Thursday, September 27, 2012

Deep, Dark Secrets (or things my daughters don't want their friends to know about)

There is a deep, dark, secret that my daughters don't want broadcast around their friends, and they don't want the neighbors to know, either.

They know I go to poetry workshops, and sometimes read at Open Mikes. At the end of this post you will find a link to one of my poems. There a number of poets I admire, like Langston Hughes, Hristo Botev (poet laureate of Bulgaria!) and Ogden Nash. Not to mention my daughters, who write some damned good stuff, and my poet friends on Facebook.

It's not the Zumba classes that I go to on Tuesday nights, although there have been a few times I've been tempted to ask the Zumba instructor to incoporate some Balkan music into our workouts. My youngest daughter, who goes to class with me, always manages to change the subject before I even say the "B" word...

Zumba keeps me in shape for Friday Night Rachenitsa. I danced this one last week and I was quite winded when the music ended, so obviously I need to exercise more, but then this is quite fast.

The big, bad secret is that I dance to folk music from Bulgaria. Only two of my daughters' friends know anything about Bulgaria.One is a musician, and the other an artist. The artist has an interest in folk costumes.

God forbid everyone else should know. Bulgarian folk dancing is too damned strange and the music we dance to is even weirder. The rhythms are downright crazy, who can move to this stuff? My girls think Bulgarians in folk costumes are aliens in disguise getting ready to take over the world. And that is what they fear most.

If you want to see some "aliens" singing and dancing check this out :) And they can take over the world anytime, IMHO. It would probably be a much better place.

Finally, there are a couple of poems about Bulgarian music and dance (yes, there are people who actually write about that stuff!)

The first one I wrote back in 2009. It's called The Sanctuary Within.

The second is by Bill Holm, who passed on three years ago. He was a native of the state of Minnesota; he was a poet, essayist, and musician. I had never heard of him until this poem was sent to me by a friend who emails me periodically about dance events in the area.

Advice (by Bill Holm)

Someone dancing inside us
has learned only a few steps:
the "Do-Your-Work" in 4/4 time,
the "What-Do-You-Expect" Waltz.
He hasn't noticed yet the woman
standing away from the lamp.
the one with black eyes
who knows the rumba.
and strange steps in jumpy rhythms
from the mountains of Bulgaria.
If they dance together,
something unexpected will happen;
if they don't, the next world
will be a lot like this one.

If you want to see a performance of it on YouTube, check this out:

So, if you haven't tried Bulgarian folk dancing yet, maybe now is the time to give it a go. You need to get out and exercise, right?

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Hristo Botev, Poet and Revolutionary (some amazing but very sad and graphic Bulgarian revolutionary poetry in English translation plus music!)

On Ethnic Dance and Exercise (much more fun than the gym!)

What is rachenitsa? Find out here:

This is where an acronym will take you while doing Google searches (a post by a fellow blogger about Hristo Botev)

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

If Drums Could Talk......

Esma would have plenty to say. She has done quite a bit of traveling in Bulgaria and the United States.

Giving names to inanimate objects is not unusual. People give names to cars and boats. It gives them personality, and even power. If you speak or understand an language other than English, which ascribes genders to nouns, this naming thing starts to make sense. For example, Spanish has masculine and feminine nouns. Things get even more complex in languages like German and Bulgarian, which have masculine, feminine and neuter nouns.

But this post isn't about the complexities of grammar and language, it's about music.

In this case, Esma is a very important part of her band. She's very colorful and loves keeping time (with a little help from her friends). What's unusual is that although she belongs to a Bulgarian band, the writing on her is in the Roman, not Cyrillic, alphabet.

Esma belongs to Kabile, a band from the Thracian region of Bulgaria, which is making yet another tour of the United States (the previous ones were in 2008 and 2010). She is a tupan, a double-headed drum who likes odd rhythms like 7/8 and 11/16.

Esma especially likes rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, which is in 7/8 time. Check out the video here:

Several of us watched a demonstration of a Bulgarian gaida (bagpipe), by one of the musicians, Dzhenko Andreev. There were musical instruments and CD's for sale on the table. If I had the time and the money, I wouldn't mind taking up kaval (an open ended flute). I don't have the lung power for playing the gaida.

Later in the evening,we danced to a kaval solo performed by Nikolay Doktorov. This is a tropanka (stamping dance) from Dobrudja, northeastern Bulgaria.

