Bulgarian folk music, just like all other music around the world has been influenced by its connections throughout history. From its neighbouring countries and from travellers and merchants passing through the lands in days gone bye.
Musicians will always experiment with new sounds (think of the Beatles and Sgt Pepper album) Traditional music may also be peculiar to a particular region as beats and melodies may differ from one area to another
Likewise the type of dancing.
Traditional Bulgarian Folk Music
Traditionally, Bulgarian folk music was played long before any written musical notation. So, the music would be heard many times and then replicated by ear. No doubt the musician would sometimes play his own rendition and thereby, another song was born. (today it would be called plagiarism. George Harrison had a problem with My Sweet Lord!!)
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 or waltz time.
Bulgarian Folk music may also use these types of patterns 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 not even ‘scratched the surface’ 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 emphasized strong dance steps, depict this struggle with his land.
Men and women usually dance together, but there are some dances that are particularly 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.They 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.
Gaida ( the sheepskin bagpipe) Every country seems to have its own pipes and Bulgaria folk music is no different. There are two types of Gaida however.
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 when playing on a kaval. The tone however is poorer than that of the kaval.
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 drum 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 provides a “boom” and “tick” sound. In Bulgarian folk music just the kiyak is traditionally used.
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 varied tones and pitch.