Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy New Year 2014: Same Dance, Different Music, Dunavsko Horo

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

― Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

One day I decided to check out the Universe of YouTube to see how many different tunes I could find for Dunavsko Horo (that were not composed by Diko Iliev).  I found five; there are probably more. The Bulgarians love this dance and play it on festive occasions, especially to ring in the New Year.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any notes (even in Bulgarian) about the origin of Dunavsko Horo.  I'm sure people did this dance or something like it before Diko Iliev (1898-1984) came along and made it popular.  The dance may have originated in the town of Svishtov; it is also known as Svishtovsto Horo.

Even though this is essentially the same dance in all five videos; there are variations in speed and style. This is where the "different village" concept comes into play.

The first video is a group of young people from the ensemble Pirinska Kitka performing at a Christmas celebration.  The recorded music is played on traditional Bulgarian folk instruments.

This brass band version, which reminds me of Diko Iliev's Dunavsko, is from a Bulgarian dance teaching video.  It's quite a bit faster than the one in the previous video. The costumes are from the northwestern folklore region (Severnjasko).

Here's another teaching video, this time from . They have an excellent website with videos and information about Bulgarian dance and folklore.  The dancers are from the Filip Kutev Folk Ensemble. Although there is an English translate button on the site, it doesn't work very well.  You are better off cutting and pasting the link to the site into an online translation program, although some of the meaning can get lost.

By the way, my group likes this version because it's not too fast.

If you're searching for a feminist version of Dunavsko, look no further. Since most women love to shop, here is a group of them in one of their favorite places: the shopping mall. For some reason they aren't wearing folk costumes.  Maybe they couldn't find them at any of the stores.

Young people add an element of energy, and this version is fast, with plenty of arm swinging! The group is the ensemble Goce Delcev, from Sofia.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev:  Dunavsko Horo

The River of Many Names, parts Two and Four (Folk songs and dances from Bulgaria related to the Danube)

A Birthday Celebration and a Cause of Inspiration: The Music of Diko Iliev

Now That We've Survived the End of the World  (year end post from 2012)

A very Happy New Year 2014 to all!

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Friday, December 6, 2013

The Best of the Bisserov Sisters (and family)

It is as if we were fated to be a trio even before we were born.
Mitra Bisserov (during interview with Bulgarian National Radio)

I love music from the Pirin region (southwest Bulgaria).  I have to admit, though, that it's an acquired taste; my family does not feel the same way about it. 

Recently a program on the Bulgarian National Radio featured the Bisserov sisters. They come from a large musical family and specialize in music and songs from the Pirin region. 

According to what I heard in the BNR interview, they have performed all over the world and gave their first performance in Cuba.  In one of my previous posts, I mentioned how much Bulgarians admire music from Latin America.  I am sure people from Latin America feel the same about Bulgarian folk music.

Video # 1 features two songs from the Pirin region. The instrumentation is unique to this area with the three tamburas (string instrument which resembles a lute) and tarambuka (small drum).

In the next video, the Bisserovs do some amazing things with their vocal cords.  Song #1 sounds like the Bulgarian version of yodeling. The Pirin is a mountainous region, and yodeling was a way to call the cows or sheep home from a day at the pasture.  Certain sounds echo well, and carry across long distances.  Yodeling is certainly more reliable than cell phone service in remote mountain areas...

Song #2 is in 11/16 (kopanitsa rhythm), song #3 is a devetorka (9/16) and song #4 is in rachenitsa rhythm (7/16).  Bulgarian music is well-known for its odd rhythms, and the dances are built around them.

Seeing people dressed in elaborate embroidered costumes is probably par for the course when riding the subway in Sofia. I grew up New York City, where the underground rapid transit system is over a century old and smells like rat droppings and stale urine. The Sofia metro is gorgeous compared to New York's.

This video alternates between the Bisserovs wearing "civilian clothes" and folk costumes.  There is a scene at 1:40 where the ladies link hands and dance rachenitsa.

For more information about the Bisserov family you can visit their website, where you can read about the history of the group and listen to some samples of their songs.

By the way, if you are in Sofia on the 9th of December, the Bisserovs will be giving a 35th anniversary concert at the Sredets Culture House.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Singing Demystified

Leb i Vino: Traditional Music from the Pirin Region of Bulgaria

The Pirin Ensemble of Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

Mango Duende:  Latin Rhythm With a Bulgarian Accent

Nusha:  A Family Project with Neli Andreeva and Her Daughters

The Alien Diaries will be taking a break for most of December;  the next post will be published shortly before New Year 2014.  There are almost 200 posts here and and many people don't want to go out when it's cold and snowy outside.  Here's the antidote to winter: get a cup of your favorite hot beverage, sit down in front of your computer, turn up the heat, and read my blog.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Two Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Kraj Dunavsko Horo

You don't understand anything until you learn it more than one way. Marvin Minsky

During the years I have spent folk dancing, I have found there are as many variations as there are "villages." As a matter of fact, at dance we have this saying "He comes from a different village."  All this means is that their group performs a dance in a different way than we do.  Choreography is one of those things where there's plenty of room for improvisation.

Today's post features two variations of a dance from Northwestern Bulgaria. The name is Kraj Dunavsko Horo.  Translated into English, this means dance from the Danube region.  By the way it's a totally different dance than Dunavsko Horo. You will find a link to a post about it at bottom of this page.

Version one is the one popular with folk dance groups in the United States (and Israel, where this group is from).  If you are a regular visitor to The Alien Diaries, you will recognize them.

