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