Bulgarian folk music, just like all folk music around the world has been influenced by its connections throughout history, either from its neighbouring countries or from travellers and merchants passing through the lands. Musicians will always experiment with new sounds and when those sounds become heard all over a particular area, they may eventually become popular enough to become traditional. Traditional music may also be peculiar to a particular region as beats and melodies may differ. Likewise the type of dancing.
Traditional Bulgarian Folk Music
Traditionally Bulgarian folk music was played long before any written musical notation and so, had to be heard many times and then copied by ear. No doubt the musician would play his own rendition and thereby, another song was born.
Influenced by Macedonian, Greek and Romanian music, the styles becomes varied and the rhythms become rich with variation and embellishment.
One of the most distinctive features of Bulgarian music is the complexity of its rhythms in comparison to Western music. In western style music we generally use compound beats like 2/4, 4/4 , or 3/4 time for a waltz.
Bulgarian Folk music may also use this type of pattern but will have what they call asymmetrical rhythms, (uneven rhythm that are slow then quick etc) and have beats like 7,9, 11,
I thought I knew a little about music theory but it seems I have a lot more to learn when it comes to Bulgarian folk music.
Bulgarian Folk Dancing
Just like the music with its odd ‘asymmetrical rhythm, folk dances must also be in keeping with the beat, and I don’t think slow slow quick quick, quick is going to make me a Bulgarian Fred Astaire.
Bulgarian dances are like line dances, everyone holds hands and form a long line, or a circle, as I mentioned the dances can vary from region to region and the dances are as complex as the music.
In the Northern regions of Bulgaria men and women styles are very similar. Dancing with an upright body and lifting the knees high is the done thing.
In Dobrud they dance with their knees bent and the backs hollow. Folklore tells us that life is hard for the Dobrud farmer who has to struggle with nature to survive, so his emphasised strong dance steps, depict this struggle with his land.
Men and women usually dance together, but there are some dances that are particulary for men and likewise some only for the women.Women’s movements are simpler and lighter with slight shoulder twists.
By the style of your dancing it is possible to tell from which region you are from.
In the Rhodope region the dance styles reflect the religious influences. This area of Bulgaria has the largest Muslim population and means that the men and women dance separate. The women dances are usually accompanied by singing and the Rhodope mountain region is especially famed for its ‘ open throat’ singing
Bulgarian Folk Musical Instruments
Bulgarian Folk music is played by the traditional instruments of the wind, string and percussion. The songs and dances that always accompany lively music can always be seen and heard at weddings festivals and many other reasons for a party.
The Gadulka, (is a bowed string instrument which can have 3 or 4 strings which are made of steel or sheep gut. The Gadulka has a soft and pleasant sound.
The Tambura is, a long-necked, metal-strung, fretted lute used for rhythmic accompaniment as well as melodic solos. It is similar to the Greek bouzouki.
The kaval is a very popular instrument used in folk music of the Thrace and Dobruja regions of Bulgaria. The different lengths of the pipes will give the tone and pitch
Gaida ( the sheepskin bagpipe) Every country seems to have its own pipes and Bulgaria folk music is no different apart from it having two types.
The first is a Shepherds gaida or ‘Tsafara’ . The technical and tone possibilities of the shepherd’s gaida are limited. The way of blowing are the same with the way of playing on a kaval. but the tone is poorer then that of the kava.
The Key can be either D or A.
The Rhodope gaida is a larger instrument and has a much more deeper tone and is in the key of F
The tapan is of Arabic origin and in Turkey it is called the duval. The Bulgarian tapan is a two-headed bass drum used for the stress of the beat and rhythmic accompaniment. Traditionally, the frame is made of wood and the heads of goat skin, It is usually played using a big stick called a ‘kiyak’and a little stick which provide a “boom” and “tick” sound but in Bulgarian folk music just the kiyak is traditionally used.
Listen to the Bulgarian folk music and see if you can pick out the different instruments.
Watch the steps to the ‘horo’ and practice for when you come to Bulgaria
What Instruments did you hear being played?