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.
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!)