Searching on Internet you can find activities you never expected they existed. And when you read it, your heart begins to beat faster. So we made the trip “Travelling to Hellas following Dionysos” organised by Greek people who know a lot about the traditions in the villages Volakas, Petrousa and Kali Vrisi not far from Drama! It is said that these traditions go back to very early times told in Greek Mythology and resulted in beautiful stories! For more information see the site of the Neraida Foundation.
If you know something about Greek Mythology you can better understand why people still celebrate New Year with customs from the past. Greek Mythology explains the change of the seasons, the eternal cycle of the Nature’s death and rebirth in the story of the obsessive love of the mother Demeter for her daughter Persephone.
Zeus, the king of the Greek gods and Demeter, the goddess of harvest and fertility had a lovely daughter Persephone, attracting the attention of many gods. Hades, the god of the Underworld, middle-aged man, living in the dark among the shadows of the Dead was very much in love with Persephone. He asked Demeter to marry her daughter, but Demeter got furious and said there wasn’t the slightest chance for that to happen. Hades was heartbroken and decided to kidnap her.
One day, Persephone was out in the valley and saw the most enchanting narcissus she had ever seen. As she stooped down to pick the flower, the earth beneath her feet suddenly cleaved open and through the gap Hades himself came out on his chariot with black horses. Hades grabbed the lovely maiden and descended into his underworld kingdom while the gap in the earth closed after them. No one had a clue for the sudden disappearance of Persephone. Only Zeus, father of the maiden and brother of the kidnapper, as well as Helios, god of the Sun had witnessed the incident. Demeter was desperate seeking for her daughter and got advise from her friend Hecate, goddess of wilderness and childbirth to seek help from Helios. Helios felt sorry and told her that Persephone was now queen of the Dead and the wife of Hades. Demeter was furious and very angry at Hades and Zeus. To punish the gods and to grief, Demeter decided to take a long and indefinite leave from her duties as the goddess of harvest and fertility, with devastating consequences. The earth began to dry up, harvests failed, plants lost their fruitfulness, animals were dying for lack of food and famine spread to the whole earth, resulting in untold misery.
The cries of the people who were suffering reached the Olympus and the divine ears of Zeus. He knew he had to do something to force Hades to bring Persephone back to her mother. Hades agrees with his brother, but tricks Persephone to eat a few seeds of the pomegranate fruit the night before she shall leave. For every seed of the pomegranate she has eaten she would miss a month of life. Zeus decided that Persephone would spend half months with her husband in Hades and half months with her mother on Olympus. According to the ancient Greeks, these were the months of Autumn and Winter, when the land is not fertile and does not give crops. Whenever Persephone went to Olympus to live with her mother, Demeter would shine from happiness and the land would become fertile again and fruitful.
Kallikantzaroi-Greek Christmas goblin
Kallikantzaroi, plural (Kallikantzaros singular) are mischievous Greek goblins, elves or gnomes, they appear during the twelve days of Christmas, from the end of December until Epiphany, January sixth. These twelve days are also known as the winter solstice.
Kallikantzaroi are said to be small, black and male, mostly blind, with long black tails. They speak with a lisp and eat small creatures, such as, worms, snails and frogs. They only come out at night, and, are afraid of the sun, fire and holy water. The rest of the year, they live at the centre of the Earth, where, they spend their time, chopping down The World Tree, or The Tree Of Life, that holds up the World, using a large saw.
At the beginning of the twelve days of Christmas, also the winter solstice, when the sun will not move again, until, sixth of January, Kallikantzaroi come up to the surface of the Earth, where, they cause all sorts of trouble and mischief. Rather than being evil, they are considered impish and stupid. They come out of hiding at night, to enter houses, anyway they can, through windows, down chimneys, through keyholes, and any cracks that they may find, in walls and around doors. Once inside they cause havoc.
