Friday, June 26, 2015

Beli Dunav, Part Two: More Songs from Bulgaria: Danube Blues

It's fun to sing sad songs. And it's fun to listen to sad songs. Enjoyable. Satisfying. Something.
Richard Thompson

Singing and listening to sad songs is a universal thing, especially when people have been drinking a little too much alcohol. This tends to bring out the maudlin streak. Songs about tragedy and lost love are common to many cultures, and today's post features four folk songs from Bulgaria. They mention the Danube, River of Many Names in the lyrics.

The first song is Dunave, Beli, Dunave,  (White Danube) performed by Lyuben Zahariev.  I couldn't find the lyrics or a translation of the song.  The overall impression that I get is that there is a loss, maybe someone traveling far away leaving a girlfriend behind. If anyone out there has a translation, please post it in the comments section.

Lyuben Zahariev's singing style has often been compared to Kaicho Kamenov, who lived from 1923-1983.  Both men were from northwestern Bulgaria, Vidin region.

This song is about about a man watching the fog and dreaming about his lost love: It is titled Kolko sa mŭgli po Dunava (What is the Fog on the Danube? Unfortunately Google Translate is not always 100% accurate, this is the best translation I could find.)  Kamenov recorded most of his songs before the advent of color TV.  The video is in black and white and shades of gray  (fortunately not the Fifty Shades of Gray from that bondage and domination movie that was so popular recently.)  Fog is a common phenomenon around large bodies of water, especially during spring and fall. It is white and obscures visibility. Many accidents (both on land and water) occur on foggy days.

The text (in Bulgarian) includes a brief bio of Kamenov, mentions his most popular songs, and shows the album cover.  Back in the old days records (anyone remember those?) were 10" in diameter, had one song per side, and the rotational speed was 78 revolutions per minute.  The average recording was about three minutes long. We have come a long way since then.

In the next video you get to watch a slideshow while listening to Radka Krai Dunav Stoeshe (Radka Stood Along the Danube).  Is she waiting for someone from far away?  Was she in love with a fisherman who never returned? This is another song with lyrics that could not be found, but the overall mood of the song is pure blues with accordion, clarinet, and lament. If you watch closely, you can see an ancient photo; most likely this is Radka. What color is the Danube here?  The same color as the song.

The video for Oj Dunave Beli is even more colorful, featuring people on a steamboat dressed in period costumes from the early twentieth century. The singer is Daniel Spassov, and is an excerpt from a longer video titled Ide Duhovata Muzika (Here Comes the Brass Band).

I was able to pick up some of the song's meaning, which has to do with nostalgia for the past and one's lost youth.

If you liked this you may also enjoy:

Beli Dunav Part One: Danube Songs from Bulgaria

The River of Many Names Part Five:  (Nostalgic songs from Serbia)

The Colors of Bulgarian Folk Songs

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Beli Dunav Part One: Danube Songs from Bulgaria

We forget just how painfully dim the world was before electricity. A candle, a good candle, provides barely a hundredth of the illumination of a single 100 watt light bulb.
Bill Bryson

You may be wondering why I used a quote about candles.  Read on and you'll find out.

Today's post is first in a series featuring Danube songs from Bulgaria. The title for this one is Dunave, Beli Dunave. In English it translates to "White Danube."  In Bulgaria, the color white is associated with "joy, grandeur and beauty," among other things. There are a number of arrangements and different versions of this song, and I have written about them in previous posts (see links below)

Songs like this are the reason people are so enchanted with arrangements of Bulgarian choral music.

Back in the late 80's people in the States took notice of vocal music from Eastern Europe.  Marcel Cellier had put together an album called the "Mystery of Bulgarian Voices." It became extremely popular in the United States, and Americans were amazed at the beauty and harmony of Bulgarian folk songs.  One was even used in the TV series Xena, Warrior Princess.

The name of the group in the video is Rosalitsa and this performance took place in the community center (chitalishte) in the town of Svishtov , Bulgaria.  Svishtov has been settled since the time of the Romans, who called it Novae. The Bulgarian name of the town is derived from the word "candle."  There was once a lighthouse there to aid night time navigation, back in the days when there was no electricity.

