Bulgarian Folk Music (Part 1)

By Darina | Bulgarian Folklore

Oct 09

Get ready for a treat! We’ve asked Darina Titkova, a professional Bulgarian music therapist, to tell us what makes the Bulgarian Folk music so special. Here is the first part of what she shared with us.

We Bulgarians call the traditional Bulgarian music “balgarska narodna muzika”ългарска народна музика) which literally means “Bulgarian folk music”. But, beware. Don’t mistake this for the so-called “pop-folk”  (поп фолк) or “chalga”алга). This is a completely different story! The “pop-folk” does not have anything in common with the traditional Bulgarian values, so we won’t even go there.

The authentic Bulgarian folk music is like a code embedded in the blood of every true Bulgarian. As a music therapist I know first-hand the unique power of music to express the indescribable and send a wordless message we can all feel. The Bulgarian music has spread the love for the nature and people of Bulgaria for centuries. It connects all Bulgarians around the world even today.

The Rhythm of the Bulgarian Folk Music

The Bulgarian music is substantive and unique, so it might sound strange to your ear at first. One of its unique characteristics is the so-called “neravnodelen” (неравноделен) or uneven, asymmetrical rhythm which contains various combinations of 2 and 3 metrical beats.

There are different musical styles with specific metrical combinations, each one typical for a different region of the country. Perhaps one of the most beloved metrical models is the one of the Bulgarian dance “rachenitsa” (ръченица)– 2+2+3.

Those different rhythms also give the Bulgarian Horo Dancing its colourful nature.

There is a multitude of more complicated combinations. A good example is one of my personal favourite Bulgarian songs “Polegnala e Todora” (Полегнала е Тодора) which has a metrical model of 2+2+3+2+2. Here is a recording of the song along with some photos of the fascinating Bulgarian nature:

Did you notice the different rhythm? This asymmetry in rhythm, so typical for the Bulgarian music, brings a feeling of constant movement and striving for freedom.

The Bulgarian Voices

Speaking of freedom, the songs from the region of the Rhodope mountains are probably the ones that sound most freely. They pour in a long continuous line and it seems as if there’s no metrical model at all, but the phrases still follow an inner organisation of their own. One of the most famous songs from that region is called “Izlel e Delyu Haydutin” (Излел е Дельо Хайдутин), performed by the beloved Bulgarian singer of traditional songs Valya Balkanska. This song was included in the Voyager Golden Record and is traveling through space since 1977 when the two Voyager spacecrafts launched.

Bulgarian folk songs are unique for its specific throat vocal production. If you want to learn more about this special kind of singing you can watch this really interesting video about how exactly this type of sound is produced by the singers.

The difference in singing styles also corresponds to the different regions of the country. For example, one interesting style of traditional Bulgarian polyphonic singing is called “shopski dvuglas” опски двуглас). It is common in the Shope region around the capital city of Bulgaria – Sofia. One of its characteristics is that the two voices sing very close to each other, sounding sometimes at the same note and sometimes splitting in really small intervals between notes. Here’s another video showing one of the most famous songs from this region – “Chichovite Kone” (Чичовите коне), performed by students of the National School of Arts “Dobri Hristov”, Varna, Bulgaria:

The Bulgarian Musical Instruments

Traditional musical instruments add even more colour to the authentic sound of Bulgarian folk music. Among the most common instruments are “kaval” (кавал) which is a type of an end-blown keyless flute and Bulgarian goat skin bagpipe named “gayda” (гайда) which is known as a symbol of our country. There’s probably no Bulgarian who doesn’t feel the excitement of hearing the sounds of the famous traditional Bulgarian orchestra named “100 kaba-gaydi” (100 каба гайди) in which one hundred of the best Bulgarian kaba-gaida instrumentalists take participance. “Kaba-gayda” is a special type of gayda from the Rhodope region and it’s loved for its deep resonating sound.

For the rhythmic accompaniment there’s the “tapan” ъпан) – a very large double-headed drum worn over the shoulder and played with two different sized sticks producing a very complex rhythm with many accents.

From the string instruments there is also “gadulka” (гадулка), a bowed string instrument, held vertically, which plays the melody of the song and “tambura” (тамбура), similar to the Greek bouzouki – used for a rhythmic accompaniment. Did you manage to recognise all these instruments in the Shope song video from above?

Next time, more about the Bulgarian Folk Music in the modern age and its popularity.

Click here to read the second part.