Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crossing the River: Folk Music from the Romanian Region of Dobrogea

Today's post features some delightful Romanian folk music and dance from the region of Dobrogea (Dobrudja). It is the land between the Danube and the Black Sea and spans two countries; the northern portion is in Romania and the southern portion in Bulgaria.

Asymmetric rhythms are part of the Romanian musical fabric. This article explains the prevalance of this in Romanian folk dances, which share some characteristics with those of their neighbors across the Danube in Bulgaria.

A group from Denmark performs a dance that I best describe as "rachenitsa with a Romanian accent." Just don't call it that in Romania; their name for it is Geampara. As for the music, it bears little resemblance to Bulgarian folk music except for the rhythm: apple-apple-pineapple. If you listen closely you can hear the cimbalom and the panpipes.

Ochesica Dobrogeană is a lively lilting song in 7/8 rhythm about a beautiful brown girl from Dobrogea. She probably spends lots of  time in the hot sun, working in the fields. The song conveys a sense of pride about being from Dobrogea.  According to the translation on the YouTube page, this is actually a love song.  To me it looked more like a mother singing about her daughter.  The attractive young woman is beautifully dressed in an embroidered outfit, no way would she actually use it for work :)

The next video is of a dance similar to Bulgarian Daichovo Horo, another dance in an uneaven rhythm (it's in 9: quick-quick-quick-slow). On this side of the river it's Cadâneasca. When things change nationalities, they often change names. The River of Many Names does that too, Bulgarian Dunav becomes Dunărea in Romania.

Joc Batrinesc is a dance that's very popular at our Friday night dances. This one is slow and graceful with beautiful music. Joc Batrinesc translates into "old dance", could it be a dance choreographed specifically for senior citizens?

If you enjoyed this you may also like The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

Some folk dances from Bulgarian Dobrudja. A good way to stamp out your frustations.

More interesting and unusual instruments in Balkan folk music (check out the lady playing the panpipes).

New! Crossing the River Part 2:  The Stick Dancers:  Căluşari and their Bulgarian counterparts

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Monday, October 22, 2012

The Zurna in Bulgarian Folk Music

Today's post features a musical instrument that people either love or hate: the zurna. In that respect it is related to the bagpipe (gaida).

The zurna looks like a wooden horn with finger holes, and has a double reed like an oboe. According to this article it may have originated in Asia; it is a very popular instrument in Turkey and the Middle East.

Shepherds played zurna to frighten the bears away. The Ottoman Turks, who ruled Eastern Europe for nearly 500 years brought the zurna to the Balkans. The zurna and the tupan (double-headed drum) were important instruments in Turkish military bands, and the purpose of the music was to intimidate enemies of the Ottoman Empire.

The people of the Pirin region (southwest Bulgaria) incorporated the zurna as well as the tupan into their folk music. It's loud enough to wake up the dead and played during festive occasions. This one happens to be a New Year's Day celebration.

The zurna is usually accompanied by a tupan. In this video the purpose is not intimidation, but music for dancing.

The last video is from the festival "Pirin Sings." This is more like Pirin, get up and dance, or else :)

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Bagpipe and Bulgarian Folk Music

If Drums Could Talk....

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Transylvania: The Land of Count Dracula is a Multicultural Mishmosh

Today's post is about the music of the most well-known region in Romania, Transylvania.

Transylvania is Latin for "land beyond the forest." It is a place shrouded in mystery. Everyone recognizes the name and associates it with the infamous Count Dracula. Transylvania was immortalized in fiction by an Irish author, Bram Stoker, who had never set foot in Eastern Europe.

The character of Count Dracula was based on an actual person, Vlad Tepes, who claim to fame was putting his enemies to death while impaling them on stakes; it was a slow and tortuous death. He was certainly not a vampire, although, I'm sure, plenty of blood flowed from his victims when he impaled them. Vlad took most of his fury out on the Ottoman Turks, who ruled most of Eastern Europe for nearly 500 years.

The music of Transylvania is a mix of multicultural ethnic influences: Romanian, Hungarian, Saxon (German), and Roma (Gypsy). Most of the cities and towns in Transylvania have names in three different languages, Romanian, Hungarian, and German.

Here is a dance typical of the region.

The brass band music in the following video would not be out of place at a Bavarian beer fest. There was once a large German-speaking group living in Transylvania; most of them left after the Second World War. They had originally settled there nearly 1,000 years ago; today only a small fraction of them remain.

For more information on the German settlement of Transylvania, you may find this of interest:

The Balkans have always been a hotbed for conflict, and Romania was no exception. After the Second World War, the Communist government of Romania instituted a policy of assimilation. Ceaucescu especially had it in for the large Hungarian minority living in Transylvania (a territory which had once belonged to Hungary). He wasn't too fond of them and tried to force them to assimilate by discouraging the use of the Hungarian language and and treating them as second-class citizens; those who protested the regime were imprisoned or executed.

The Hungarian influence in Transylvanian folk music did not completely disappear, however.

The Roma (Gypsies) were another minority group that suffered discrimination, but they too, are part of the Transylvanian musical tapestry.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Folklore and Pop Culture Again: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Count Dracula......(or how a literary character became a pop culture icon)

Cultural cross-pollination: Bulgarian folk songs sung in Hungarian.

If you like Roma music A Romani Potpourri is for you.:

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Folk Songs of Northern Bulgaria: Kaicho Kamenov

While wandering through the Universe of YouTube, I found some Bulgarian folk songs performed by Kaicho Kamenov. These vintage recordings were probably done during the 1950's and 60's.

He was born in 1923 in the village of Vinarovo, an area know for the cultivation of wine grapes, and lived until 1983.

I am not normally a fan of love songs but these two got my attention. The first, Kune Mome is a lively, flirtatious number in rachenitsa rhythm (7/8 for you music theorists out there). Rachenitsa is also the national dance of Bulgaria, to get a feel for it, say the words apple-apple pineapple.

My guess (judging from weird Google translation that I found) is that the man is trying to seduce Kune with some wine and rakia. Even without the booze, this guy is totally smitten.

This hauntingly beautiful, but sad song is in a totally different mood, which describes the pain of a young man who has lost the woman he loves to another man as he watches fog settle on the Danube. Fog can be romantic or depressing depending on your situation. It creates mysterious and beautiful landscapes, and you often find it near bodies of water, especially during spring and fall, when there is a big difference between the air and water temperatures.

Here is another song in an introspective mood, Dunave, beli Dunave (White Danube) performed by Kaicho Kamenov...the fog is just about gone here...

If you'd like to hear more songs performed by Kaicho Kamenov click this link (in Bulgarian).It will take you to the Bulgarian National Radio's website. The first four songs are by Kamenov. There are also some songs by Lyuben Zahariev, born nearly thirty years later, from the same region, who sings in a similar style.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs

Part 1

Part 2

Kaicho Kamenov also sang about the rebels (haidouks) who fought for the liberation of Bulgaria against the Ottomans. One of these songs can be found here, it is the last video on this post.

There are also some Bulgarian folk songs about the Danube, the River of Many Names. This post also features two songs protraying two completely different moods. You'll especially enjoy the dancers in elaborate embroidered costumes. They had to wait two hours for the fog to lift before they could perform.

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