Kabile will be performing all over the United States between August and November of this year, with Esma in tow. If you would like to find the venue nearest you, click the link below:

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Dancing to the Rhythm of a Different Drummer (why Balkan folk music is cool)

An Unforgettable Evening with Kabile (complete with video from their previous U.S. tour in 2010)

Check out some really great music played on gadulka, which includes a solo performance by Nicolai Kolev of Kabile.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Some Traditional (and not so traditional) Serbian Folk Instruments

You don't really need modernity in order to exist totally and fully. You need a mixture of modernity and tradition.
Theodore Bikel

Today's post features some traditional (and not so traditional) instruments in Serbian folk music.

The first group plays a kolo on an accordion (the national instrument of Serbia) accompanied by two men on frula (a high-pitched flute). What I find strange is that these guys are wearing business suits instead of traditional clothing. Kolo in Serbian means "circle dance" but you can dance kolo in a line as well. It depends on the whim of the leader.

The next video features some eye candy for the guys. Sandra Milosevic on accordion plays Stara Vlajna with some violinists as backup. I'm trying to figure out why at the beginning of the video there's a woman dancing in high heels...that is very bad for the feet, but I've seen women dancing in all sorts of uncomfortable shoes: high heels and flip-flops are the worst.

If you thought you were going to escape the bagpipes this time: you won't. Although the bagpipe (gaida) is more closely associated with Serbia's neighbors, Bulgaria and Macedonia, they like it in Serbia as well.

If you follow this blog regularly, you have seen this group before....this piper and his band play Serbian Vlach melodies on the gaida. This is an ad for the band complete with dancers as backup dressed in traditional folk costumes, and the Iron Gate Gorge as a backdrop. Give him a call next time you're in the neighborhood :) His phone number is on the video.

This tamburitza ensemble from the Vojvodina region of Serbia has not one, but three "instruments of torture", a gaida and two accordions. The gaida is the dominating sound here. If you want to read why some people consider bagpipes and accordions instruments of torture, check out the links at the end of this post.

At this party, the musicians play something called Gaida Kolo. Where is the gaida? The keyboard player actually does a pretty good imitation of a bagpipe, though. It certainly gets people up on the dance floor.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

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

The Accordion in Bulgarian Folk Music (and why it's considered an "instrument of torture" by some)

The River of Many Names, Part 5: The Danube in Serbian Folk Music (some beautiful scenery, music and thoughts on dreams and the mutability of time here)

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bulgaria Meets Guatemala: A Cross-Cultural Adventure with The Trakia Percussion Group

Today's post features the Trakia Percussion Group from Bulgaria. They play classical music and Bulgarian folk dances on a Central American folk instrument, the marimba.

For some reason Bulgarians are fascinated by music from Latin America. One of the Bulgarian National Radio affiliates has a program titled Planeta Latino, and I have heard songs in the Puerto Rican style on this radio station (in Bulgarian)! Here's the link to program (if you're Cyrillically challenged, you may want to use Google Translate).

The marimba is the national instrument of Guatemala, and is also popular in southern Mexico, as well as in other Central American countries. Musicians and composers have been incorporating it into classical music as well because of its unique sound quality. It is a percussion instrument, like a xylophone, with resonators on the bottom. The traditional instruments from Guatemala and Mexico used gourds as resonators, and they were made from wood. The modern ones are made from metal and synthetic materials.

I grew up with Guatemalan folk music because my mom's best friend was from that country. I got to like it because they played it so much, and they had stacks of recordings featuring the marimba. When I first heard Bulgarian folk music played on marimba, I found it rather strange at first, but then I found I rather liked this cross-cultural mix.

Earlier this year I had written a post featuring Petko Stainov's Rachenitsa, of which one of the variations was played on a marimba. (You will see a link to it at the end of this post.) A member of the Trakia Percussion Group, Miroslav Dimov, saw a comment I had posted on YouTube and sent me the link to some of his videos.

The first video is a medley of Bulgarian folk dances played on marimba: a lesnoto, a pravo and a kopanitsa. The lesnoto is a dance in irregular rhythm (7/8 time signature); the pravo is in 6/8; the kopanitsa in 11/16. They blend almost seamlessly into each other.

The second is a dance titled Gornodikansko Horo, which to me sounds like a fast pravo. By the way, the group won a first prize in an international competition with this piece, and it's a delight to listen to. If you take a closer look you can see the musicians are wearing traditional Bulgarian embroidered shirts.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: Variations on a Theme by Petko Stainov (Rachenitsa Travels to Guatemala)

Why is music from Latin America so popular in Bulgaria? Read more here:

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