Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Crossing the River, Part 3: The Bulgarian Martenitsa and the Romanian Mărţişor

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.
Charles Dickens

Today's cross-cultural post focuses on the Bulgarian martenitsa, and its Romanian counterpart, the mărţişor. Both herald the coming of spring. Although spring doesn't officially begin until the equinox on March 20th, in Eastern Europe, they like to move the season forward a few weeks. By late February, everyone's sick and tired of large piles of dirty snow, cold weather and winter in general. On the first of March, everyone wears red and white bracelets or brooches to appease a Bulgarian mythological character named Baba Marta (Grandma March), who is rumored to have wicked mood swings. You have to please her so that spring will come.

Here in the States the tradition of making and giving of martenitsas has caught on in folk dance groups. I was at a dance party last March and a woman had brought red and white yarn; she had a martenitsa workshop going (people made them when they weren't dancing).  Maybe in the future Baba Marta Day will catch on in this country like the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Who knows?

The basic martenitsa is made from red and white yarn, twisted or braided together. The red symbolizes passion, and the white symbolizes purity. It is the custom in Bulgaria for people to make martenitsas to give to friends and family as tokens of affection. In the past, they were all handmade. 

This video describes the origin of the martenitsa in Bulgaria, and you can listen to some folk music while you watch.

The next video is a demonstration on how to make a martenitsa in five minutes (or less).  You'll need red and white yarn, a needle, scissors, and some large beads. A ruler would be a good idea, especially to measure out the yarn.

The Bulgarians will put a martenitsa on everything: people, farm animals, dogs, cats, and even inanimate objects like musical instruments. This band from the United States, Gogofski, follows the tradition;  if you look closely, you can see the martenitsa on the tupan (double headed drum).

If you click on the link below you can see that Romanians also observe March 1 as the first day of spring. Customs and traditions often cross borders.

When you cross the Danube into Romania, the martenitsa becomes a mărţişor. The protocol for giving them changes as well; in Romania the men give the mărţişor to the women and they are somewhat more elaborate in design. Unfortunately, nowadays, both the martenitsa and the mărţişor sold on street corners nowadays are most likely mass-produced in China.  So if you get a handmade one from a friend or relative you are very special to them indeed!

You can see many varieties of mărţişor in the next video, which is accompanied by Romanian panpipe music. The designs are quite original and very colorful: butterflies, cows, mushrooms, cats, flowers, etc. Just about anything can be made into a mărţişor. The traditional tasseled one is shown here as well.

For more background and history on the mărţişor in Romania, click the next link.  It has to do with how the sun, in the form of girl, was held hostage by a dragon and and how she was rescued. It's quite different from the Baba Marta story!

And finally, here's a spring celebration with a Romanian accent.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Martenitsa (but were afraid to ask)

Crossing the River, Parts 1 and 2.  Part 1 is about folk dances from the Romanian region of Dobrogea.

Part 2 is a cross-cultural comparison of Căluşari in Romania with Kalushar in Bulgaria.

If you like modern-day folktales this is for you:

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Variations on a Vlaško Theme

When I first started Balkan folk dancing the dance Vlaško Horo from northern Bulgaria really got my attention. I watched a group of men dancing Vlaško one night and I loved the stamping and the shouting and the energy of it.

I've been practicing it for a while, and still have a little trouble with the fast parts (parts 1 and 2 are  easy). At a dance I went to a few weeks ago it was on the program; and I requested that it be taught. I still don't have it 100%. One of these days I'll be able to do it without the video; in the meantime, here's the dance, as I learned it.  You can also use a belt hold, it makes Vlaško more challenging and fun.

There are other variations of Vlaško.  These young ladies perform Sitno Vlaško Horo in a shopping mall in Bulgaria; it is a totally different dance than the previous one. They use electronic instead of traditional music, which suits the modern setting well.

My fascination with Vlaško doesn't end here; here is yet another version! If you are a regular reader of The Alien Diaries, this video will be totally familiar to you; this group is the Dunav ensemble of Vidin, and yes, that big boat is a distraction. Dunav means Danube in Bulgarian (and several other Slavic languages as well).