Version two is a crazy aerobic exercise routine performed with lots of exuberance by the Hungarian group Mydros.  The music and the steps are different from version one. It's fun to watch and they are having a good time.  I had trouble keeping up with them!

At the very end, the accordionist plays a musical allusion: Shave and A Haircut, Two Bits.

Mydros describes their group as a Greek band from Hungary. They have a website as well as a YouTube channel. On the site, there is an English translation button, which is not easy to find. Most of their videos are of Greek folk songs (with subtitles). If you read Greek, you can sing along :)

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Two variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Opas

Variations on a Vlashko Theme (a very popular dance from Northwestern Bulgaria)

Variations on a Theme by Diko Iliev: Dunavsko Horo

Allusions in Balkan Folk Music

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Arcanul

"No sane man will dance." - Marcus Tullius Cicero

I've never understood why men in the United States are afraid to dance.  It must be a cultural thing.  Fortunately, in the Balkans, dancing is an expression of masculine prowess, and there are certain dances in which the men love to show off.

Today's post features two different variations of the Romanian folk dance Arcanul. The first is a very lively and energetic dance, very masculine in nature. By the way, Arcanul is also popular in Moldova, a country north of Romania, where the language and culture are similar to their neighbors to the south.

Arcanul Batrinesc, according to the dance notes, is for senior citizens who still want to show off their dancing prowess with deep knee bends and stamps.  This can be especially painful if they suffer from arthritis.

If you're a regular visitor to The Alien Diaries, you'll recognize the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel.  They have a website and YouTube videos.  Go visit them sometime. 

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Hora de Mina

Three Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Trei Pazeste

The River of Many Names Part 3: Folk Ensembles Named Dunav

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

Classical Musicians Play Balkan Folk Music

Musicians tend to get bored playing the same thing over and over, so I think it's natural to experiment.
Dimebag Darrell

WQXR has been New York City's classical music station since 1936. I began listening to WQXR when I was about 12 years old. If you like classical music, you can listen to this radio station anywhere in the world as long as you have an Internet connection.

Today's post features two videos from the WQXR Cafe Concerts. You don't often find classical musicians playing music from the Balkans (probably because of the unusual rhythms), but there are some adventurous people out there.....

I found the first video by accident when I was searching for different versions of Gankino Horo, a Bulgarian dance tune.

The Canellakis-Brown duo plays it on piano and cello.I was pleasantly surprised since I'm so used to the accordion arrangement by Boris Karlov. They do an amazing job, especially since this is a difficult meter (11/16) for non-Bulgarians to master, and they play it FAST. (I wonder if they're folk dancers?)

The next piece is much slower. Although there is no one singing here, a doina is a Romanian folk song, rather melancholy in nature.  This one was arranged by Grigoras Dinicu. He wrote a number of pieces based on Romanian folk tunes, the most famous being Hora Staccato, a favorite among classical violinists.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Classical Composers Inspired by Balkan Folk Dances

The Legacy of Boris Karlov, Bulgarian Folk Accordionist

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev (Bulgarian composer whose music was based on folklore themes)

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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

More Quirky Odd Rhythms in Balkan Dance

I can tell by the way somebody walks if they can dance or not. Just by the rhythm. Bruce Forsyth

Today's post is more of a dance lesson than a math lesson. So don't let the numbers and the odd rhythms scare you. Many people find Balkan dancing intimidating for this reason.

Drăgăcuţa, a graceful and beautiful dance from Romania,is in 3/4 meter..  Most people associate this rhythm with waltz music. (1-2-3-1-2-3).  This is a quick-slow (with the accent on the second beat). It's easy to follow (most of it is walking) but difficult to lead because of the quirky rhythm. 

In Romania, women dance this at weddings to mourn the loss of the bride to the world of the married; in this instance it's an equal opportunity dance, since there are several men in the group.

The next number is five, and this Macedonian dance is Strumicka Petorka (pet is Macedonian for five).  It's has a totally different feel from Pajduško Horo, another dance with a five in the time signature.

I skipped over seven and nine since they have been covered in previous posts (see links at the end).  The next dance is Gankino Horo, a basic kopanitsa from Bulgaria. The rhythm for this is 11/16. (quick-quick-slow-quick quick).

Kopanitsa comes in different "flavors." Bulgarian dances are often named after cities and towns and sometimes regions, for example there is a Pazardzhishka Kopanitsa and a Shopska Kopanitsa. This particular dance is Bistrishka Kopanitsa. As difficulty goes, I would rate this as a 9 on a scale of 10.

Perhaps the people who work at the Bulgarian Antarctic Institute taught these cute little penguins how to dance Bistrishka Kopanitsa.  If the video looks familiar, you have probably seen the movie Happy Feet.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: The Travels of Padjusko Horo

Balkan Folk Dancing and its Relationship to...Math?

Dancing in Sevens, Parts One and Two

If you like the number nine, this post on Daichovo Horo, a Bulgarian folk dance, is for you.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Romanian Wedding Videos from the Universe of YouTube

A wedding is a funeral where you smell your own flowers.
Eddie Cantor

Weddings are a fascinating insight into a culture.  The joining of a couple involves elaborate rituals, which seem to be more for the benefit of the guests than for the couple. There are a number of key ingredients to a good wedding reception: music, dance, food, plenty of booze, and of course, the bride and groom.

A friend from Romania, who now lives in the States, sent me these videos via e-mail. There were so many that I had a difficult time deciding which ones to include in this post.

The first video is of a Sârba, (or Sirba) a very popular dance, done especially at weddings. Notice that there are two lines; one for men and one for women ("heel friendly", as my friend described it). The men use a back basket hold and the women just hold hands.