It is said, that if you leave a colander on your doorstep, at night, the Kallikantzaroi, who can only count to two, and consider the number three holy, will kill themselves, before pronouncing it and will spend all night counting the holes. They only ever reach the number two, and start again, so as not to utter the word; three! At sunrise, they disappear. Another form of protection, is to mark your door with a black cross, on Christmas Eve. Yet another, is to burn a smelly shoe on the fire, the foul smell will keep them away!
Now here is an interesting way to stop the Kallikantzaroi from coming down the chimney. A very large log is found and burnt for twelve days, until the sixth of January, when the Kallikantzaroi will go back to the center of the Earth.
In Greek folklore, the Kallikantzaroi, disappear on the sixth of January, Epiphany, when Greek priests, go through all the houses, blessing them, with holy water, splashed around with a bunch of fresh basil.
Greek priest, Epiphany The World Tree
By the way, when the Kallikantzaroi, arrive back, at the centre of the Earth, they find that The World Tree, has fully grown again! Out comes their large saw, and they start to chop it down, all over again.
Volakas is a small quiet village in the Nevrokopi mountains near the Bulgarian border. The inhabitants, around 1000 work in the marble industrie, tourism and agriculture. Many Volakas people, who worked in Germany in Stuttgart and Wolfsburg returned home when they retired. Around the 5th of January Volakas is not quiet anymore. The tradition of Epiphany starts! After dinner in our hotel around midnight men came in with black painted faces, dressed with animal skins and with many heavy bells around their waist. What a noise! They were “the Bears” from Crete and cheated each other and the guests . Many people got black stripes on their faces being touched by them . Some minutes later the “Arapides” from Volakas came in. They looked the same as the “Bears” from Crete, but their bells were much heavier and even noisier. They jumped around wildly and guests who had not yet been touched got the black markers too on their face. The old year is over, everyone is prepared now for the New Year! Καλή Χρονια, χρόνια πολλά !
Next morning 6th of January the New Year’s Vesper starts in the church of the Prophet Elias. It’s a tradition to bid on the church’s icon after the Vesper and the one who bid at the moment the time is up (that means the moment the egg timer rings!) may have the icon in the house for the coming year. The lucky one had to invite in return all the inhabitants at home New Year’s Eve for a drink! After the celebration in the church the priest and his acolytes came to the little pond on the village square to bless the water. After sanctifying the Holy Cross the priest threw a little cross in the pond. As quick as a haze a young boy jumped in the water and got the little cross. He got his special blessing for 2018!
Everyone who wished to be blessed could now go into the water. People at the square start singing and the circle of dancers becomes wider and wider. On top of the circle the lucky woman with the icon and the man with the Holy Cross.
To start the ritual of the young couples the musicians with gaida and dacharedes arrive. In 2017 three young couples married. We all went slowly to the house of the first couple, singing and dancing. We got small drinks and snacks from the family and the procession returns to the pond with the first young couple. There they walk into the knee deep water to be blessed for the New Year. And we repeat our trip for couple two and three.
The 7th of January early in the morning the village is full of activity. Many households prepare the dressing of the “Bears”. The “Arapides” wear black pastoral cloaks that cover the entire body and impressive goatskin head masks. On their waist they place three large bells, “batali” (large bells) or “kypri” (smaller bells), which are harmonically matched. They also hold a large wooden sword and a small bag of ashes, which they gathered during the Twelve Days of Christmas. It takes hours to have the bells in the right way around shoulders, back and waist. Other people are preparing the mountain tea and the chicken tomato soup at the village square. And tsipouro and wine is free available to keep you warm.
According to the tradition like the kallikantzaroi this night different stuff is “stolen” and exposed on the village square. We see chairs, lamps, a fenche, toys for children, etc. The owners can get their stuff back for small money.
The first “Arapides”and the accompanied masculine bride and groom arrive after noon. They move in a typical way around each other. It´s a kind of waddle and toddle. The bells sounds as a mantra. More groups arrive from other directions. The climax is a “clash” between the different groups and the trophy is a kidnapped bride, who was exposed to the people on the balcony of a nearby house. Victory for one of the groups. And victory had to be shared. More drinks, more snacks! More singing and dancing! So for many people it was a long and happy night!
