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In going through my material lately, I came across a song to whose file-name I had added simply the word "WOW".  Hmm, which one is that?  So I played it, to see what had impressed me.  Sure enough, it's well worth a post.

Bg map-Screenshot, Lozen
Lózen, Sófia region

Contrary to usual practice, though, I'm going to hold the song till I've talked about it a bit, because I think you'll get a lot more out of it after I tell you something about why I think it's so special.  I recorded the song in what was in 1980 the village of Górni Lózen.  Now there is only one town, Lózen, but in 1980 there was a little bit of a break in the houses between Dólni (Lower) and Górni (upper) Lózen.

The song, which the women said they used to sing when they started gathering (after the harvest was in) to spin, tells a very familiar story:

Two dragons are fighting in the mountains, from them flows a river that flows past Sofia to a dark dungeon.  No one is in the dungeon but the prisoner Gjúro, with a grey falcon on his arm.  He feeds the falcon with bits of his fingers, sheds tears to give him water, combs his hair to make a nest for the falcon.  The falcon asks why he is feeding him so well: "Are you planning to send me far away, or are you planning to use me in battle?"  Gjúro is not planning to do battle.  What he wants is to send the falcon to his home to see what's going on there.  The falcon has already been to his home, he says: "The yard is all overgrown with weeds, and in the weeds there is a dead tree.  On the tree sit three cuckoos.  One of them is your mother, calling you to breakfast; the second is your sister, calling you to dinner; the third is your wife, calling you to bed."

But now, listen to how they sing it!  The two parts barely diverge from each other...one part goes up a little while the other goes down a little, then they converge again—repeating this a few times to give the "melody":

Два се змея на планина бият (Dvá se zméja na planína bíjat), recorded in Górni Lózen, Sófia region, 1980

Listen closely, though, and you'll hear something fascinating!  There's really a lot of subtle detail in this very minimalist song.  The two groups sing different intervals: when the lead singer in the first group goes up to her higher note (which happens a number of times in each verse), at the beginning of the verse she goes up only a little bit (a half-tone), but later she goes up noticeably higher, even a full tone!  But the lead singer in the second group goes consistently to the same interval (only a half-tone).  Does this bother anybody?  Not a bit, as long as you are used to singing with the lead singer you're singing with!  Criss-cross the groupings of singers, though, and you'll get consternation and sometimes (when I first heard this I didn't really believe it, but it's true) COUGHING!  There's really a very physical component to this singing...

So, is this song "wow" because it is beautiful?  Yes, and no.  Personally, I find the minimal melody to be very compelling (incidentally, such melodies are considered to be among the most ancient).  And that subtle variation between the two groups of singers fascinates me  (Try to sing it, and you'll see just how fascinating it really is!)

Those who know Bulgarian and might find it interesting to listen to the discussion that precedes the song, in which one of the women gives the whole text, complete with commentary (they only sing part of it, though).   And here is the full Bulgarian text (in my somewhat messy hand-writing!)

 

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Draginovo, Velingrad region, Bulgaria
Draginovo, Velingrad region, Bulgaria

5 January 1981—a snowy day in Bulgaria.  Three Forsyths (my husband Dick, son Peter, and I), together with our musicologist guide from Sofia, head for the village of Dragínovo, a few kilometers north of Velingrad.  We walk across the village square to the Cultural Center, pausing to look at the goat on its hind legs nibbling at the branches of a New Year's tree (despite this being a pómak [Bulgarian Muslim] village), and Peter gets excited about the children sledding behind the building on tiny home-made sleds barely big enough to sit on.  (He eventually went out and joined them.)

When we get inside, we are greeted by the mayor and two male singers from the village.  These magnificent singers will get a post all of their own some day, but right now I want to tell you about what happened after they had sung us a half-dozen songs.  Being a little surprised to have male singers (so far I had recorded only older women), I had somewhat hesitantly asked if there weren't any women singers in the village?  Well, hmm...there was going to be some difficulty finding older women for me, but someone went out to look around and see who she could find to sing for me.  Back she came, with an 18-year-old girl in tow, whom I will introduce to you here as Ivánka Delsízova, the name she was using when I met her.  (More on names below her song.)

Ivánka Delsízova, 5 January 1981
Ivánka Delsízova, 5 January 1981

Ivánka had been dragged in unceremoniously off the street, plunked down in a room full of strangers (three Americans and a scholar from Sofia), and told to sing for them!  She came in somewhat hesitantly and surveyed the scene.  Only much later (maybe in 2010) did she tell me how disconcerted she was: she had never seen Americans face-to-face before, nor a man with a beard, and here she was being told to sing for us, all alone!  Well, she told me, she snuck a look at the men who'd been singing, whom she knew well, and realized that they looked quite comfortable.  So she decided it would probably be OK.  She sat down and said nothing for a minute and a half! (I timed it), while she composed herself.  Then she sang us a song that lasted for nearly 10 minutes....  Listen to this girl sing!

Либиха са, леле, искале са (Libiha sa, iskale sa)

(See song texts, below.)

Well, needless to say, Ivanka made quite an impression on us.  She later took us to her home (the direct way to get there was up over a huge rock outcropping!), and we have kept in contact to this day.  Some years later the Bulgarian government allowed their pomak population to take back their original names—hers is Mehréma, but she is better known in the village as Kéra, more precisely "Kéra mláda" (Кера млада), to distinguish her from her mother, who is also called Kera.

I hope to put up many more of the songs I've recorded in Draginovo, but that will take some time.

Tsánko and Malín Kičilíev (cousins), 5 January 1981
Tsánko and Malín Kičilíev (cousins), 5 January 1981

 

 

 

 

As a bit of a teaser, here is one of the songs the men sang that day:

Ой Вело, Вело, джанам, прилико (Oj Velo, Velo, džanam, priliko)

More songs from them another day!


Song texts:

(click on the song for a full-size version)

Draginovo '80:8

Oj Velo, Velo, džanâm, priliko, de

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