The bride leads a dance, and a fast one, too.  She has no problem, despite having to hold up that long dress. Several of the women are dancing barefoot.  Shoes, especially those high-heeled torture devices, get in the way. Whoever invented them had to be a man, and as punishment, should be made to walk wearing them several miles over cobblestones. Ouch!

In the next video people stuff money down the bride's bodice while she gets her crown and veil adjusted.  It is a major project.

The bride must have spent hours at the hairdresser's, so the crown has to be placed just so.  Can't mess up the hair. Don't forget the hairspray, the perfume,and the pastry! The bride looks like she'd rather be somewhere else...I hope they gave her something alcoholic to calm her down.

If you want to skip to the dancing, it starts at 8:07. 

If you are a regular visitor to this blog (and I hope you are) you will recognize the rhythm to this dance.  In Romania it's geampara, on the other side of the Danube, it's rachenitsa. Somewhere in the middle it changes to sirba. Rhythm changes during dance sequences are very common in the Balkans. Check out the costumed dancers at the beginning of the video, they are a goat and a horse.

This group of men dances Căluşari which in its original form is performed by costumed dancers around the springtime holiday of Pentecost. It is a dance for men only and has pagan origins.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba, an entertaining and informative look at a Romanian folk dance.

Crossing the River Part Two:  The Stick Dancers-Romanian Căluşari and their Bulgarian Counterparts

Have you had a bad day? Enjoy some wedding bloopers from Romania and Bulgaria.

I also want to thank Ileana for sending me the videos....these were fun to watch!

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dancing in Sevens Part 2: The 7/16 Rhythm in Macedonian Folk Music

Life is about rhythm. We vibrate, our hearts are pumping blood, we are a rhythm machine, that's what we are.
Mickey Hart

Asymmetric rhythms are extremely common in Balkan music. The Bulgarians, especially are best known for music in odd time signatures such as 7/16. There is variation within that all depends on which beats have the accent.

Today we will explore the 7/16 rhythm in Macedonian folk music.

The first is Sitna Lisa (3-2-2 or galloping-apple-apple). I especially enjoy the brass band orchestration in this video; it's loud enough to wake the dead. The Bulgarian equivalent of this rhythm can be found in the dance Chetvorno Horo.

Most folk dancers in North America are familiar with this version of Sitna Lisa: played on tupan (drum), tambura (a string instrument similar to a lute), gaida (bagpipe) and kaval (flute).  There is something about this music that sounds uniquely Macedonian, especially the long introduction on the gaida and the kaval solo. It's very beautifully done.

The next example of the 7/16 rhythm in Macedonian folk music is the song Zurli Trestat na Sred Selo.  (I couldn't find an English translation; if anyone out there can translate the lyrics, please post  in the "comments" section). This time the accent is a little different: it's 2-3-3 (apple-apple-galloping).  The Bulgarian equivalent is rachenitsa.

These young people perform the dance that goes with the song.  Looks like rachenitsa, doesn't it?

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dancing in Sevens (part one) This post explores the folk dances lesnoto, chetvorno and rachenitsa.

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, parts one and two.

 The "Flavors" of Daichovo Horo. Daichovo is a folk dance from Bulgaria with nine beats to the measure.

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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why Dancing Makes You Smart

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. " (Buddhist proverb)

According to a study done on senior citizens 75 and older by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York City, people who dance are much less likely to develop dementia. The article describes how dancing increases cognitive acuity.

I was probably one of the youngest attendees at a dance workshop in upstate New York, held in late September. The majority were people in their "golden years"; retirees who keep their brains and bodies healthy with frequent folk dancing.  They had amazing energy.

There were workshop sessions in the morning and afternoon; and dance parties that continued late into the night.  The teachers were Yves Moreau (Bulgarian dance) and Danny Pollock (Israeli dance).

Here are two of the Bulgarian dances that were taught at the workshop.  I still have yet to master them although I'd been watching and practicing with YouTube videos for several months before the workshop.

The first is Novozagorsko Horo, from the Thracian region of Bulgaria. It's named after the town of Nova Zagora. This dance has a belt hold which makes it even more challenging, and you have to be in good physical (and mental) shape to do it.  I still can't remember all the steps in the proper sequence. That will take practice.

Yves taught a dance that I've been watching on YouTube for about six months, Vidinkso Horo, and I was glad he chose it for the workshop this year. 

Vidinsko Horo is a "hybrid" dance, best described as Romanian steps to Bulgarian music. It is also named after the town of Vidin in northwestern Bulgaria. You also can see similar footwork in the Romanian dance Trei Pazeste. The Vlach people who live in this region have influenced the music and dance. Their dances are characterized by stamps and shouts, and you will see that in the video.

Does dancing make you smart? It does, because it involves a lot of memorization, especially when learning and doing a fast dance with complicated steps like Vidinsko.

Some food for thought here: a brain is a terrible thing to waste.  Use it or lose it.

By the way, the picture above was a view of Sylvan Lake near the building where the workshops were held. The lakefront was a great place to relax and chat with people in between dances.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Bulgarian Folk Dances Named After Cities and Towns

Folklore as Destiny: Yves Moreau and Bulgarian Folk Music

Three Variations of the Romanian Folk Dance: Trei Pazeste

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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Mango Duende: Latin Rhythm with a Bulgarian Accent

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Charles Caleb Colton

Today's cross-cultural post features Mango Duende, a group from Bulgaria that specializes in songs with a Latin flavor.