Petrousa is located 14 km northwest of Drama on the foot of mount Falakro and has around 2000 inhabitants. We were there in the afternoon to celebrate their Babiden.
Like in Volakas many men are dressed in costumes made of animal skin. Here the masks are more impressive, because of the horns on the masks and the bells around their waists. The people told us that a set of those very heavy bells could weight more than 50 kg and were made in Epirus. The main element of the celebration here is the procession of a camel. We saw a virtual camel, however, during the day is was a real one! We walked through the village following the musicians playing here the lyra and dacharedes and the men with their impressive masks and bells. The procession stopped at every tavern, the men went in, made a lot of noise, asked for drinks and dropped off. Late at midnight they made a big bonfire at the outskirts of the village. At that time we were lucky and sat warm in the bus back to Volakas!
Kali Vrisi is a small village 23 km northwest of Drama on the northern foothills of Menokia opposite Mount Falakro and close to the cave of Aggitis. About twenty years ago the remains of a Dionysos temple were excavated 2 km from Kali Vrisi.
We were in Kali Vrisi the 8th of January. The day of the satiric wedding, part of the worship towards the God Dionysos, the God of blossoming, pleasure, grapevine and theatre.
In the morning it’s already noisy in the village. At the village square preparations have been made for the barbeque; the well is decorated with leaves and really no water comes from the well but real red wine! The Dionysos is already walking around in his white dress with a jar of wine! The sound of the gaida and the dacharedes comes from the sound boxes. Babougera, men and boys (and women and girls too nowadays) wear masks made of goat skin and thick fabric tied with big bells. They jump around to scare the people. We find the Groom higher up in the village with his family, relatives and musicians. Also the masked midwife is there with bones, herbs, straw and ashes around the neck, the waist and the wrist. The figure burns good smelling things. The best man is there and the Babous, two men with the mask of an old man and an old woman crooked and stiff. And not to forget the horse carrying filled boxes. After the shaving of the Groom the whole procession is moving to the house of the Bride. Dionysos has been drinking already a lot of wine and he spoiled it too. It’s a red line in the middle of his dress! The Bride is a beautiful man in a white dress. She is very much in love with her Groom. In front of the house they start dancing on the everlasting melody of the gaida and dacharedes. Everyone is joining them.
After some time the procession moves to the main square in the village. Dionysos dress is more red than white. He now tries to bless the couple with their marriage. Suddenly all the Babougera run to the Bride and try to steal her. Panic and noise. Luckily the Groom can free her. After that the party really starts and continue till dawn.
The representation of marriage is a common and beloved sight of the folk rituals. Before it gets the today's cheerful nature, virtual wedding ceremony was a magical act that intended to evoke the fertility force for the crop’s fruition and the herds to increase. In ancient times, there was a historical element of the symbolic sacred marriage for having a successful harvest as being a part of the official Dionysus cult.
Kali Vrisi 2017 short version
Kali Vrisi 2017
Kali Vrisi 1981
Kali Vrisi 1965
Greek Calendar Customs – George A. Megas, Athens 1963
Greeker than the Greeks
Macedonia was one of the areas that was the longest time under Ottoman occupation and one of the last that was liberated. After the Balkan Wars followed by the First World War the area we now know as Macedonian Republic became part of the Kingdom of SHS in 1918; in 1929 renamed as Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Macedonia was considered Southern Serbia and a strong "Serbanisation" took place during the interbellum. There was no place for a Macedonian identity, therefore there were made no commercial recordings of Macedonian music. Sometimes records, produced in Bulgaria, with a "Macedonian" flavor were smuggled into Macedonia, but this was countered as much as possible by the authorities. The only recordings that exist were made for scientific purposes in Zagreb and Vienna and some field work recordings as were made for instance by Küppers-Sonnenberg in the second half of the thirties.
This changed after the official proclamation of the SFRJ in 1945 when Macedonia became one of the six republics. But there was no technical infrastructure. Radio Skopje started broadcasting as an independent radio station in autumn 1944. Tape recordings started in 1956.
