Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Best of the Alien Diaries: 2010-2015

I would say happy new year but it's not happy; it's exactly the same as last year except colder.
Robert Clark

It is the end of 2015, and we have been very fortunate.  This time last year was a lot colder and snowier. Yesterday was the first winter precipitation, mostly in the form of freezing rain and slush, but there's no escaping cold weather where I live.

Back in 2010, I started The Alien Diaries because at the time there were very few blogs in English about Balkan music, folklore and dance. I had no idea that almost six years later that I can still create a new post almost every week, and that so many people look forward to reading them. My goal was to make Balkan folklore interesting, accessible, and entertaining. It is also a plot to get more people (especially the young ones) on the dance floor.

Since 2016 is almost upon us, this year end post will focus on the best video(s)  from each year (my choice). If you have a favorite, let me know in the "comments" section.

How do you mix folklore with pop culture?  Dress a woman up in a Bulgarian folk costume. Poke fun at the World Cup, soccer players, Germans, and a psychic octopus named Paul.

During the playoffs of the 2010 World Cup, Paul picked the winning teams with a surprising degree of accuracy. Unfortunately, Paul lived in an aquarium in Germany, and when he predicted Spain as the winner of the World Cup, the Germans posted octopus recipes on the Internet.  Fortunately he survived all the brouhaha and went to Pulpo Heaven later that year.

In Paul's honor, the Bulgarians created a satirical dance-song, the Octopod Rachenitsa.

One of the highlights of 2011 was Balkan Music Night.  It is an event that takes place in the Boston area every year right around mid-March and features numerous musicians and dance ensembles. Balkan Music night has two parts: the concert from 7-9 p.m., and afterwards, participatory dance to live music.

I took this video just before midnight when everyone was high on endorphins and finishing a medley of dances played by the tamburitza group Pajdashi. What's really cool is how the dancers flow around the room and end up in a circle, which is the definition of kolo.

The best video of 2012 is an excerpt from the Bulgarian TV program Ide Duhovata Muzika. It featured brass band music and songs performed by Daniel Spassov. The backdrop is the town of Vidin, Bulgaria.

You can usually recognize Daniel Spassov by his shades (they look like Transitions lenses).  In this video he looks different with a mustache minus his glasses. The group dresses like gypsies, and the woman wears a colorful outfit.  She is the only female in the video.

The song is Tsiganko. It sounds upbeat but is actually a lament about a man who's in love with a gypsy girl. According to the lyrics, he can't sleep and misses her badly because she's far away. You'd never know it from the music.

One of the best videos of 2013 took place at a dance workshop in Austria : "Schmitz mit Fritz." It was the most fun that I've seen during a dance teach.  Fritz called the steps, and the dancers hummed along with the music. They didn't sweat very hard because Pogonishte is a slow dance. You can find the lyrics here, in the original Albanian with German translation.

In 2014, Miss Piggy and her entourage of dancing pigs were a big hit on The Alien Diaries with Never on Sunday. The setting is right out of a Greek taverna, with bottles of ouzo on the table.The tradition of celebratory gunfire is part of the culture on the island of Crete and other regions of the Balkans, so the creators of this episode knew something about Greek celebrations. The characters also went crazy breaking plates.

The Muppet Show was broadcast from 1976-1981 and it was designed to appeal to both adults and kids.  I see things here that would never be allowed on a children's show today...though I have to admit this video was fun to watch and my kids, who were fans of the Muppet Show, suffered no ill effects.

Another Muppet who made an appearance on The Alien Diaries in 2014 was the Count from an early episode of Sesame Street (1973). He is the only Muppet with a Romanian accent, and the coolest vampire on the planet.

During the summer of 2015, there was a series of posts on Danube songs from Bulgaria.  Part Three featured modern folk songs.  My favorite was this plum from Plam.

The band takes its name from accordionist  Plamen Dimitrov.  It looks like the group added more members; there are five on the website, and nine in the video.

The song is Kray Dunava, or how people amuse themselves along the Danube, River of Many Names. There's a man shaking a bottle of sparkling wine, another man with a broom, attractive women, and the Bulgarian version of aerobic exercise, with the river as a backdrop.

Another fun video from the blog in 2015 was the Romanian dance Hora Veche, also known as Horror from Veche. A group of young people took this dance and made it fun.  It was a stellar performance. "We did it!"

Since the New Year is upon us, let's have a blast with Diko Iliev.  Somebody paired an excerpt from a war movie with Iliev's Dunavsko Horo. The explosions are timed perfectly with the music, and, yes, you can dance to it. It is a tradition to dance to this music at midnight on New Year's Day in Bulgaria.

Happy New Year 2016! A big "Thank You" to Alien Diaries readers and followers. May the New Year bring peace and joy (not war).

You can find the posts where these videos originally appeared below, except the Diko Iliev link.  Enjoy!  See you next year.

Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

Balkan Music Night 2011

Two Variations on the Albanian Folk DanceValle Pogonishte

Dancing Through the Alphabet Letter P (bonus video)

Beli Dunav, Part Three: Modern Bulgarian Danube Songs

Having a Blast With Diko Iliev

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Real Men Can Dance

“Those move easiest who have learn'd to dance”
Alexander Pope

Today's post features men who are very good dancers.  It is unfortunate that men in the United States think of dance as primarily a female activity.  If they saw how dancers are viewed in other cultures, they might change their minds.

Traditionally, in the Balkans, dances were places for young people to find marriage partners, and the men's dances were especially flamboyant because they were showing off for the women.  The best dancers got the prettiest girls.

Here's a group of guys at a wedding, and what you see is testosterone in action. I don't know where the wedding took place.  The title is in Bosnian and roughly translated means "Have you seen these men dance?"

The dances shown here are from the Shope region of Bulgaria. They start with Shopska Rachenitsa, then Graovsko Horo at 1:45 and finish the with the rachenitsa.  What energy!

Here's some eye candy for the ladies: three young shirtless men from Romania dancing sirba. This particular sirba is a fast, difficult dance.  I would definitely have an interest in them if I were young and single..They certainly weren't ashamed to have this posted on YouTube. If they were advertising for potential mates, I'd say they were doing an excellent job. Men who dance like this are sexy!

For more on the Romanian dance sirba, there is a link below with more information.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors of Bulgarian Rachenitsa Part Two  Masculine, Feminine and Flirty (one of the videos shows a female group dancing Shopska Rachenitsa)

Wedding Dances and Bloopers from Bulgaria and Romania

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

In the spirit of the season, here are some Bulgarian Christmas Songs.

The next post will be published shortly before the New Year. Happy Holidays to all!

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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Balkan Dances That Are Often Confused.....

What is important is to spread confusion, not eliminate it.
Salvador Dalí

Confusion sometimes reigns in the world of Balkan dance.  Today's post shows some examples of dances that can be mixed up because the names sound alike.

The first example is here is a Serbian dance called Čačak. There is also a Romani dance called Čoček. Čačak is in 2/4 and čoček in 9/8. They are two different dances in two different time signatures that sound very much alike.

The dance shown below is Zaplanski Čačak. Frequent readers will also recognize the dancers from the Dunav group from Jerusalem, Israel.

There are also many varieties or "flavors" of čačak; some examples are the Five Figure Čačak and Godecki Čačak, a dance that has dual citizenship in Bulgaria and Serbia. They are also more challenging dances than the basic čačak shown here.

The second dance is of Romani (Gypsy) origin: čoček. There are many varieties of čoček as well; two examples are Skopski Čoček and Indijski Čoček. This dance is very popular in Serbia and the Republic of Macedonia, where it is often played by brass bands.

To do a really good  čoček, you need to wiggle those hips.  The bigger the hips, the better the effect (see video below of the dance Merak Čoček.) The music is Karavana Chajka (sung in Bulgarian).  You can sing along if you like, the lyrics are provided as well.

The third dance is Sej Sej Bop, a rachenitsa from the Bulgarian region of Dobrudja.  Rachenitsa is the national dance of Bulgaria  and there are different regional variations.

The rhythm for rachenitsa is 7/8 or 7/16 depending on the speed: apple-apple-pineapple. This one is medium speed with lots of stamping, which is characteristic of dances from Dobrudja.

Why this dance is called Sej Bop, I don't know. It is another rachenitsa from Dobrudja with different choreography and music. Both dances have something to do with planting beans, a staple in Bulgarian cuisine.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

The "Flavors" of Serbian Čačak

The "Flavors" of Bulgarian Rachenitsa

A Romani Potpourri

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Music for the Birds!

Skylark, photo Wikipedia Commons, Daniel Petterson

In a broader sense, the rhythms of nature, large and small - the sounds of wind and water, the sounds of birds and insects - must inevitably find their analogues in music.
George Crumb

If you like music for the birds, you have come to the right place.  If English is not your native language "for the birds" is an idiom meaning worthless.  If you read today's post and listen to the music, you'll find it definitely worth your time.

Today's post focuses on a very popular tune from Romania, Ciocârlia (Skylark). It was a piece originally composed by Anghelus Dinicu for the pan flute (nai), and arranged  for violin by his grandson Grigoraş Ionică Dinicu.

Pan flutes, or panpipes are common to other countries as well as Romania.  It is also a folk instrument played in the Andean regions of South America. However, Romanian musicians developed such proficiency on this instrument that they made it sound birdlike.  This is why Ciocârlia is so popular with pan flute players. 

The performer below is a virtuoso on this instrument.  He really gets that bird song on.

The second video is a bit longer than the first, and the soloist is accompanied by a band (violinist, pan flute, cello, cimbalom, accordion, saxophone and several violinists).  Although this performance is over 20 years old it's worth a listen.  This group sounds just like a flock of birds.  Seriously, it sounds like a summer morning when the birds go mad with their chirping. It is amazing how creative these guys are.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

More Interesting and Unusual Instruments in Balkan Folk Music

The Cimbalom/Tambal in Romanian Folk Music

It's almost winter and cold enough for snow and ice, in many places (unless global warming has cancelled winter for this year) Check out some variations of Hora pe Gheata.

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