The first song, Friday, (петък) which I heard on Bulgarian National Radio about two years ago, really caught my attention. It had me fooled for a minute...le lo lai is something associated with folk music from Puerto Rico and so is the salsa beat, but the lyrics are in Bulgarian.  This is cultural cross-pollination at its best.

Loco is another good song. The word "loco" reminds me of the word "ludo" in Bulgarian. Both mean exactly the same thing: crazy.

This time Mango Duende returns to Bulgaria, with their version of Diko Iliev's Dunavsko Horo. This is the dance that Bulgarians do to usher in the New Year.  I don't know how the tradition of dancing Dunavsko for New Year's got started...can anyone tell me why?  If you have an answer, please post it in the comments section.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Variations on a Theme By Diko Iliev (different versions of Dunavsko Horo)

Bulgarian Folk Music with a Hungarian Accent (Bulgarian folk songs in Hungarian)

Puerto Rico and Bulgaria: A Cross-Cultural Comparison

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

The Dance of Osman Taka

Today's song is about a rebel (haidouk) from Albania named Osman Taka. The haidouks were freedom fighters in the Balkans who waged guerrilla warfare against the Ottoman Turks.

Osman Taka was also fond of traditional Albanian dancing, and had a reputation as an excellent dancer. There isn't much information about him, and the little bit I found was on Wikipedia.

The Ottoman Turks sentenced Osman Taka to death, and his one last request was to dance before his execution. According to local tradition, he gave such a beautiful performance that his the Turks released him from jail.  Later on he was recaptured and killed. 

The dance is also named Osman Taka. The singer is Eli Fara, well known in Albania for her renditions of folk songs.

The leader really gives a good show with the acrobatics.

Osman Taka is also popular among recreational folk dance groups; in this case it's an equal opportunity dance in that women are allowed to join in. This version is much simpler than the one shown in the previous video, although a good sense of balance helps with the high leg lifts.

By the way, you can find the lyrics in the Songbook For Nearsighted People in German and in English.   I was hoping to find the story of Osman Taka and his experiences with the Turks.  No such luck, it's a love song, and I think there's lost something in translation.

What's funny in the video is that the announcer mentions that "we wouldn't want to shortchange Albania." Why is that?

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Rebels (Haidouks) in Bulgarian Folk Songs

Two Variations on an Albanian Folk Dance: Valle Pogonishte

A Romanian Festival With an Albanian Accent

Hristo Botev, Poet and Revolutionary

Notice to readers: The Alien Diaries will take a break during the month of September, 2013.  Look for a new post in early to mid October!

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Crazy Croatian Dance Songs

Translation is not a matter of words only: it is a matter of making intelligible a whole culture.
Anthony Burgess

Have you ever wondered about what some of those folk songs mean?  Before the Internet it was almost impossible to get translations of Balkan folk songs.  Now they are relatively easy to find if you know where to look.

Today's post features two songs from Croatia with humorous lyrics.  After I read the translations, I wondered if Croatia is a fantasyland full of crazy people and anthropomorphic creatures.  From what I've seen of it in pictures, it looks nothing like Disney World.  Croatia does, however, have some amazingly beautiful scenery, and it's a place I'd definitely like to visit. I've been to Disney World too many times, anyway.

The first song is Raca Plava, and the group in the video is a "bonding folk dance class" from China. They seem to take their dancing quite seriously; you can hear the teacher call the steps while the music plays.

Click this link for the lyrics in English translation. If you've ever seen a duck swimming with a basket on its head you have probably had a bit too much to drink or spent too much time in Alice's Wonderland. According to the lyrics, the man is in love with a woman who has a distinctive walk. Maybe she walks like a duck. The song as a whole is rather strange.

The next song Sukacica, (dance: Sukacko Kolo) is another excursion into surreality.  This time it's a kitchen disaster, complete with burnt food, poultry with singed feathers, and roasted chickens with water running out of them (somebody tried to put out the fire).  The cook and the rest of them danced all night despite the mishaps.  They had a jolly old time.  You can read the lyrics in Croatian, German and English here:

By the way, the Songbook For Nearsighted People is an excellent source of lyrics with songs from the Balkans and beyond.  Most of the songs are translated into German and English. It's definitely worth a look.

Sukacko Kolo can be done in a circle (kolo is Croatian for circle) or as a couple dance. This group is from Belgium, and they use the "double kolo" method: two circles.

If you enjoyed this you will also like:

Some Fun for April Fool's Day: Silly Songs, Strange Sayings, and Insults From the Balkans (includes a version of Sukacko Kolo with a male-female role reversal).

The River of Many Names, Part 6:  The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs

Sometimes Lost in Translation (Bulgarian proverbs translated into English, some of them are quite funny!)

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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Three Variations of the Romanian Folk Dance Trei Pazeste

Today's post features three variations of the Romanian folk dance Trei Pazeste.  I looked up the translation and it was rather odd.  It means "Three Times Beware."  In other words, you are being forewarned of sudden step and/or directional changes. This is a dangerous dance if you don't pay attention!

This group from Boulder, Colorado, does the generic Trei Pazeste, a dance native to southern Romania. It is especially popular in the Oltenia region, across the Danube from Bulgaria. I don't know which village this dance comes from but parts of it are very similar to the Bulgarian dance Vidinsko Horo.  It may have crossed the river from Calafat to Vidin. The shouts you hear are typical of Romanian dances, and they are called strigaturi.

The next Trei Pazeste is from a different village: this one is from Bistret.   Regular readers of this blog will recognize the dancers: the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel.  They have recently updated their YouTube videos and you can visit them on their website as well.  At 1:02  and at 1:28 you can hear the leader count in Romanian: unu, doi, trei!