The song is performed a capella and there are two distinct, yet harmonious melodies blended together. It sounds like something you'd hear in a church or a concert hall.  This is Bulgarian folk song at its best.

If anyone out there can find the lyrics of this beautiful song, please post them in the "comments" section.  It would be much appreciated!

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Singing Demystified

The River of Many Names Part 4: The Danube in Bulgarian Folk Songs

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs Part One

For more on Bulgarian singing click this link

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Friday, June 12, 2015

A Bulgarian Weekend With Cherven Traktor

I'll refer to my music in color, like "This song needs to be bright red."
Janelle Monae

In Bulgarian folklore, red is considered a lucky color. Bulgarian folk costumes often have red in them, especially those from the northern region. It is also the color of wine, and with white, one of the colors of the Martenitsa, a good luck amulet worn to hasten the coming of spring.

During the last weekend of May I had the pleasure of dancing to the group Cherven Traktor from New York City.  The name of the group is Bulgarian for "Red Tractor."

The performers are Michael Ginsburg (tupan), Belle Birchfeld (tambura), Nikolai Kolev (gadulka) and Donka Koleva (vocals).

Michael Ginsburg teaches Balkan dance. He is one of the original members of Zlatne Uste, a band very popular in the New York City area.  They play high octane Balkan brass music from Serbia, the Republic of Macedonia, and Bulgaria. His wife, Belle Birchfeld, also plays in the band.

Nikolai Kolev and his wife Donka were born in Bulgaria (Thracian region) and were members of the band Kabile, which played at weddings and festivals in Bulgaria for 17 years before the Kolevs emigrated to the United States in 1995.

Kabile also toured the United States in  2008, 2010, and 2012.

The Kolevs have also performed with as Bulgarika with musicians Vasil Bebelekov, gaida and Dragni Dragnev who plays gaida, keyboard and tupan (just not all at the same time!) and that ensemble toured the United States in 2014.

What was really cool was that Nikolai Kolev, master of the gadulka, gave us a demonstration of his instrument and explained how he plays it. Unfortunately, I didn't get that on video, but in one of the links below you can see him in action playing a solo on the gadulka.  He really makes it sing :)

Today's music is a medley of tunes from northeastern Bulgaria; the dance is Dobrudjanska Rŭka, named after the hand and arm movements. 

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The Best of Bulgarika

An Unforgettable Evening with Kabile at Mt. Holyoke College

The Gadulka in Bulgarian Folk Music

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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dancing Though the Alphabet: Letter Z

“Thou whoreson zed! Thou unnecessary letter! My lord, if you will give me leave, I will tread this unbolted villain into mortar, and daub the wall of a jakes with him.
William Shakespeare

Why Shakespeare had such a low opinion of the letter "z", I don't know. He probably didn't know of the existence of Balkan dancing.

Back in Shakespeare's time, Britain was its own happy little world. Few people traveled far from where they were born except for some brave explorers who sailed to the New World and the British Navy who fought the Spanish at sea.

Travel in those days was dangerous, expensive and time consuming.  The British had no idea of the Balkan world until Bram Stoker wrote his famous novel about the vampire, Dracula.

He then opened up the Balkans to English speakers, who, all of a sudden, had this fascination about vampires and Transylvania.

Today we go further south, to Greece, with two dances that begin with the letter Z.

The first one, Zagorisios, is in the odd time signature of 5/4.  It's a slow, but very subtle, and with this kind of rhythm you have to pay attention to what you're doing.

These dancers are from Ottawa, Canada, and it's their annual Christmas party.

The next video is Zonaradikos, named after the belt hold used in the dance. It is from the region of Thrace in Greece.  Bulgarian Thrace is the home of  Pravo Horo, which is very similar to the Greek Zonaradikos.

The bonus video for the last letter of the alphabet features a vintage episode of Sesame Street and Kermit.  The letter "z" seems to be giving him trouble, but then, "it's not easy being green."

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Bulgarian Dances and Their Greek Relatives

Beethoven With A Bulgarian Accent; Mozart Goes Greek

The "Flavors" of Greek Syrtos

For more about Dracula and Transylvania read: Folklore and Pop Culture (Again!)

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