The first recordings with Macedonian music were produced in the USA. There were two companies which issued 78 rpm shellac records: NewTone Records and Sperry Records. From NewTone records we know nothing. The only tangible proof of its existence, besides the records, is an advertisement in Billboard from September 1953. In the advertisement is stated, that the recordings were made in or by radio Skopje. But as said before, tape recording in Radio Skopje only started in 1956. Where and by whom the recordings were made remains an enigma.
About Sperry records we know somewhat more, but not that much. Sperry Records was the label of Sperry Boge. He was born in Selo Leunovo (Mavrovsko) as Spiro Bogojević on April 15th 1907. He arrived as immigrant in New York in 1923 and settled in Detroit as a cabinetmaker. Why and how he started a record company is unknown. He published about 40 78 rpm records between 1950 and 1953 and later on three LP records. He died in 1975. So far the history of the company and Sperry himself is unknown.
In 1953 Philips issued four records. Three with music of Macedonia (two 17 cm 45 rpm and one 25 cm 33 rpm) and one with music from Albania. The title Albania was not correct for the recordings were made in Macedonia and the singers on that album are the Zajazi brothers, Gonda Manakovska and Nexhmije Pagarusha who all lived in Macedonia and/or Kosovo. The recording location and people involved in this recordings are unknown. The singers on these recordings, besides the Albanian singers, were Aleksandar Sarievski, Mirvet Belovska, Vanja Lazarova and more known singers of that time. One remarkable fact is that the sound of the Philips recordings are quite different from the Newtone/Sperry recordings; the Philips sound is lighter and more vivid. They must have been made at an other location. Given the number of participants, we suppose the recordings must have been made in Macedonia.
In the period 1956 - 1960 some Macedonia oriented records were published by different companies.
Folkways recorded Tanec during a tour in France in 1955. This record was published during the Tanec tour to the USA in 1956. Bel Air recorded Tanec during their 1959 tour to France and Switzerland. This record was later reissued in the USA by Fiesta Records. Fiesta also published a record with Klime Sadilo with his Ohridskite Trubaduri. Monitor published a lot of records with Yugoslav music which they bought from Jugoton. Lyrichord published a record with one side of Macedonian music, on which traditional (bitov) instruments can be heard. The last three records were produced around 1960.
A separate mention deserves Folkraft for publishing a set of three records with Macedonian folk dances.
This production was specially aimed at folk dancers, but the survey of Macedonian instrumental music is impressive.
When tourism to Yugoslavia increased, in the mid sixties, more companies entered the market with compilations of Yugoslav music; not always of the best musical quality.
Recording of Macedonian music in former Yugoslavia started in the first half of the fifties. Two companies were involved: Jugoton and Jugodisk. Jugoton was founded in July 1947 in Zagreb. It was based on the nationalized Elektroton label. Jugodisk was originally established as an archiving institution for the Belgrade radio, but also produced commercial records later in the fifties. It changed its name in PGP RTB in 1959 and should not be confused with the later founded Jugodisk, which was a continuation of Beograd Disk in 1981. As the production followed on, and partly overlapped the Newtone and Sperry records, there are main differences in the recording policy of the Yugoslav companies. Newtone and Sperry made not only recordings of the (mali) orchestra of Radio Skopje, but also of the Čalgija orchestra, zurla and tapan, etc. Jugoton only recorded the "mali orkestar" and sometimes the "Sextet of Radio Beograd" (Dušan Radetić). The singers were mostly Macedonian. Jugodisk recorded Macedonian music performed by Serbian singers and orchestra's and sometimes Macedonian singers.
We know how many 78 rpm shellac records with Macedonian folk music were produced by Jugoton from an (incomplete) catalog of Jugoton 1957/1958 (the pages of Bosnia and Montenegro are missing):
As a comparison the number of records from the other republics are given as well. For Jugodisk the estimation is around ten records with Macedonian music.