The last Trei Pazeste is from Dolj, a county in southern Romania.  It starts slow and builds up speed, so you really have to pay attention! There are only two dancers here, so you know this one's tough. This one has plenty of stamping, sudden direction changes and arm swinging, but no shouting.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Dancing by the Numbers

Bulgarian Dances Named After Cities and Towns (includes a very lively version of Vidinsko Horo)

How to Stamp Out Your Frustrations and Relieve Stress (dances from Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia)

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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Love Has a Dark Side: Nazad, Nazad, Mome Kalino

"Well," said she, after a pause, "if you despise my love, I must see what can be done with fear. You smile, but the day will come when you will come screaming to me for pardon."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

One of the leaders in my group introduced a new dance that he had learned at a workshop at Pinewoods, a dance camp in eastern Massachusetts. This one used the music to Nazad, Nazad, Mome Kalino. Some say this song is Bulgarian, others, Macedonian.  To me it's another example of a song with dual citizenship that's gone border-hopping.

I knew this poignant and beautiful song was about love gone wrong, so I went to several websites to search for lyrics, preferably in English translation. The Google Translate tool turned it into total gibberish (talk about lost in translation!) Fortunately I was able to find this Bulgarian YouTube video. There is a slideshow of pictures from Bulgaria along with the lyrics.

It is the tale of a married man telling a young woman to keep away from him. She persistently insists on stalking him in various ways; such as changing herself into a falcon or a barbel-fish.

She intends to bring death and destruction if she can't get her way.

This is the performance of the same song as video #1 by Slavi Trifonov and Nina Nikolina.  Slavi often features folk musicians on his  TV program, which is very popular in Bulgaria.  The closest thing we have to it in the States is the Tonight Show. I think Slavi is much more entertaining, and he's a very good singer.

The next video is the Macedonian version of Nazad, with lyrics. I couldn't find a translation into English that made sense so I don't know how much of a difference there is between the the two. If anyone out there has a translation, please post it in the "comments" section.

If you read Macedonian, you can sing along :)

And finally, here's a group of young women from Bulgaria dancing to the song.  The choreography is somewhat different than what I was taught; this is a dance called Shirto. The meter here is 7/8 (pineapple-apple-apple), which is also known as lesnoto rhythm.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs (parts one, two, and three)

Modern Versions of Traditional Macedonian Folk Songs

The Falcon in Bulgarian and Macedonian Folk Songs

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Two Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Hora Fetelor

If you like to listen to panpipes and watch female dancers this post is for you.

Today's dance is Hora Fetelor from Romania.  It means Women's Dance (although in recreational folk dance men as well as women do it).  It is usually an equal opportunity dance, although during performances (like version #2), women are the preferred gender.

Version one is popular in the Western Hemisphere and with recreational folk dance groups. If you're a regular reader of this blog you'll recognize the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel. Here it's an equal opportunity dance.

This is Hora Fetelor distilled and refined, Romanian style; very beautifully done; danced slowly and gracefully by a female group with large white handkerchiefs.  The panpipe music accentuates the performance; it is the national instrument of Romania, where it is called the nai. This is a treat for the eyes and ears.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Women's Dances From the Balkans

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Part 2 (a dance which can be masculine, feminine, or flirty!)

If you can't get enough of female performers, check out the Bulgarian singer Neli Andreeva and her two daughters in Nusha, a Family Music Project.

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Friday, July 26, 2013

Two Variations on the Romanian Folk Dance: Hora de la Munte

Mathematics is the art of giving the same name to different things.
J.H. Poincare

This quote got my attention because dancing is related to math. There are a number of dances that use the same name and different music.  Today's dance, Hora de la Munte, from Romania, is one of them.

I learned it many years ago from a lady named Sasha in New York City.  At that time she ran a folk dance group that met at the 92nd Street Y on Saturday evenings.   I don't know how old she is but my guess is that she is in her eighties (dancers tend to have very long lifespans), and she's still going strong.  I saw her last summer at a workshop given by Yves Moreau.

Version one is the one most people know; it is slow and easy to follow.  This group is the International Folk Dancers of Ottawa from Canada.  Check out their blog: Easy Folk Dances. They have dances posted from all over the world, including Eastern Europe, and they also have a YouTube channel.

This is Hora de la Munte, version two, performed by the same group. It's not a difficult dance; most of it consists of rhythmic walking and it's a bit more lively. Instead of the clarinet solo, there is a woman singing.  Version two also has a step in and out sequence.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Balkan Folk Dancing and its Relationship to Math (see quote above!)

Dancing in Sevens (three Bulgarian folk dances, each with the number seven in the time signature, with different rhythms)

Two Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance, Hora de Mina

The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora

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Friday, July 19, 2013

Three Variations of the Bulgarian/Macedonian Folk Dance Arap

Today's featured dance, Arap, has dual citizenship, according to the notes I found on the Internet.  The reason for this is that it is popular in both Macedonia and Bulgaria.

Unfortunately, Macedonia happens to be one of the most contested names on the map. There are three places which share this name. One of them is the Republic of Macedonia where the people speak a language closely related to Bulgarian.  The languages are similar enough that Bulgarians and Macedonians can understand each other.

There is also a Macedonia region in northern Greece. The Pirin region of Bulgaria, Blagoevgrad Province, which borders the Republic of Macedonia is also known as Pirin Macedonia.

The first version of Arap is the one familiar to most folk dancers.  It is Zajko Kokorajko, about a rabbit who's off to Salonika (in Greek Macedonia) to marry a fox.  The wedding guests are as unusual as the couple: a female bear, a female wolf, a hedgehog to play the drums, and a frog to play the zurna, among others. At the end the rabbit is pursued by hunting dogs!

