the United States, who goes by the YouTube handle, GrigPit, is an admirer of Karlov's music, this piece is Graovsko Horo. GrigPit has a number of Bulgarian folk dances as well as music scores linked to his YouTube site; if you're a musician, check him out.

Some see the accordion as an instrument of torture; it is not considered one in neither Bulgaria nor Serbia (where it is the national instrument of that country.) Karlov often performed on Yugoslav radio (yes, in those days there was a Yugoslavia!) The next piece is a Serbian kolo, Niska Banja, and if you listen carefully it's the same rhythm as the Bulgarian dance Daichovo Horo. Was that Karlov's intent?

For more on Boris Karlov, check out this link:

By the way if you're more interested in old movies than folklore, you can read about the actor, Boris Karloff, here:

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Accordion in Bulgarian Folk Music (an import from a German speaking country that became a really big hit in Bulgaria!)

Read more about the Daichovo Horo, a popular Bulgarian folk dance and its different variations.

And check out another composer of Bulgarian folk music, Diko Iliev, whose works for brass orchestra are played during celebrations in his native country. By the way, this post was also written on the composer's birthday.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

Why We Like to Dance: Informal Folk Dance Groups from Around the World

I like to think dance is an international language that all people can appreciate. Paul Taylor

Today's post will feature popular Balkan folk dances performed by informal groups from around the world. Folk dancing is lots of fun and has numerous benefits: you make new friends, it activates new pathways in the brain and it provides plenty of aerobic exercise. Nothing like spending an evening of getting high on endorphins!

The first group is from the United States, KoloKoalition. They have many videos posted on the Universe of YouTube; their specialty is intermediate and advanced line dances from the Balkans. This cute little number is Prekid Kolo from Serbia accompanied by live music. Dancing to live music can be a little tricky, since the musicians will play something slightly different than the recordings.

You will recognize this "Bonding Folkdance Class" from China, especially if you read The Alien Diaries regularly. This dance is Berovka, from the Republic of Macedonia.

The Dunav group from Israel has been featured on this blog numerous times. Joc Batrinesc, a graceful dance from Romania, is popular with my dance group, as well. We do it almost every week.

Vienna may be the land of the waltz, but once in a while they'll try something different, like this dance from Bulgaria, Sadi Moma. The Tanzgruppe B├Ąckerstrasse also has a social networking site for dancers, Dancilla, which is bilingual (German/English). It features a wide variety of dances from all over the world. If you like folk dances from Germany and Austria, they're the place to visit.

Balkan music has its fans in Canada. The Burnaby International Folk Dancers of Burnaby, British Columbia do a dance from Albania, Valle e Dardhes.

The Always on Sunday Group dances in Wethersfield, Connecticut, and I go to their dances from time to time because I love their live music events. This video features Kabile, a band from the Thracian region of Bulgaria. I recorded a few numbers from that evening, the rest of the night I spent dancing.

I don't know the name of this piece, but the dance to it is a lesnoto, and it's some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard on this planet.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Folk Ensembles Named After Dances

Bulgarian Folk Dance Around the World:

A One of a Kind Club for Folk Dancers:

On Ethnic Dance and Exercise
(why it's good to get off the couch and away from that TV)

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