Jugoton changed it production policy in 1957 and started producing microgroove records (17 cm 45 rpm single and EP records, 25 cm 33 rpm lp records). It also changed it recording policy concerning recorded artists of Macedonian music. Besides the singers already recorded before 1957, new singers were introduced like: Nikola Badev, sisters Mavroska, Anka Gieva, Trio (later Duo) Svatovi, etc. They also stopped with the radio orchestra of Radio Skopje as a solo and accompaniment orchestra. New orchestras were introduced like that of Koče Petrovski and Stevo Teodosievski. They decreased the production of 78 rpm records and in the 1961 catalog the 78 rpm records are not listed anymore. They also produced more records with Macedonian music then before. In a catalog from the year 1961 there are listed 26 17 cm single, 11 17 cm EP records and 3 LP records.
In 1959, after the name change from Jugodisk in RTB PGP, the company also changed its policy and started production of the same formats as Jugoton and adopted a more market oriented approach. Nevertheless a catalog of RTB from the same year (1961) as the Jugoton catalog lists only one 17 cm EP record with Macedonian music. A real competitive market started from that time on. It was not any longer the monopoly of the two companies, as more competitors entered the market like Diskos, which started production in 1962. Later followed by Beograd Disk (1968), etc. A more open market and a more liberal cultural climate led to an increasing production of Macedonian (and Albanian) music.
People, or a whole population, are migrating. This has happened in the past as well in recent times. If so, they bring their music with them to their new living places. But melodies can also “migrate” independently from the places and people where they originated and travel over a long distance or spread over a larger region. This can be caused by various reasons; among others:
Song texts can “migrate” with the melody, but they can also change if they have reached their new destination. What was originally a historical ballad can change in a love song in another setting.
The song "Tora ta poulia", "And now the birds are singing", is originally from Western Thessaly and Eastern Epirus. Three versions of this song:
Tora ta poulia
A lot of people had to move to other places after the Balkan Wars and the first world war. Even if there was no treaty in which migration or exchange of population was agreed. New rulers of the just acquired regions did there utmost to get rid of their new "alien" inhabitants that came under their jurisdiction. The first example is one of not forced but highly "encouraged" migration, the second of of forced migration as agreed in a treaty. Two cases in which melodies were brought by emigrants to their new home. A melody, they often shared with other ethnic groups with which they lived sometimes for centuries together.
The first example is from migration of Turkish people from Macedonia and Kosovo. After the Balkan Wars Turkey had lost nearly all of its territory on the Balkan. A lot of Turkish people went along with the retreating Turkish army to Turkey. In the mid twenties and mid fifties also a lot emigrated. As an example: the Turkish population of Macedonia decreased from nearly 500.000 before the Balkan Wars to 78.000 in 2002. This was not really a forced emigration but more caused by poorer living conditions and lack of prospects.
A number of emigrants settled in Üsküp (Kırklareli province). Most of the original population was ethnic Greek and had to leave Turkey by the population exchange after the Turkish - Greek war of 1922. So there was place for new inhabitants. Curious fact: the Turkish name for Skopje is Üsküp. But in this case it seems that the name is derived from the Turkish name for the Scythians (Turkish: İskit).
Two versions of a dance, known in Macedonia, Kosovo and now Turkey. The first played by a zurla group from Tetovo, (a version that "stayed behind"); the second is a version that was brought to Üsküp by emigrants.
The following example is one of forced migration of population. After the First World War in the Peace Treaty of Neuilly was stipulated an exchange of Bulgarians, living in Greek Thrace and Greeks, living in South Eastern Bulgaria. According to sources of that time this affected about 50,000 people on both sides. The Greek emigrants were mostly settled in Greek Thrace (Evros region). They took their music with them, which they shared with Bulgarians when living in Bulgaria.
First the Bulgarian version of a dance melody ("Čukanata") and then the Greek version now played in Greek Thrace ("Daktili"). The third version comes also from Greek Thrace. It is a vocal version with a text that was also used in another Greek song. The text is about girls, going to dance, the boys join in, etc.