The dominant instrument in this song is the bagpipe (gaida).

The original Macedonian lyrics with English translation can be found here:

The next  Arap is from Bulgaria.  It's called Kulskoto and done to different music. Near the end you can hear the zurna. What makes the zurna so distinctive is its loud, piercing sound, even louder than the bagpipe.

My group dances this version to the music for Zaiko Kokorajko (except for the turns).  I guess different villages do different variations.  It's all good.

The next Arap is also from Bulgaria and very similar to the previous version.  They don't do the turns and they swing the arms, but the footwork is the same.  The music is also different, with bagpipe accompaniment.  It's very pleasing to watch and the costumes are beautiful.

The song is Neveno, Mome, Neveno  which I like very much.  Does anyone out there have the lyrics and/or translation for it?

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Bagpipe in Macedonian Folk Music

The Bagpipe in Bulgarian Folk Music

A Dance By Any Other Name

The Zurna in Bulgarian Folk Music (it was originally used to intimidate enemies of the Ottoman Empire!)

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Friday, July 12, 2013

More Dances From the Bulgarian Folklore Region of Dobrudja

I like the challenge of trying different things and wondering whether it's going to work or whether I'm going to fall flat on my face.
Johnny Depp

Oftentimes I surf the Internet, watch videos on YouTube and see dances that our group doesn't do.  Why, I don't know.  People tend to stick with what's familiar.  It's good to get out of the the comfort zone once in a while and try new things. I am always up for a challenge.

Today's post features two dances from the northeast region of Bulgaria:  Dobrudja.  Tbey look pretty cool, but they also look difficult. Whether I can convince anyone to teach them or find someone who knows them is a whole other story altogether. I'm sure that they have been taught at workshops at one time or another.

The first dance is Dobrudjanksa Pandela.  There are different versions of it floating around, but this is the only one I could find on YouTube. It has stamping and hand movements that are typical of the Dobrudja region, and the shouts remind me of Romanian strigaturi.

I haven't found any people in the States who dance Povlekana.  For some reason it hasn't left Bulgaria, why is that? By the way, Povlekana is also known as Dobrudjanska Rachenitsa.

If you're new here, the rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria, and done all over the country. The rhythm for it is apple-apple-pineapple (7/8) for you music theorists out there. The styling depends on the region; in Dobrudja, there is a heavy emphasis on arm movement, and the dance tends to be somewhat slow, with plenty of stamping for emphasis. This looks like a folk dance competition, at the end the performers are given grades.  They did very well.

Check out the colorful costumes, especially the women's head scarves and aprons; these are typical of this region.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Part 1

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Part 2

More Stamping it Out: Dances From the Bulgarian Folklore Region of Dobrudja (Reka, Sborenka and Tropanka)

There is a Dobrogea in Romania, too.  Yes, I know they spell it differently, but then Romania is a another country with a language based on Latin. And they dance something similar to the Bulgarian rachenitsa, just don't refer to it by that name.  Read this post and find out why.

Crossing the River, Part One: Dances From the Romanian Folklore Region of Dobrogea

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Different "Flavors" of the Romanian Folk Dance: Alunelul

Today's post features several variations of a popular folk dance from Romania, Alunelul. It means "little hazelnut" and how a dance came by with that name, I don't know. It probably started out as a children's song with the following lyrics:

Alunelul, Alunelul hai la joc
Sa ne fie, sa ne fie, cu noroc...

You will find the rest of the song, with translation in German and English, here:

First, here's some background on the dance. It has variations that are done in the different villages and districts in Romania.  We will explore a few of them today.

The first video shows the basic version titled simply Alunelul. It is is the one most commonly used by recreational folk dance groups, and an easy dance that anyone can do. It is also very popular with children, probably because of the stamping. 

Alunelul Batut takes the dance to the next level.  This variation is a bit more complex than the previous one, and there is no song to accompany it, although there are violins and an accordion.

Here it's performed by a group from Copenhagen, Denmark. The translation of the second word, according to Google Translate, is "beaten."  My guess is that it has to do with the amount of stamping.  They are beating up the hazelnuts here.

The next video shows Roy and the gang dancing Alunelul de la Urzica. If you want to see some really cool folk dance videos, check out Roy Butler's YouTube Channel. 

Roy seems to be partial to Balkan dances, especially those from Romania. For some reason the person who took the video was a little too close, so it looks like the heads and feet have been cut off. There is enough here, however, to make watching it worthwhile. They are even wearing folk costumes!

Urzica is a small district in southern Romania.  Some of the best dances come from the rural regions; this is one of them.

The next video is of a group from China that is very fond of music from the Balkans and calls itself a "bonding folkdance class." This dance teacher posts under the name gpknh and he also has many videos on his YouTube channel. If you are a regular reader of this blog you have seen some of them. 

Here they dance Alunelul de la GoiceaGoicea is a district in southern Romania, in the county of Dolj. This one is done to a bagpipe accompaniment; they call it a "cimpoi" in Romania. The Romanians like the bagpipe,almost as much as their Bulgarian neighbors :)

Now that there are two bridges crossing the Danube instead of one, hopefully there will be even more intercultural exchange between Bulgaria and Romania.  According to the Bulgarian Radio's Vidin affiliate, this has already been happening...

If you enjoyed this you may like:

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora

How to Stamp Out Your Frustrations and Relieve Stress (dances from Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia)

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

The River of Many Names Part 7: Music for Danube Day

Share our similarities, celebrate our differences.
M. Scott Peck

I like to start Alien Diaries posts with quotes, and this one is no exception. I especially like M. Scott Peck's quote because it is so true. 

