Folklore and Music of Bulgaria

Bulgaria is famous for its wonderful folk music that is so noteworthy that it was sent into space by NASA. The most exciting folklore festivals in Bulgaria are those in Koprivshtitza and in Predela. Through the music, singing and dancing you will touch the unique Bulgarian folklore art. You could not forget this experience !

The National Fair of Bulgarian Folklore Art has been holding in the town of Koprivshtitza since 1965. Every fifth year in summer the region becomes a center of folklore celebrations. Ensembles from all ethnographic areas in Bulgaria take part in the Koprivshtitza festival. Concerts are played in the open near Koprivshtitza performing the unique Bulgarian singing and dancing on 8 stages. Only the best performers from every region participate in the fair. An interesting part of the celebrations is the review of authentic Bulgarian national costumes and exhibition of Old Bulgarian crafts. In the evening in the center of Koprivshtitza foreign folklore ensembles perform traditional Bulgarian folklore. The Folklore Festival in Koprivshtitza is among the most impressive, exciting and important events in Bulgarian cultural life. It gathers at one place the best of Bulgarian folklore and contributes for its preserving and popularizing all over the world.

The traditional dresses for women in Bulgaria include dvuprestilchena (costume with two aprons), sukmanena (dress /gown type), sayana (saya – a dress with a slash in front), and ednoprestilchena (a single-apron costume). In the past, these traditional costumes were entirely home-made prepared with lots of hard work and awesome designs. The traditional men clothing in Bulgaria were “white” and “black” costumes. The “white” male clothing consists of a chemise, gashti, benevretsi, dimii (tight or looser breeches, pants), poyas (wide girdle), belt and top clothes made of white home-spun fulled freeze. Upper garments modify the silhouette of the costume, whereas its decoration performs linear embroidered patterns and gaytani (colored woolen bands/braids) on the bosom and the chest, on the sleeves and the leggings. Very impressive samples are kept from Belogradchik, Trân, Lom, Botevgrad, Vratsa and Nikopol regions. The “black” men dress consists of a chemise, poturi (loose trousers), girdle, belt and a top garment: elek, dzhamadan (vest), anteriya (jacket with sleeves) made of black woolen frieze. The poturi are loose with a rich decoration of black braids. Most impressive are the collections from the Sliven, Yambol, Silistra and Smolyan regions.

The traditional Bulgarian folklore song of the Shopp region has two distinguishing forms: two-voice singing and epical recitative. The Shopp songs are with narrow tone volume which corresponds to their antiquity. They astound every folklore connoisseur around the world. Distinctive elements of the Shopp’s dance are so-called “natrisane” – shivering of the torso, especially of the shoulders and the sharpness of the movements.

Bulgaria’s three main ancestral cultures – Thracian, Slavic and Proto-Bulgarian – left behind only fragmentary evidence of their individual mythologies. These mythologies combined with each other, developed and transformed to produce the body of folk customs, beliefs, artistic forms and traditional narratives that have existed right up until the modern era and which are now collectively known as Bulgarian folklore. Bachevo still preserves the authentic ritual of dousing flowers. Young girls douse flowers and make a wish. The celebration is also connected with the Day of St. George (martyr for the Christian religion) who according to the legend used to live in this area. Razlog praises the taste of the home-made pastry (banitza) and organizes a BANITZA fest when women with 50-years experience in preparing banitza share their secret recipes and tricks for rolling out the pastry.

A favorite character of Bulgarian folk tales for hundreds of years has been Sly Peter. He became famous for outwitting others. The hajduks (HIGH-dukes) are legendary freedom fighters, similar to the English folk hero Robin Hood. Here are some Bulgarian proverbs that illustrate the practical side of the Bulgarian spirit: A dog barks to guard itself, not the village. Work left for later is finished by the Devil. Bulgaria’s lively, rhythmic folk music is popular with folk dancers the world over. It is played on instruments that include the gaida (bagpipes), kaval (seven-hole reed pipe), gadulka (pear-shaped fiddle), tambura (fretted lute), tupan (cylindrical drum), tarabuka or dumbek (hourglass-shaped finger-drum. It is very similar to the Turkish and North African “darbooka” and the Greek “touberleki”). Modern style instruments /accordion, clarinet, saxophone/ are often used in the more modern dance music that was an offshoot of traditional village music.