There existed of course a lot of musical contacts between the Turkish population that settled on the Balkan during the Turkish occupation and the home country; especially with Istanbul. This concerned not only traditional music but also Turkish classical music.
At the end of the nineteenth century it became practice to end a Turkish classical suite (fasıl) sometimes with a styled folk dance. One of these dances is the sirto, derived from the Greek syrtos.
A sirto as performed by a classical Turkish ensemble ("Çargâh Sirto"), followed by a popular interpretation by Turkish folk musicians from Prizren (Kosovo). They call it "Zeybek", which is incorrect, for a Zeybek has a nine beat meter.
It is obvious that local musicians were influenced by the music, occupiers brought with them. In this case from Macedonia you will hear a song "Gorušice crno oko", based on a Turkish folk song from Turkish Thrace "Dağlar, dağlar viran dağlar". Both are love songs, but with different text. The Macedonian version has still a Turkish flavor because it is accompanied by a čalgija ensemble. The third example is accompanied by an orchestra of traditional instruments and is sung in parts by three men from North Western Macedonia. It sounds already much less Turkish.
A possible link between Turkey and Macedonia could be the issue of three 78 rpm records, recorded between 1910 and 1915 in Thessaloniki with the song "Dağlar, dağlar viran dağlar":
Dağlar, dağlar viran dağlar
The following example has disseminate itself along trade routes that were in use in the past millennium. This is of course an assumption and can not be proven by physical evidence. But the widespread area where this melody is played indicates in that direction. It can also be found in Western Serbia.
From the first three Serbian examples, two are in a four beat meter and one in a three beat meter. All the other examples (Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria) are in a five beat meter; all with the same name: "Pajduško". The example from Serbia in a three beat meter may be a misinterpretation of a five beat meter. The only published version in a three beat meter was by the Janković sisters. All other Serbian notated versions are in a four beat meter. It was part of the first Serbian choreography for the Kolo ensemble by Olga Skovran in 1945, who knew the Janković sisters. Both the three and the four beat meter versions are played nowadays.
The melody showed also up in classical music. Petko Stajnov (1896 - 1977) used the melody for the first part of his Trakijski Tanci.
The following map shows the trade routes and the place where the examples originated.
The numbers are choosen at random and used only to locate the places on the map. It is often impossible to exactly trace the way a melody has traveled, if it has done so.
In August 1967 we made a recording in the evening during a wedding party in Peštani on the lake of Ohrid. The accordionist played a dance which we knew from a just bought record with Bosnian songs. He called it Pravo Oro. On the question where he got this music from, he answered that he heard it on the radio, remembered it later and added it to his repertoire.
What he played was a year before issued on a record. The name was "Oj Safete, Sajo, Sarajlijo" and was composed by Dragan Toković, a known composer of traditional music like songs.
Oj Safete, Sajo, Sarajlijo (composer Dragan Toković)
In 1962 Rickey Holden (a folk dance teacher in the US and partner of the Folkraft label) asked Denis Boxell if he could record Macedonian dances for three records to be issued by Folkraft. Boxell was at that moment in the US army in Germany. He went to Macedonia and with the help of Atanas Kolarovski he made a lot of recordings. A special orchestra was formed for a number of these recordings: Koče Petrovski accordion, Tale Ognenovski clarinet, Pece Atanasovski gajda and Ačo Piperkov guitar.
When Holden asked Boxell if he could make also recordings of Bulgarian Dances he tried to go to Bulgaria. His visum for Bulgaria was refused because of his job in the army. So he decided to ask the orchestra to play a couple of Bulgarian dances. One of these was: "Jove, maloi mome". Pece Atanasovski recorded it in 1970 for RTB, called it "Janino Oro" and put his name under it as composer. Nowadays it is often played by orchestras of traditional instruments and nobody knows the story behind it. They consider it as traditional "narodno".
First a Bulgarian version, then the Folkraft version and as last one the version Pece Atanasovski played with his orchestra.
