The Bulgarian city of Plovdiv, together with the Italian city of Matera, has been chosen as the twin European Capital of Culture for 2019. The initiative aims to achieve the state which can be gathered simply and clearly in the motto ‘Together’. Both Plovdiv and Matera are collaborating actively and have common projects and initiatives.
The music of Bulgaria refers to all forms of music associated with the country of Bulgaria, including classical, folk, popular music, and other forms.
Classical music, opera, and ballet are represented by composers Emanuil Manolov, Pancho Vladigerov and Georgi Atanasov and singers Ghena Dimitrova, Mariana Paunova, Boris Hristov, Raina Kabaivanska and Nicolai Ghiaurov. Notable names from the contemporary pop scene are Lili Ivanova, Emil Dimitrov, Vasil Naydenov. The State Television Female Vocal Choir is perhaps the Bulgarian folk choir best known around the world and received a Grammy Award in 1990. Rhodope folk singer Valya Balkanska is known best for her recording of the folk song, Izlel e Delyo Haidutin, which was included on the Golden Disk sent into space with the Voyager spacecraft. Famous Bulgarian artists living abroad are Sylvie Vartan, Kristian Kostov, Philipp Kirkorov, Lucy Diakovska, Mira Aroyo, Mikhael Paskalev, Nora Nova, Vasko Vassilev, members of the Varimezov family such as Tzvetanka Varimezova and Ivan Varimezov, and Ivo Papazov. It is worth mentioning the late, great gaida player Vassil Bebelekov and his wife, Rhodope music singer Maria Bebelekova. She currently lives and teaches in San Jose, California. The Philip Kutev Ensemble, the first of the Bulgarian state-sponsored folk ensembles and founded in 1951, also is featured on the 1990 Grammy-winning album and has had many well-known Bulgarian folk singers, including, at present, Neli Andreeva and Sorina Bogomilova.
Bulgarian music uses a wide range of instruments. Some folk instruments are variants of traditional Asian instruments such as the "Saz" (Bulgarian tambura), or the kemençe (Bulgarian gъdulka). More modern style instruments are often used in the modern dance music that is an offshoot of traditional village music.
Bulgarian folk bands, called bitovi, use instruments that commonly include:
Modern professional musicians soon reached new heights of innovation in using traditional Bulgarian instruments, by expanding the capacities of the gaida (Kostadin Varimezov and Nikola Atanasov), gadulka (Mihail Marinov, Atanas Vulchev) and kaval (Stoyan Chobanov, Nikola Ganchev, Stoyan Velichkov, Theodosii Spassov). Other instruments arrived in Bulgaria in the 19th century, including the accordion and the clarinet. Bulgarian accordion music was defined by Boris Karlov and later Roma musicians including Kosta Kolev and Ibro Lolov.
In 1965, the Ministry of Culture founded the Koprivshtitsa National Music Festival, which has become an important event in showcasing Bulgarian music, singing and dance. It is held once every five years, and the last festival was August 7–9, 2015.
Instruments used in wedding music include violin, accordion, clarinet, saxophone, drum set, electric bass, electric guitar and synthesizer.
Regional styles abound in Bulgaria. Dobrudzha, Sofia, the region surrounding Sofia (Shope style), Rhodopes, Macedonia (Pirin), Thrace, Strandzha and the Danube shore all have distinctive sounds.
Some folk music revolves 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, in which villagers fall into a trance and dance on hot coals as part of the joint feast of Sts Konstantin and Elena on May 21. Music is 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 also 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, instrumentalists might arrive and the singers would no longer lead the dance. A special form of song, the lament, was sung not only at funerals but also when young men departed for military service.
Bulgarian folk music is known for its asymmetrical rhythms (defined by the famous Hungarian composer and ethnomusicologist Béla Bartók as "Bulgarian rhythms"), where meter is not split in even beats, but in combinations of short (2 metric units) and long (3 metric units) beats, corresponding to the dancers' short and long steps. In European folk music, such asymmetrical rhythms are commonly used in Bulgaria, Greece, elsewhere in the Balkans, Norway and Sweden.
The most important state-supported folk ensemble of the socialist era was the Sofia-based State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances, founded in 1951 and led by Philip Koutev. Koutev became perhaps the most influential musician of 20th century Bulgaria, and arranged rural music with harmonies more "accessible" to audiences in other countries, to great domestic acclaim. The ensemble has now been renamed the Philip Kutev Ensemble in his honor. In 1952, Georgi Boyadzhiev founded the group known today as the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir, which became famous worldwide after the release of a series of recordings entitled Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares. Their recording "Pilentse pee" can be heard sampled in the Billboard hit of Jason Derulo - "Breathing".
The distinctive sounds of women's choirs in Bulgarian folk music come from their unique rhythms, harmony and vocal production. Characteristic polyphony, such as the use of close intervals like the major second and the singing of a drone accompaniment underneath the melody, are especially common in songs from the Shope region around the Bulgarian capital Sofia and the Pirin region (Bulgarian Macedonia).
In addition to the ensemble led by Koutev, who adapted and arranged many of the harmonies, and composed several songs (as did his wife, Maria Kouteva) that were also performed by other groups, other women's vocal groups gained popularity, including Trio Bulgarka, consisting of Yanka Rupkina, Eva Georgieva, and Stoyanka Boneva. Some of these groups were included in the "Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices" tours.
Trio Bulgarka were featured on The Sensual World album by Kate Bush on the songs "Deeper Understanding", "Never Be Mine", and "Rocket's Tail". In 1993 they appeared on another Kate Bush album, The Red Shoes, in the songs "You're the One", "The Song of Solomon", and "Why Should I Love You?", which also featured Prince.
One of the most distinctive features of Balkan folk 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 dance lesnoto ("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 uses a distinct combination of these rhythmic "units". Some examples of Bulgarian folk dances are rachenitsa (7 beats divided: 2-2-3), paidushko horo (5 beats: 2-3), eleno mome (7 beats: 2-2-1-2), kopanitsa (11 beats: 2-2-3-2-2), 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 brief overview is but a simplified summary; one that Balkan musicians themselves would not use. It does not capture the full subtlety of Balkan rhythms.
Chalga (Pop-folk) is a contemporary music style that combines often provocative Bulgarian lyrics with popular Eastern European and Turkish music. It is the Bulgarian version of the corresponding variations in neighbouring countries such as Greece (Laïkó), Serbia (Turbofolk) or Romania (manele).
This subgenre is rather a mixture of synthpop, chalga and gypsy music with Bulgarian wedding motives. Yuri Yunakov, a Bulgarian Romani saxophonist, is one its creators with clarinetist Ivo Papazov. The album New Colors in Bulgarian Wedding Music highlights his amalgamation of traditional Bulgarian music with more modern elements.
During the Communist era, some folk musicians lived outside the state-supported music scene. Without official support, wedding bands were also without official limitations on their music, leading to fusions with foreign styles and instruments. Thrace was an important center of this music, which was entirely underground until 1986, when a festival of this music, which became a biennial event, was inaugurated in the town of Stambolovo, and artists like Sever, Trakiîski Solisti, Shoumen and Juzhni Vetar became popular, especially clarinetist Ivo Papasov.
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: February 2019.
Photo Credits: (1) Plovdiv 2019, (2) Matera 2019, (3) Ivo Papasov, (4) Dimitar Gougov (Violons Barbares), (5) Ivan Georgiev, (6) The Bulgarian Voices - Angelite, (7) Irfan, (8) The Mystery Of The Bulgarian Voices (9) Oratnitza (10) Eugenia Georgieva (unknown/website).