What delights me the most about Balkan music is the asymmetrical rhythms, the sounds of unusual musical instruments such as the tambura, cimbalom, and kaval and the distinctness of each country's music.  What I have found, however, is despite the differences, music from different Balkan countries often crosses borders, with some interesting results. For example, the Bulgarian dance rachenitsa has a Romanian counterpart, geampara.

In honor of Danube Day 2013,  which takes place on June 29th, today's post features four songs from four different Balkan Danube countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Croatia.  They share one thing in common: a river runs through them.

The first song is from Romania (we are working our way upstream here).  Balada Fetei Dunarene ("Ballad of the Danube Girl") is a poignant and beautiful song, with clarinet, violin and cimbalom accompaniment.  The video has some beautiful photos of the town of Cernavoda. Cernavoda is a Romanian town with a Bulgarian name, and it means "black water."

This song is from YouTube via the Cernavoda Blog, which you may find interesting if you can read Romanian.  I went there to find the lyrics for the song, but couldn't find them.

What I find disturbing is that the Cernavoda coat of arms has the symbol for nuclear energy. The town has a nuclear power plant, and those things don't have a very good reputation.  I would definitely sings the blues about something like that.  Do some of you readers remember Cherno
byl? It wasn't all that long ago.....

More music, scenery, and this time dancers with elaborate embroidered costumes, from Bulgaria.  This song is Dunave, Beli Dunave which means "White Danube." The River of Many Names is also the River of Many Colors.  From what I've seen it can be white (during fog), gray, blue, gold, green and even brown.

This feel-good song conveys a completely different mood than previous one. It's lively and upbeat and accompanied by a loud brass band.  According to the Bulgarian notes, the performers had to wait two hours for the fog to lift .  Here is a translated excerpt which describes the making of the video.

Video for Dunave is realized in Oryahovo and it involved local dance group "Spring" community center "Hope 1871" and the brass band from Lovech - birthplace of the singer. Much fog proved an obstacle to the pictures, but the participants patiently waited for 2 hours. The picture completely meets the elevated mood of the song. The presence of different age participants passing ships, fishermen and boatmen, visually complement the song.......

If you are familiar with Bulgarian folk music, you will recognize the dance Devetorka. It is in an odd rhythm; the top number on the time signature is a nine. Devet means "nine" in Bulgarian.  By the way, Devetorka is popular in Macedonia and Serbia as well as Bulgaria.

In the next song from Serbia Oj Dunave Plavi, the Danube is blue!  You can see it here, through the viewfinder of a cellphone camera.  According to the translation I found, this is a song about a lost love.  If there is such a thing as blues music in Serbia, this is it.  Instead of guitars and saxophones, Serbs sing the blues accompanied by an accordion or two. If they don't have an accordion, a keyboard will do. Some people consider accordions instruments of torture, that is not the case in Serbia.

The last song is from Croatia, and the singer is accompanied by a tamburitza orchestra.  Tamburitza ensembles are extremely popular in Croatia and they have a unique and distinctive sound. When Croatians emigrated abroad, especially to the United States they brought tamburitza music with them, so they wouldn't be so homesick.

The song  U selu pokraj Dunava  is about the dark-eyed girl who lives in a village by the river. The singer is (supposedly) in love with her. She must be a damned good cook.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The River of Many Names Parts 1-6

Part 1: A Musical Journey

Part 2: The Danube in Bulgarian Folk Music

Part 3: Folk Ensembles Named Dunav

Part 4: The Danube in Bulgarian Folk Songs

Part 5: The Danube in Serbian Folk Music (lots of accordion music, this is also known as the "Strudel" post!)

Part 6:  The Danube in Croatian Folk Songs

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs Part 1  (two more versions of Dunave, Beli Dunave.  The Bulgarians must really like this song, I have found so many different versions of it on YouTube.)

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

The "Flavors" of Serbian Čačak

Čačak is one of the first Serbian dances I learned many years ago at the Ethnic Folk Arts Center in lower Manhattan. (It is now the Center for Traditional Music and Dance.)

It comes in different "flavors" from easy to hold on to your belt difficult. The basic pattern of the dance is three-two-one and the rhythm is 2/4.

First, read the dance notes for a little background information . They are ancient and typewritten (from 1957) and mention a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia. 

Čačak can be danced with a hand hold, a belt hold or a basket hold. You will see the different variations in the following videos. Čačak is also considered a kolo. Kolo means "circle" in Serbian and Croatian, but just because a dance is a kolo doesn't always mean it's done in a circle! Some kolos are performed as line dances, you will see that here too.

First is the teaching video. It's basic čačak , taught in Serbian, and easy to follow. The costumed dancers use a front basket hold.  The arms go over the waist of the person on both sides..

Here you will see the basic čačak  danced at a party.  The dancers are in circles and since kolo means "circle" it meets the definition of kolo. The  on the bottom in large white letters on the bottom of the screen is a bit of a distraction. It did, however, give me enough incentive to visit their website, which specializes in photography for weddings, videos, and other events in the Houston, Texas area. 

The Tanzgruppe Bäckerstrasse is from Vienna, Austria. They have many videos on their Dancilla site, as well as a social network for dancers all over the world. Check them out sometime. They are also on YouTube.

They perform the next čačak, which is slightly more complicated.  My group calls it the Five Figure Čačak because it has five different figures, all in a three-two-one pattern.  Each figure is repeated throughout the dance, and depends on the whim of the person leading. If the leader has good counting skills, and can keep it together, the dance ends on the right foot in figure five. Figure five is similar to figure one with a bit more movement. This group uses a hand hold.