Jove, maloj mome
The second example
A melody that is played on Corfu (Kerkyra), based on a German steet song (Gassenhauer) composed by Franz Meissner in 1892, text from Otto Rathke and/or Otto Teich. The song is based on the auction of firewood as result of logging to make place for the planned residential area Grunewald. The title is: "Im Grunewald is Holzauktion" (Wood is auctioned in Grunewald).
But how did this melody came to Corfu?. The German emperor William II was very fond of this melody and always had a score with him. He bought the small palace that, the Austrian empress Elisabeth (Sissy) had built on Corfu, and stayed a couple of times there during the summer. In the summer of 1908 a philharmonic band brought him an aubade. He gave the score to the conductor and asked if they could play it for him. They did and adopted the music for a local dance "Gastouriotikos".
All music examples are taken from our collection, except the recording of "Im Grunewald" from Youtube.
All other information comes from our library, except:
A well documented survey about migration from Greece Macedonia by Iakovos D. Michailidiscan be found here
The National Rally of Folk Art, as it was called in the beginning, was held for the first time in August 1965 in Koprivstica. Koprivstica was chosen for a couple of reasons. It is a town full of buildings from the time of what in Bulgaria is called V'zraždane (Възраждане), “The Awakening”. This is the period of the mid 18th century till the liberation of Bulgaria from the Turks in 1878. This can be seen in the magnificent architecture of the houses built in that period. It is a real museum town. A number of insurgents against the Turks were born or had worked in Koprivstica. It is very nice situated against slopes of the Sredna Gora and has not been spoiled by the ugly communist style apartment buildings. Vojvodonets is a pasture ground at a walking distance from the town and is an excellent place for a festival of this size.
The idea of organizing such a festival originated in the beginning of the sixties and had a lot of enthusiasts, among them important supporters like the musicologist Rajna Kacarova and the composer Petko Stajnov. From the start the idea was to bring together amateur singers, instrumentalists, dancers, story-tellers. The participants of the festival were chosen on qualification on regional festivals and auditions. The organizing committee was and is still headed by the Ministry of Culture and the Township of Koprivstica. The first edition took place in the first weekend in August 1965. Following editions were held in 1971, 1976, 1981 and 1986. The festival survived the political changes of 1989/1990 and is still organised every five year. The festival is now under patronage of the UNESCO. The number of performing participants has grown from a couple of thousand in 1965 till eighteen thousand in the last edition in August 2015. Of course there have been some changes. A small entrance fee, payment for the permission for taking pictures. Before 1990 everything was for free.
We visited the festival in 1976, 1981 and 1986. There were six stages, a main stage and the last two visits there was a special children stage in the centre of the town. Each stage had a program of half a day dedicated to a specific folklore region, sometimes concluded with a presentation of folk dresses. There was a jury for each stage which awarded prices for the best performances.
In fifty years the festival has given a very good survey of the local traditions in the country. Be it that some political influences could be observed until the nineties. The Turkish and Gypsy minorities were not represented and the Pomak minority became smaller every year. Zurla trios participated till 1976 but disappeared in later editions. A positive exception was the ban on Western musical instruments. In 1986 there was a Gypsy group, but they were not part of the festival and they only tried to earn some money.
We have added under "Audio" the records Balkanton issued until 1989. A 10” record from the festival in 1965, a 12” record from 1971 and 1976. The last two editions of the festival, 1981 and 1986, were even honored by three records: a double record from the festitval and one from the children participants. You can find the recordings here.
Táncháztlálkozó or táncház festival and fair is an annual event in Hungary since 1982. It is held in the month of April as part of the Budapest Spring Festival. It takes place during a weekend and starts with a “warming up” concert and tanchaz (dance house) in one of the dance house venues. This year (2016) it took place on the 2nd and 3rd of April with the “warming up” in the dance house of Fono (known as one of the most important CD producers of traditional Hungarian music). This year it was held for the 35th time in the “Papp László Budapest Sportaréna” in Budapest. This venue was constructed in 2002/2003 and opened in March 2003. It's capacity is up to 12,500 spectators. So space enough. According to some people there were 10,000 participants on Saturday and Sunday, but we think it were less: 5,000 to 7,000 or so. Of course there is also some criticism about the scale and getting more commercial (see the Dumneaza blog of 2010) but we had a very nice weekend there.
