Saturday, January 26, 2013

Variations on a Theme: Folk Ensembles Named Horo

Ultimately, your theme will find you. You don't have to go looking for it.
Richard Russo

I never expected to find the word "horo" in an online dictionary.  The original source for the definition was from Encyclopedia Brittannica. It is derived from the Greek χορός,  which means a dance done in a line or circle, and the Bulgarian word is almost the same as the Greek.

The name's the same for all three of the folk ensembles in today's post.  The first band is from the Bulgarian city of Ruse (Rousse). The dance is Dunavsko Pravo Horo. If you're wondering why the dance looks familiar, it's the same dance (done to different music) during New Year's celebrations in Bulgaria.

Check out this 50th anniversary performance (which took place in 2012).  Horo Orchestra was founded in 1962.  The dance in this video is a Daichovo Horo from northern Bulgaria.

Everything you always wanted to know about the Horo Orchestra of Ruse can be found by clicking this link. You can also check out samples of their music.

The next Horo is a group of ladies from the city of Brisbane, Australia and they perform a spirited Shopska Rachenitsa.  Many Bulgarians emigrated to Australia (and other countries as well) after the fall of Communism, this is called the Bulgarian Diaspora.  Bulgaria is currently suffering a "brain drain" because many young people go abroad in the hope of earning more money than they could at home.

Xopo from Shelburne, Massachusetts, USA, plays a very charming melody (lesnoto) from the Pirin region of Bulgaria. Their repertoire is from the Balkans with an emphasis on Bulgarian and Serbian folk music. Everyone, including band members pronounces their name ZO-PO.  That drives me absolutely crazy, maybe because I've been teaching myself how to read the Cyrillic alphabet, and in Bulgarian, "X" has an "H" sound. 

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

Bulgarian Folk Dance Around the World

Everything you always wanted to know about the Cyrillic Alphabet and the Bulgarian holiday connected with it:

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

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

You're probably asking "Why does this post begin with a picture of a vintage Croatian songbook, and will there be videos of any of the songs in it?"

A friend of mine, who knows of my interest in Balkan music, sent the book to me last year. He has mailed me all kinds of cool stuff including a CD of gadulka music played by Nikolai Kolev. I can always count on him for surprises in the mail.  He keeps the United States Postal Service busy, and that is also a good thing.

The book itself was published by the Duquense University Tamburitzans Institute of Folk Arts in the year 1975. It has about 30 pages of songs with sheet music, with the lyrics in Croatian and in English translation.

The Duquense University Tamburitzans, one of the longest running traveling folklore shows in the United States and Canada began as a tamburitza ensemble.

For more on tamburitza music, click here:

When Croatian people emigrated to the New World they became homesick, so they found solace in their folk music. They formed tamburitza ensembles all over the United States and Canada and performed at weddings and church festivals.. Tamburitza music found an audience even among non-Croatians like myself. International folk dance groups loved it and included it in their repertoire.

Today's songs have several things in common: they are all from Croatia.  They are either about or mention the Danube (River of Many Names a.k.a. Dunav), and the singers are accompanied by tamburitza orchestras.  None of the songs came from the book in the picture above, but go ahead and listen  anyway, you will enjoy them (although I know a few people who think this is music from Hell).

The first group, Dunavski Tamburaši (the ensemble is named after the river) performs the song Na salašu pokraj Dunava (On a Farm Near the Danube.)  I could not find the lyrics for this anywhere either in the original language or in translation. 

This catchy tune, U selu pokraj Dunava,  (In a village near the Danube), describes a man in love with the dark-eyed girl who lives in the village. The eyes seem to have it in the Balkans. Listen to it once and it's guaranteed to take up residence inside your head for hours. There is a term for songs like these; they are called earworms, although I happen to like this one.

You can sing along with the original Croatian lyrics here.

Croatia used to be a part of the multi-ethnic multi-cultural nation of Yugoslavia, which, surprisingly, stayed together for nearly fifty years. Yugoslavia broke up after the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and became like Humpty Dumpty. Once it fell apart, it never got back together. Croatia declared independence in 1991; it has been its own entity ever since.

The Danube town of Vukovar has had a violent history. It was bombed by Allied forces during World War II  and by the Yugoslav army during the Croatian War for Independence in 1991. Vukovar was almost completely destroyed both times. Land mines still exist in the area, and there are numerous reminders that a war took place here not so long ago.  This picture from an old German postcard depicts a more peaceful time.