For more than 1,000 years, we The Bulgarians have celebrated our national holiday on March 1st called “Baba Marta,” (Grandma March). In Bulgarian, “Mart” is the name for the month of March. During March, Bulgarians wear a small special ornament made of red and white yarn called “Martenitsa,” (for Mart/March). The martenitsa is one of the most recognizable and unique Bulgarian symbols. It is a symbol of peace, love, health and happiness. The white color symbolizes purity and honesty in relationships, and peace. The red color coming from the blood symbolizes the life force, passion, affection, and mutual love.
March 1 is the day on which Bulgarians exchange martenitsas. These are worn until we see a stork or the first buds of a tree (and storks are numerous in Bulgaria). Once people see these spring symbols, they tie their martenitsa on a tree or let it flow in a river. In some regions, people leave their martenitsas under a rock. Then they come back in a month to see if there are any ants under that same rock. If there are many, the year is to be prosperous and abundant.

The legend goes over a thousand years back (Bulgaria was found in 681). A legend about the origin of the tradition tells that khan Asparouh, the founder of present-day Bulgaria, had a sister named Houba. She was captured by the enemies. To free his sister, Asparouh had to find free land and take his people there. He promised to inform his sister once the land was discovered. He was to send her a dove that had a thread tied to its leg. While flying, the dove was wounded and its blood colored the thread. Yet Houba got the good news and managed to escape.

The legend I was told as a child was about one of our kings and his queen. The king had to go to war to defend our land leaving his queen. He told her that he will send her a sign of his success. The king succeeded but he lost his life for his people. Nevertheless, he managed to send a sign to his queen by one of his people – a white piece of his clothing colored red by the blood he shed for his people. Even though both legends differ, the foundation is the same. It involves our king and kingdom, and the delivery of the good news of freedom by a sign, a white tread or piece of cloth that gets stained with the life blood of the one who delivered us to freedom.
Nowadays, with having a big chunk of the Bulgarian population spread around the globe with remaining Bulgarian population in Bulgaria of about 8 million, these red and white threads have come to symbolize the strong bond among Bulgarians around the world. Mart reminds us of the values which the Martenitsa has carried through the centuries. And all Bulgarians wear it, no matter where they are. People in neighboring countries like Romania, Macedonia and Serbia have similar holidays.

Bulgaria, Author Georgi Palahutev

333 bagpipe players – kaba gaidas players of all ages and from all over the country performed live in Sofia in front of an ecstatic audience in May 2012, setting the world record for the Largest bagpipe orchestra, according to the World Record Academy: www.worldrecordacademy.com/, and setting a Guinness Book World Record for the greatest number of bagpipers ever to play together at once. Dressed in traditional colorful Rhodope costumes, bagpipers started with a famous folk song – Delyu Haidutin – which was included in a Voyager golden record with the songs and sounds of our planet and sent as a message to space by NASA in 1977.

Folk music revolved around holidays like Christmas, New Year’s Day, midsummer, and the Feast of St Lazarus, as well as the Strandzha region’s unusual Nestinarstvo rites. Nestinari (fire dancers) dance barefoot on glowing embers (live coals, and fell into a trance and danced on hot coals, as part of the joint feast of Sts Constantine and Helena on May 21, inherited from the ancient Thracian cult. Music was also a part of more personal celebrations such as weddings. Singing has always been a tradition for both men and women. Songs were often sung by women at work parties such as the sedenka (often attended by young men and women in search of partners to court), betrothal ceremonies, and just for fun. Women had an extensive repertoire of songs that they sang while working in the fields. Young women eligible for marriage played a particularly important role at the dancing in the village square (which not too long ago was the major form of “entertainment” in the village and was a very important social scene). The dancing— every Sunday and for three days on major holidays like Easter — began not with instrumental music, but with two groups of young women singing, one leading each end of the dance line. Later on, instrumental musicians might arrive and the singers would no longer be the dance leaders. A special form of song, the lament, was sung not only at funerals but also upon the departure of young men for military service. The Bulgarian folk music is unique in Europe for its “asymmetrical” rhythms, where the musical time is not split in even beats, but in longer and shorter.

