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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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Wedding Dances and Bloopers from Bulgaria and Romania

All tragedies are finished by a death, all comedies by a marriage.
Lord Byron

Today's post features wedding dances and bloopers from Romania and Bulgaria. You will get your daily dose of Vitamin C (for comedy) here, and lots of dancing, some of it performed by people in elaborate embroidered costumes.

The first video is Svatbarsko Horo (Wedding Dance). Where are the wedding guests?  I see a group of people in folk dress, and a guy singing. (Maybe the people in the park are the wedding crashers.  No, it's that bird hopping around on the walkway in front of the bridal party!)

And Google, please lay off the ads, it's annoying to close out of them while I'm watching YouTube.  You have to find a way to bring in the cash without driving people nuts.

The next video is a group of five Romanian wedding bloopers. A little too much booze combined with the inclination to show off while dancing is a recipe for laughter, and sometimes, disaster. This is the kind of stuff that people talk about for years afterwards. They don't remember the church ceremony, or the beautiful couple; they remember the relatives who drank too much and made total fools of themselves!

What is really cool about weddings in Eastern Europe is how they combine traditional and modern music.  The Penguin Dance (no. 3 in this group), seems to be a staple at Romanian weddings.  I can listen to it for about a minute, then it starts to get annoying. It's the kind of music that's best tolerated in a drunken stupor. Check out the guy at the back of the line, he can barely stand up!

No. 1 shows a bride with black nails and missing teeth. Did the groom escape at the last minute? I sure hope so :)

The fine art of folk dancing is taken to new heights when done with cake and pastries.  The rachenitsa, national dance of Bulgaria, is a form of flirtation.  It is made more challenging when there are poles in the way and cake in the hand.  Amazingly, there is no damage to the cake, and the men do some amazing deep knee bends. I wonder if they could dance with wine bottles on top of their heads?

If you enjoyed this you may also like: The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa, Part 2
 (a dance that can be masculine, feminine, or flirtatious). 

The "Flavors" of Romanian Hora

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba (More Romanian wedding videos here!)

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Saturday, June 1, 2013

One Hundred Balkan and Bulgarian Folk Dances

Seek and you shall find.  paraphrased from Matthew 7:7–8

I found these videos during one of my forays in the Universe of YouTube. They are part of a series titled One Hundred Balkan and Bulgarian Folk Dances, produced by the Bulgarian International Dance Club and performed by the Biser Folk Ensemble of Blagoevgrad.

They are beautifully done, take place outdoors, and have creative little touches like the dancing cartoon feet, complete with tsarvuli (Bulgarian traditional dance shoes) and wool socks. There is an advertisement for Balkanfolk near the end of the video (a marketplace for things Bulgarian such as traditional costumes and music, as well as news and happenings in the folk dance world.  I am usually repelled by all the advertising I see these days. Ads for Balkan folklore websites are the exception.

The first dance in this series is Elenino Horo (Eleno Mome), a staple in the Bulgarian folk repertoire, from the northwest region of the country.

By the way, many years ago, visitors to Balkanfolk were asked to vote on folk songs, and the winner each month received a CD in the mail. My prize was a collection of songs performed by Kostadin Gugov. Although the site no longer asks for visitor input on songs, I use it as a cultural and musical resource. There are also songs and dances available for download, as well as videos of folk dance competitions.

The next video is of Maleshevsko Horo, from the Pirin (southwestern) region of Bulgaria,

The Dance Traveler (the disembodied feet in these videos) travels south to the Greek region of Macedonia to find some Drama. In the English-speaking world we usually associate drama with a situation like this:

I like this type of Drama better.  The styling is impeccable, and the music is beautiful.  One thing I've noticed about Macedonian dances is that they start off slow and gradually speed up towards the end. I also want to mention that there are three Macedonias, the Republic of Macedonia, the Pirin region of Bulgaria, and Greek Macedonia.  Music does not recognize political boundaries.  Why people fight over them is a mystery to me.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Dances and Their Greek Relatives

The Different "Flavors" of Macedonian Folk Music

A One of a Kind Club for Folk Dancers (a  club sponsored by the website, dedicated exclusively to Balkan folk dancing, located in Sofia, Bulgaria).

You can also read An Overview of Bulgarian Folk Dancing.

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