Monday, August 22, 2016

Variations on the Bulgarian Folk Song: Kaval Sviri

Gabrielle: Xena, this was our only frying pan! Why do you do that? You do have weapons, don't you?
Xena: I like to be creative in a fight. It gets my juices going.
Gabrielle: Can we cook with your juices?

from Xena, Warrior Princess, Episode: A Day in the Life

Today's post features variations of the Bulgarian folk song Kaval Sviri, which was used in the series Xena, Warrior Princess. It ran from 1995 - 2001 and was extremely popular. Despite its popularity, I never watched an entire episode, and never knew that the theme music was from Bulgaria.I found out entirely by accident while traveling through the Universe of YouTube.

Xena, Warrior Princess was a fantasy show based on Greek, German and Norse mythology. Xena attempts to redeem herself from the sins of her past by using her fighting skills to help the defenseless. Her sidekick and best friend, Gabrielle, is also a major character.

Kaval Sviri is a song about a young woman who falls in love with a young man who plays the kaval (also known as a shepherd's flute).  I found the lyrics (in Bulgarian) with transliteration.

Video #1 is the song as used in the program, played by the group Dashina from the Berklee College of Music. It is a very powerful piece and familiar to fans of the show. I really like this passionate, modern rendition of Kaval Sviri. There are no traditional Bulgarian folk instruments used here. Instead, there are a bass, violins, viola, a keyboard, drums, clarinet, and an electric guitar.

Video #2 is what Kaval Sviri sounds like with a large ensemble, a capella (no instrumental accompaniment)  with male and female performers.  The group is the London Bulgarian Choir.

Video #3 is performed by Ensemble Trakia. It was released in 1988 on the album Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, Vol. II.

Video #4 is the same song,  also a capella, with a small group this time.They have very powerful voices that harmonize well.

You can read about The Nightingale Trio here.  Surprise, none of the ladies is Bulgarian! They used to perform with the Yale Slavic Chorus, and started their own group after they graduated.

If you enjoyed this you may also like:

Modern Versions of Traditional Bulgarian Folk Songs, Parts One, Two and Three

Bulgarian Folklore and Pop Culture

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  1. It seems that you have missed a key version, perhaps the original one. This song is closely associated with the Plovdiv-based Trakia Ensemble and was performed by their choir on the first Le Mystere cd, released in 1988 (see The song is still being performed by them in much the same way and re-released, as can be seen and heard here- . Since the director of the London Bulgarian Choir was formerly in the Kutev Ensemble, I think that explains the similarity of the version in your note to the Trakia Ensemble's recording; there is a lot of cross-influence between all the major Bulgarian ensembles, who sometimes even perform together.
    I would suggest re-examining your essay from the point of view of Trakia Ensemble's arrangement and recording being the wellspring, and look into how other versions have built on that foundation.

  2. Hi, Rick, thanks for the comment and the link to the version of the song as performed by Ensemble Trakia. For some reason I couldn't find it when I was doing the research for this song. I will add it to the post, thanks for your feedback!
    By the way, I have listened and dances to Bulgarika many times, always a pleasure to hear you play.