In the next video Vlaško travels to Serbia. The Vlachs, a people of Roman origin, traveled far and wide all over the Balkans, primarily because many of them were sheep herders and part of their job was to search for greener pastures. In Serbia, the dance becomes Vlaško Kolo. The word kolo describes a circle or wheel but sometimes kolo is danced in a line. Circles and lines are geometric figures.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Stamping it Out: Vlach Dances From Serbia

The River of Many Names, Part 3 features the Dunav Ensemble of Vidin; there is an excellent video of them in action.  You can get exhausted just watching. The scenery is nice, too.

Folk dances with stamping are a socially acceptable way of relieving the frustrations of everyday life.

Is Balkan folk dancing related to math?  Read more here.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Modern Versions of Traditional Macedonian Folk Songs

Today we explore both traditional and modern versions of Macedonian folk songs.

First, let's start with one of most popular, Makedonsko Devojče (Macedonian Girl). This video is of the traditional version most commonly played at folk dances, and it even has the lyrics in English translation. If you want to sing along in Macedonian, click here:

The modern version is glitzy and glamorous. It's performed by Karolina Goceva, a Macedonian pop singer who represented her country in the 2002 and 2007 Eurovision song contest. The little girl with her seems a bit shy up on that stage.

The next song is Jovano, Jovanke, a love song about a man captivated by watching a young woman bleaching some cloth by the Vardar River. One of this month's themes is love songs in keeping with the Valentine's Day holiday. First, listen the traditional version,  and check out the old photos of people in Macedonian folk costumes.

I would describe the next version of Jovano Jovanke as half traditional/half modern.  The reason for this is that the singers, Toše Proeski and Bilja Krstic wear quasi-folk costumes and there is a kaval player accompanying the band. A kaval is also known by the name "shepherd's flute"and is a musical instrument indigenous to the Balkans and parts of the Middle East.

By the way, Proeski was a very popular Macedonian pop singer who was killed in a car accident at the very young age of 26. Fortunately his performances have been preserved on YouTube for us to enjoy; you can see he totally captivated his audiences. He was a very talented man who left this world much too soon.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs, parts 1,2 and 3.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

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Monday, February 4, 2013

Wine, Romance and Folk Songs

Wine enters through the mouth,
Love, the eyes.
I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you,
I sigh.
― W.B. Yeats

It's that time of year again. February is the month of Valentine's Day in many countries around the world.  In Bulgaria, there's the celebration of Trifon Zerezan, the patron saint of wine. Today's post features songs about love and wine from Macedonia, Serbia, and Bulgaria.

The Macedonian folk song, Dafino Vino is about a woman whose boyfriend had his coat stolen by the haidouks (rebels) while he was sleeping. They sold the coat at a drinking establishment for wine and rakia (brandy). What really makes this song special is the accompaniment, a tamburitza orchestra, which adds a Croatian accent to the music.

You can read more about the performer, Elena Risteska, by clicking this link.  She is a Macedonian singer and songwriter and quite versatile. She performs both pop and folk songs, and has competed in the Eurovision song contest.

The next video features a dance song from Serbia, Savila se Bela Loza Vinova. It's about two people in love who chase each around the vineyard. The dance (starts at 0:21) is a favorite with kids. It's very easy to do and there's lots of running!

Here wine combines with romance in the Bulgarian song Kruchmaritse performed by Daniel Spasov. If you are a regular reader of The Alien Diaries you will recognize the song; the setting is different, however. This time the flirtation takes place in a bar on a riverboat, and the people are dressed in early 20th century costumes.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Blessed Wine, Cursed Drinking, A Look at St. Trifon, Patron Saint of Vintners

Boozing it Up in the Balkans  (Bring on the wine and rakia!)

Here Comes the Brass Band: Modern Bulgarian Folk Songs With Daniel Spasov (Kruchmaritse, on land this time;  a romantic riverboat excursion on the Danube, and some wild folk dancing at the Baba Vida fortress in Vidin)

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