(photo from Wikipedia Commons)

In the video you can see present day Vukovar accompanied by a song about the city. Although most of it has been rebuilt, evidence of the war is still visible.  At 0:54, there is a building pockmarked with bullet holes; and at 2:02 you can see the the bombed out water tower, which has become a symbol of the city's suffering. The Danube scenes start at 1:37, and at 2:05 you can see a cross which was built as a memorial to those who died during the Croatian War of Independence.

This is a rough translation of the refrain. Google Translate does not do well with Croatian.

Vukovar, Vukovar, stands proudly by the Danube, burning in defense of Croatia .

And finally, here is my two cents' worth on the subject of war. War is something difficult to justify, especially the ethnic and religious kind which has been the scourge of Balkans.  This quote by Albert Pike sums it all:

War is a series of catastrophes which result in victory.

If you enjoyed this you may also enjoy The River of Many Names Part 5 (the links for the previous posts 1,2,3 and 4 are embedded in part 5). The series includes music from Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania.

The Tambura in Bulgarian, Macedonian and Croatian Folk Music (some great Tamburitza music here)

Last year I saw a performance of the Duquense University Tamburitzans. If they come to your neighborhood, go check out the show, it will be the best two hours you've ever spent.

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Crossing the River Part 2: The Stick Dancers-Romanian Căluşari and Their Bulgarian Counterparts

Posta Romana - 1977 - danser 40b

Romanian postage stamp 1977, from Wikipedia Commons

Today's post is about a ritual dance which takes place on both sides of the Danube, River of Many Names.  The Romanian Căluşari  and Bulgarian Kalushar share several things in common:  the performers are all male, they wield sticks while dancing, and they wear white costumes with bells attached to the lower legs.

There is a story behind the Căluşari and it has to do with horses and fools. The word Calus means "little horse" in Romanian, and it can also refer to the stick used to keep a horse's mouth open. The Calus dance is a springtime ritual performed around the time of Pentecost, forty days after Easter. (There is also a winter version, done around the time of the New Year in the Romanian region of  Dobrogea.)

The first video is from Romania. The sequence of the dance is as follows: walk, then some fancier footwork with stamps (how Romanian!), then it gets downright frenzied.  It's no surprise that most of the performers are young men.  The fool in the middle provides the comic relief. He's the guy wearing red and yellow...the dancers gang up on him as he tries to "whip them" into submission.  This is the Romanian version of slapstick comedy.

You can see the Bulgarian version of the dance, Kalushar, in the next video. Notice the similarities in the white costumes and the sticks; the music, is of course, different; (although it does sound very similar to Romanian folk music) and the dancers wear red masks.

There is also a man in the middle; he looks like he plays the role of the mute instead of the fool. He covers his eyes while the masked men dance around him and perform all sorts of acrobatics. 

After the Kalushar dance (it finishes at 4:00), the ladies join in and the group performs a suite of dances from northern Bulgaria, one of which involves a fire ritual (at 7:50).  The entire video is worth a look, it's very good.

For more information on the Căluşari, read these two articles. The first one primarily deals with Căluşari in Romania, although there is a mention of the ritual being performed, with different variations, in northern Bulgaria and in Serbia.

Wikipedia describes a connection between the Căluşari ritual and Morris dancing, it's an interesting read.

If you enjoyed this you may also like Crossing the River: Music From the Romanian Region of Dobrogea

For more about the Vlach people and their dances read:

Romania is a country not usually associated with bagpipes, but they like them just as much as the Bulgarians. There the instrument is called a "cimpoi" and there's even a dance named after it.

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Saturday, January 5, 2013

Nusha, A Family Music Project with Neli Andreeva and her Daughters

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. (proverb, origin unknown)

Neli Andreeva, best known for the song Malka Moma, has two very talented daughters. The trio call themselves "Nusha" and the folk song in the video is Dambara Dumbara. It describes a hard working turtle who runs into lots of obstacles.

I wonder if someone was giving a lesson on food groups before this performance (see poster on the left side of this video) If so, why was it in English, and is turtle meat listed in the protein group?

You can read more on Nusha, the family project, here:

Mom is a talented musician in her own right. Here she performs Malka Moma (little girl) with the Filip Kutev ensemble.

Want to find out more about Bulgarian singing? Even in a small country like Bulgaria there are several distinct regional styles.  There is also advice on how to get back at neighbors who play loud, obnoxious music late at night. Read more here.

If you enjoyed this you may also like: Forbidden Fruit and its Implications: The Apple in Bulgarian Folk Songs

Family resemblances apply to dances as well as people.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.