For some reason, they did the dance sequence twice, it seems that there were technical difficulties with either the dance or the camera (the camera glitch is at 2:45).  Maybe it was both.


Godecki Cacak is a border crossing dance.  Some say it's Bulgarian and some say it's Serbian. To me it can be either or both. It has dual citizenship.  There is a Shope region in both Bulgaria and Serbia and that's where the dance is from.  It is hold on to your belt fast, which is why the dancers use a belt hold. 

This čačak is more complicated than the previous dances and doesn't quite follow the 3-2-1 rule. It's one of my favorites and very popular with folk dance groups all over the world. If you're a frequent visitor to this blog you'll recognize the Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel. 

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa (Part 1 and Part 2)

Two Variations on a Serbian Folk Dance: Stara Vlajna

Balkan Folk Dancing and Its Relationship to Math (or why math and physics people take up folk dancing)

And finally, some trivia.  Čačak is also a city in Serbia, but I'm not sure if the dance was named after it, if anyone out there knows why the city has that name, please let me know in the "comments" section.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Crossing the River, Part 4: Celebrating the Opening of a New Bridge Between Bulgaria and Romania

photo from Wikipedia Commons, Danube Bridge 2, taken March 2013

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.
Sir Isaac Newton

Sir Isaac Newton's words certainly ring true, both literally and figuratively, and here at The Alien Diaries building bridges between cultures is one of the main reasons for this blog.

I find bridges fascinating because I grew up in New York City, a city linked together by hundreds of bridges. One of my childhood nightmares involved a drawbridge that opened when I was halfway across, and one of my favorite memories was summer nights in one of New York's waterfront parks.  We often stayed late enough to watch the bridge lights come on.

Many years ago I had won tickets to the 100th Anniversary of the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge.  It was a beautiful, festive ceremony that I will never forget.

Today's post celebrates the official opening of Danube Bridge 2, (Bulgarian: Дунав мост 2, Romanian: Podul Vidin-Calafat), connecting the cities of Vidin, Bulgaria, and Calafat, Romania.

You can get information on Danube Bridge 2 from its official website: Click on one the flags to read about it in the language of your choice.

Until Danube Bridge 2 was completed in 2013, there was only one bridge crossing between Romania and Bulgaria; the Giurgiu–Ruse Bridge, completed in 1954. This made things especially difficult for truck drivers and other commercial traffic; they had to deal with long waits at ferry crossings, since one bridge couldn't accommodate them all.

The Giurgiu–Ruse Bridge was also known as the "Friendship Bridge" during socialist days, a term used for propaganda purposes. There couldn't have been too much friendship going on between the two countries.  The dictator, Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania, had his country under lockdown.  The situation in Romania became so bad under his regime that people risked their lives swimming across to Bulgaria to escape oppression.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, things have changed in Eastern Europe for the better. Hopefully.

Because The Alien Diaries is a music and dance blog (among other things), the first video is a dance piece, Sârba de la Calafat. The notes on the video a describe a course for accordion video lessons. (If you're interested click here:)  The accordionist here does an excellent job, he has learned his lessons well.

Unfortunately, there is no dancing in this video, if you want to see some Sârba, click this link. It is a very energetic and lively dance, especially when it's done by people who've had a little too much booze.

This colorful group of costumed dancers performs Vidinsko Horo.  Energetic dances like this are typical of the Severnjasko (northwest) region of Bulgaria.

Diko Iliev, a Bulgarian composer who lived from 1898 to 1984 wrote a very well-known piece which has almost become the second national anthem of Bulgaria.  It's played during celebrations, especially at the start of the New Year.  This is Iliev's Dunavsko Horo, which was most likely written while the composer lived in Oryahovo.  If you look closely you can see a photo of Iliev at center stage.

And now we come to the water underneath that bridge.  The composer of this waltz (yes, they play waltzes in the Balkans!) was of Serbian origin and he made his home in Romania.  His name was Ion Iosef Ivanovici, and he was a bandmaster in the Romanian army who composed music in his spare time. He was quite prolific, having written over 350 dance pieces.

His compositions was quite popular at the end of the 19th century, but unfortunately he was pretty much forgotten after his death in 1902.

According to the article here, Ivanovici was influenced not only by the music of the Austro-Hungarian empire (they and the Ottomans held sway over this part of the world in the late 19th century), but also by Romanian traditional music. He wrote several hora pieces, hora being the national dance of Romania.

This is his best-known piece, Waves of the Danube.  If you read the Wikipedia article, you'll find it has undergone several  incarnations such as as The Anniversary Song in the United States and in Korea as the Psalm of Death (how morbid!)  This is the original orchestration, and like many other pieces on The Alien Diaries, it has an odd time signature.  This one is in 3/4, and played in true Romanian style. Note that the conductor is Korean, but the orchestra is from the town of Bostusani, in northern Romania.

By the way, the waltz is listed on the video under its German name, Donauwellen. There is also a cake with the same name!

If you enjoyed this, you may also enjoy the rest of the series Crossing the River Parts 1, 2 and 3. Part 3 is where you'll find the links to the earlier posts.

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba and The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora (the most popular Romanian folk dances).

The River of Many Names, parts 1 -6. (you can find the links from 1-5 in Part 6.  If you like Close Encounters of the Danubian kind, you will love this series.

Classical Composers inspired by Balkan Folk Dances.  This post includes the Enescu Romanian Rhapsody #1.

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