There has been written a lot about the Táncház phenomenon and you can find a lot of information on the internet. Last year there was published a very comprehensive book in both English and Hugarian: The Story of Hungarian Folk, written by Béla Szilárd Jávorszky (published by Kossuth Kiadó, ISBN 978-963-09-8414-0). A must read for everybody who is interested in this topic.
On Friday evening we went to the “warming up” party in the Fono House. This is an old factory, situated in the southern part of Buda. The evening started with a concert given by Nikola Parov and his band, a Bulgarian who lived since his youth in Budapest. He is a multi instrumentalist and made already a lot of recordings. The singer was Ágnes Hercku. They brought a Hungarian and Balkan program. The repertoire of Parov is balancing between world music (the better sort of) and traditional music, but always pleasant to listen to. After the concert the dance house party was held in an other room accompanied by the band Dűvő. They play in a traditional style, long pieces of 20 to 30 minutes; slow, medium, fast. The quality of their playing was, as known from their recordings, excellent.
Saturday and Sunday to the “Papp László” arena. It is really huge. The whole day bands on the stage and people dancing in front on the floor. On Sunday there were also performances on the stage. On both sides there was a market with booths where you could buy food, cd's, musical instruments, etc. There was a special room where people were selling clothing. Despite of the fact that it is a little bit commercial, it still did us remember ot these beautiful folk markets and feasts as we have seen everywhere. We shook hands with Zoltán Kallós, who did so much for collecting and preservation of Hungarian music in Romania. Unfortunately he speaks only Hungarian, Romanian and Roma, but it was nice to see him in the booth, were 20 recently produced cd's with his recordings were on sale (Kallós Archivum 1 - 20). There is a nice book about his whereabouts and informants, published by the Open Air Museum in Szentendre („Setting off on the road”, Szabadtéri Néprajzi Múzeum, Szentendre 2015, ISBN 978-615-5123–43-6).
There was also entertainment for children. They could learn old handicrafts from the elders, prepare traditional food and play old traditional children games, like horseshoe toss.
Besides the dancing and performances in the main hall, there were also activities in smaller rooms, that are situated around it. They were dedicated to special performances; for instance best young talent dancers, etc. The festival also included a presentation of a new cd and concert of Félix Lajkó.
Every year there has been published a record, and later CD, of promising singers, instrumentalists and bands of that moment. The first two years by a small label Magyar Szinkör. In 1984 Hungaroton took over and issued every year an LP record till 1994. From 1994 till 2002 a cd of the festival was released by the Hungarian Institute of Culture and from 2002 till now by the Hungarian Heritage House. To give an impression of the beginning, we have added the content of two records: from the fourth (1985) and the fifth (1986). You can find them here.
Pictures of the festival can be found here.
From 2 – 8 May 2016 we participated in the Fifth Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in South-eastern Europe. The ICTM stands for International Council for Traditional Music. It is a non governmental organization in formal consultative relations with UNESCO. This study group is one of the many that are operating within the ICTM.
The symposium was hosted by the Faculty of Arts of the South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. It took place in their centre outside the town in the Bachinovo Park. It was a marvelous experience in which we learned a lot and met a lot of people. As we were there as collectors of music somewhat “a stranger in the midst”, we were fully accepted and had a very nice time there.
The program consisted of presenting papers by the participants, a film and in the evening some concerts. One evening was dedicated to the ethnomusicologists. This session was focused on the ethnomusicologist Rajna Kacarova and the kaval player Cvjatko Blagoev. Besides the evening activities we had a lot of fun with dancing and singing. The last evening there was a farewell party; a beatiful combination of a diner and a concert. Desislava Dimčeva has sung for us accompanied by her husband Valeri Dimčev on tambura, Binka Dobreva sang and there was an excellent group of singers and instrumentalists from the town of Kresna.
Pictures of the Symposium can be found here.