Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Colors of Bulgarian Folk Songs

K.D. Brown: Visionary, a photo created with Bulgarian textile cloth

Light in Nature creates the movement of colors.
Robert Delaunay

Today's post was inspired by the Bulgarian National Radio.  They had a program recently on color symbolism in Bulgarian folklore several weeks ago and you can find the link here:

Red is mentioned quite often in Bulgarian folk songs, often in connection with wine.  A powerful, attention getting, and vibrant color (see photo above), red is the color of fire, passion, wine and blood. I've noticed lots of red in Bulgarian folk costumes as well. It is considered a lucky color.

Rusi Kosi is a song about a blonde who has no comb, and no powder for her white face (by the way, white has several meanings in Bulgarian, and in this case a white face is a beautiful face). She wonders when her mother will find her a man to marry who will buy her the comb and the powder. The girl's name is Elena, and she has to bring the red wine and two red apples. The translation comes from Bulgarian by way of German and it's from the Songbook for Nearsighted People, a compilation of international folk song lyrics by Birgitt Karlson.

The full moon rises, red, orange, and then white in the song Izgryala e Mesechinka while the young woman picks a colorful bouquet in the moonlit garden. This is a modern version of a beautiful Bulgarian folk song played on a gadulka and a guitar, and the lady who plays the gadulka, Hristina Beleva, has a very pretty voice.  The dance in the video is a rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria, with the irregular rhythm of 7/8 (apple-apple-pineapple).

The next video is so colorful it will draw you right in. The song is Dunave, Beli Dunave, which means White Danube. Most people associate the Danube with the color blue, maybe because it rhymes so well (in English and in German), however when I actually saw the river, it was a totally different group of colors (more like green, gold, and gray). In the video, however, it looks blue and sometimes white.

I often wondered why there were several Bulgarian folk songs on this topic; until I found out that white can also mean beautiful. White in Bulgarian folklore has a lot of symbolism, according to the Bulgarian National Radio: "the white color also means joy, grandeur and beauty", as well as purity and innocence. 

The River of Many Names is also very colorful, and in addition to the aforementioned colors, it can also be white on foggy days.   In Oriahovo, where the was video was taken, the performers had to wait two hours for the fog to burn off so they could shoot it.  By the way the composer Diko Iliev lived for many years in this town, and the piece Dunavsko Horo composed there. The reason brass music is so popular in northwestern Bulgaria is due to the influence of Diko Iliev.

The dancers wear colorful and elaborate embroidered costumes; this and the brass band music are a treat for the eyes and ears. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the translation for the song, if anyone can tell me where to find it, please post it in the comments section.

The eyes have it in this video, with a very attractive dark-eyed woman who flashes those orbs around  while pouring the wine.  The singer is Daniel Spasov, who co-hosts a weekly folklore show on Bulgarian television, Ide Nashenskata Muzika, along with Milen Ivanov.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

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

Part 1: About rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria

Part 2  Masculine, Feminine and Flirty (rachenitsa as a courtship dance)

The River of Many Names (parts 2 and 4) features folk songs and dances from Bulgaria about the Danube. It's a very colorful excursion into the world of Bulgarian folk music.

Part 2

Part 4

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs, Part 1  (you will find modern versions of two of today's songs in this post, along with the traditional ones so you can compare them.)

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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Two Variations on a Bulgarian Folk Dance: Opas

Today's featured dance will be Opas, from the region of Dobrudja in northeast Bulgaria. Like last week's Romanian dance, Hora de Mina, it has different "flavors" with different music and choreography. Opas is the Dobrudjan variation of the dance Pravo Trakiisko Horo, shown here:

This link goes to Eliznik's Web Page a very informative source on folk dances from Eastern Europe.
If you scroll down and read the last paragraph, it explains the regional differences of Pravo Horo, the most popular dance in Bulgaria.

The version of Opas done in Bulgaria is a relatively easy dance, although the front basket-hold raises the challenge level a little, especially for beginner folk dancers. I happen to like this video because it's part of a series for learning Bulgarian folk dances, and the people wear elaborate embroidered costumes from the different folklore regions.