The best known Bulgarian folk dance is the horo, a fast, swirling circle dance. One of the most distinctive features of Balkan folk dance music is the complexity of its rhythms in comparison to Western music. Although it uses Western meters such as 2/4, 3/4, and 4/4, Balkan music also includes meters with 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 15 beats per measure, sometimes referred to as “asymmetric meters”. These can often be understood as combinations of groups of “quick” and “slow” beats. For example, the lesnoto dance (“the light/easy one”) has a meter of 7 beats with emphasis on the first, fourth, and sixth beats. This can be divided into three groups, a “slow” unit of 3 beats and two “quick” units of 2 beats, often written 3-2-2. Each basic folk dance type use a distinct combination of these rhythmic “units”. Some examples are rachenitsa (7 beats divided: 2-2-3, ofter performed on concerts), paidushka hora (5 beats: 2-3), eleno mome (7 beats: 2-2-1-2), kapanitsa (11 beats: 2-2-3-2-2), and Bucimis (15 beats: 2-2-2-2-3-2-2), and pravo horo, which can either be standard 4/4 or 6/8. Some rhythms with the same number of beats can be divided in different ways: for example, 8-beat rhythms can be divided 2-3-3, 3-2-3, 3-3-2, 2-2-2-2, 2-2-4, 2-4-2, 4-2-2, or even 4-4. This terminology is a crude simplification and is not used by Balkan musicians; it does not capture the full subtlety of the Balkan rhythms.

The UNESCO candidature (The Bistritsa Babi – Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Ritual Practices from the Shoplouk Region) is dedicated to the archaic polyphony, dances and ritual practices that can be found in the Shoplouk region of Bulgaria, which are performed by a group of elderly women – the Bistritsa Babi. It encompasses diaphony, or what is known as shoppe polyphony, ancient forms of the horo chain dance and the ritual practice of lazarovane, an initiation ceremony for young women. The Bistritsa babi (elderly women from Bistritsa) are famous all over the world – they are included in the List of masterpieces of the world intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO. The inhabitants of the small village of Bistritsa, in the foot of the Vitosha mountain, manage to preserve the folklore untouched throughout the centuries. Up to present times, their singing, dances and specific ritual practices of the women are handled from generation to generation.
The group of the Bistritsa babi was founded more than half a century ago and consist today of 9 women – third generation singers. They are singing in two groups – the one group is singing, while the other accompanying (singing back). They are singing only old songs – the same way they were sung years ago. Their repertoire consists of over 300 songs. Most of them are difficult for performing, with various ornaments, which they call “tresene”. You can’t learn songs from sheet music, as almost nothing is recorded correctly and can’t be read respectively. You should first assimilate the style itself, which takes years.
The singing of the Bistrishki babi is unique, as it is ancient – preserved from the Pre-Christian Age. Specialists determine it as unique polyphony at three voices. Polyphony is an archaic type of singing with a typical melody kept throughout the ages. The three parties are characteristic only for Bistritsa and can’t be heard anywhere else in Shoplouka region. The upper voice is called “okane” and is performed by one woman from the each group. The other two women “buchat pravo” (keep the main tone as second voice), while the remaining two women “bucht krivo” which is the third voice. The songs of the Bistritsa babi accompany ritual feasts. There are songs for each rite, for each labour activity, as well as just for entertaining.

Petrunino Horo Dance

Dzangurica Horo Dance

Sofia area dances

Atanas Todorov – Bulgarian bagpipes

Song from Rhodopes of Bulgaria

Rhodope Song of Zlatograd

Bistritza – Ancient Dances and Rituals from the Shopluk region

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