If you're a regular reader of The Alien Diaries the people in the next video will be familiar to you. The Dunav group from Jerusalem in Israel has a new series of videos featuring dances from the Balkans. I happened upon this when I was doing a search for the version of Opas that's done by recreational folk dance groups here in the States. This one rates 9.5 on a difficulty scale from 1-10; the belt hold makes it especially challenging. An especially difficult element of the dance is the deep knee bends, this is definitely off-limits if you have arthritis :)

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Two Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance, Hora de Mina

Dancing Across Bulgaria: The Pravo and Regional Folk Dance Styles:

More dances from the Bulgarian folklore region of Dobrudja:

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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Two Variations on a Romanian Folk Dance: Hora de Mina

Today's post is about one of my favorite Romanian folk dances, Hora de Mina.  It translates to dance with hands.

The word mână means "hand" in Romania, my guess is that the correct spelling for this dance is Hora de Mână and that diacritical mark on the first "a" makes it sound like an "i". Spelling "mână"  with an "i" simplifies things for those who are unfamiliar with Romanian diacritical marks.  People who grew up with Spanish (like I did) will recognize the similarity of the word to the Spanish "mano."

Romanian and Spanish are both derived from Latin, however the languages are not very similar...their relationship is more like distant cousins.

This version is the one used by most folk dance groups. As dances go, Hora de Mina is fairly easy; and it's also quite short.  Notice the hand movements that go with the music, and yes, what you hear are bagpipes, they are popular in Romania, too!

The next version of Hora de Mina is somewhat different, and a bit higher on the difficulty scale than the previous one. The backwards step is similar, hand movements are more pronounced, and the hands are held high in one of the figures. There's "ethnic symmetry" in this dance, too, what you do to the right you must also do to the left.  There is also a name for those shouts that you hear, they are a common feature of Romanian folk dances, and they are called strigături.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

If you like dances with stamping, this post is for you.  Stamping is not limited to Romanian folk dances, you will see some here from Bulgaria and Serbia as well.

More variations on a theme:  Dances with a "family resemblance."

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Women of Bulgarian Folk Songs: Dimitrija. Elerinka, and Jova

I think today women are very scared to celebrate themselves, because then they just get labeled.
Charlize Theron

In honor of International Women's Day, which falls every year on March 8, this post features  Bulgarian folk songs about three young women: Dimitrija, Elerinka, and Jova. There are links to the lyrics so you can sing along, if you want. 

The first song, Dimitrija, is from the Pirin region, and it's performed by the Goce Delchev folk ensemble from Sofia, Bulgaria. The closest translation I could get for this was from the Songbook for Nearsighted People, in German. According to the lyrics, Dimitrija sits on a chair, drinking wine and rakia (she certainly has a tolerance for alcohol!) Three falcons fly overhead, and cover the rakia with dust. This angers Dimitrija, and she whips out her gun! Don't mess with a female who's armed and dangerous, as well as drunk....

The lyrics can be found here:

The next group, from the Boston, Massachusetts area, is Rakiya; the footage is from an gig they did in Wethersfield, Connecticut a couple of years ago. The band's name comes from the fiery brandy indigenous to the Balkans. They play traditional music from Bulgaria, Macedonia and other Eastern European countries with a modern touch, and it is a joy to listen to them.

The song, Elerinka, describes a beautiful girl held captive by her evil stepmother; she's not allowed to go to the well to fetch water with the other young ladies, nor can she go to the village dances to find a husband. The sun, however, fell in love with Elerinka, he shone on her for three days and three nights. The question of the day is...did she get burned? 

This dance has one of the quirkiest rhythms I've ever heard.  According to the dance notes I found, it alternates between 11/8 and 7/8. Odd rhythms and rhythm changes are very common in Bulgarian folk music.

The lyrics (in German and English) can be found here:

The tune Jove Malaj Mome is well-known amongst folk dancers all over the world. This is another dance in compound meter, like the previous one, it alternates between two different rhythms, 7/16 and 11/16.

Jove Malaj Mome  is from the Shope region of Bulgaria, ;and the lyrics describe a young woman who goes to the village dances to look for men. She's a hot shot, thinks she's God's gift to the world, and leads the dancing.  She's a snob when it comes to her choice of men, no country guys for her, she wants a big-city dude in an embroidered vest. Jova is definitely a gold-digger.

By the way, the group performing this dance is Dunav from Jerusalem in Israel.  For more songs and videos, you can visit their website:

Click the link below for the lyrics.

If you enjoyed this you may also like my two previous International Women's Day posts

Songs From the Balkans About Women and Girls:

Dances from the Balkans About Women and Girls

For some background and history about International Women's Day read:

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