Despina, a song from Ohrid


“A song for Despina” fascinated me, because the rhythm, a walz, it’s strange in the setting of a Čalgija orkestra (later more about Čalgija). It sounds western and eastern at the same moment.

People from Ohrid feel it’s a song of their city and many people in Former Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav diaspora remembered the song beeing sang at weddings, parties and gatherings. And still it’s known and beloved! The song is “traditional”, that means that it’s an old song, already known for a long time and the composer of the song is most times unknown.

Ohrid at the end of the 19th and 20th century

It’s a period of revival and intense commercial connections with Thessaloniki, Istanbul (Constantinople) and Western Europe. A large number of the wealthier citizens of Ohrid were educated abroad and brought new manners and customs from there. Also Despina went to highschool in Ohrid. The song about the beautiful Despina, who attracted the attention of Ohrid bachelors, is located in this historical context.

The Čalgija genre

Čalgija should not be confused with Chalga (a contemporary pop-folk dance music of Bulgaria).

Čalgija became populair in towns on the Balkan at the end of 19th and early 20th century. It was highly influenced by the town music of the Ottoman (Turkish) empire. With the exception of Macedonia the genre has disappeared. One of the reasons was the building of nation states after countries were liberated from Ottoman empire and that countries tended to got "Westernized" (Serbia, Bulgaria). As an example: the last restaurant in Belgrade, where Čalgija was played, was closed in the mid twenties of the last century.

The reason for this might be the fact that Macedonia was the latest region that was liberated from Ottoman occupation in 1912 and that it was not recognized as a seperate part of the Kingdom of SHS (Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, in 1929 renamed in Kingdom of Yugoslavia) that the Čalgija may have survived in Macedonia. What did happen was that the Turkish pitches in which many quarter-tone distances were used were westernized

The difference between the Ohrid style and the style in other parts of the country is that in the Ohrid style only string instruments were used. In the "other" style the clarinet is more prominent.

The Čalgija in Ohrid

Searching the internet for more information about the song, I came across an article by the well known publicist from Ohrid, Vlado Žura. And in my research for Čalgija orchestras I found information about Karagjule and the Klime Sadilo orkestras.
The Karagjule orchestra was playing in Ohrid at the end of the 19th century and very beginning of the 20th century. It was a orchestra that played songs about stories what has happened in peoples life and in their community. So it tells about historical events and personal tragedies.
Klime Sadilo (1880 – 1965) came from a family of kemenche players. He couldn’t read notes, but he played day and night, was a go-getter, he was in demand. He played with Ansambel Ohridski Trubaduri for all etnicities, Turks, Macedonians, Vlashi, Greeks and Albanians. He was asked in Resen, Debar and Bitola. Although he was a patriot, he played also “alla franca” (Western style), mazurka’s, walses and tango’s. The last style not in Ohrid, but in Struga.
The first who played the song on a record was the group "Ohridski Trubaduri" with Klime Sadilo as leading violonistin, published by Fiesta records in the USA in 1959. The second recording was recorded by Jugoton in 1965. Later on many groups had Despina on their repertoire.

In 2022 his family donated his violin to the museum "Kukja Robevci" where it is now on display.

Photo Photo Photo

From left to right: the recording of Despina from 1965, the group at that time, the violin of Klime Sadilo.

More information you can find here. The article is in Macedonian but can easily translated by Google Translate.

The Despina story

"Dramatis Personae" or Who is Who?

The girl Despina, her mother Maria, her actual lover Dimitri Parmak and the counterpart family with lady Saveta, her sister Katarina, who want Despina to marry a man called Ristaki. Around this family affair there is a band Karagjule playing on Saturday eight o’clock, important for the community and there is a deputy mister Andronaki.

The story, or what happened

The song about the beautiful Despina, who attracted the attention of Ohrid bachelors, is located in such a historical context.
It begins with the meeting of two "kiris" (from the Greek kiria, short for kira, lady and kir man), Maria, Despina's mother, and a certain Saveta. So, Mrs. Maria greets Mrs. Saveta with "Голема риџа ти чинам , ", words which according to Žura today have the same meaning as the invitation "you will do me a special honor and pleasure, if you visit me in my home". Kira Saveta greets her with chosen words, thanking her for the invitation, but at the same time firmly informs her that she will not be able to accept it.
But here, of course, there is no reason to worry, instead of the invited Mrs. Saveta, her sister Mrs. Katerina will do the honor of going on a visit.
"Knocked, knocked at the gate..." - Mrs. Katerina comes, and the door is opened by young Despina, the daughter of Mrs. Maria, while kissing the hand of the older guest. The guest presents the girl with a valuable coin, probably a mejidia gold coin, but as a target - a sign that they would like the young Despina to become their bride, something that Despina does not want.
The matchmaker Katerina acts as a modern businesswoman, the offered food and coffee are not important to her at all, but she asks to immediately move on to the main thing, that is, she asks for Miss Despina's hand in marriage for their Mr. Risto Grdan. In doing so, she curses Dimitri Parmag, a chapkun (womanizer, gambler, scoundrel), who has turned Despina's mind and for three years has promised to marry her, pointing out the risk that this will never happen.
But Mrs. Katerina goes a step further by setting an ultimatum: either they will give her to them voluntarily or they will grab her again with armed mercenaries, and a big rift will break out for both families.
The poor mother is placed in the unknown - the husband is not mentioned, he may be on a long journey, or she may have been a widow. Worried about the fate of her own child, she accepts the advice of her relatives and friends and submits a report (arzool) to Andonaki, the people's representative in the government (ukumat), to prevent the shameful act - the kidnapping of Despina by force.
The time is tight, tonight the orchestra of Angele Karagule is playing and supposed is, that all known Ohrid people should be there.
The song is not telling what happened afterwards. Historical reseach shows what has happened

Further family research

The intervention of the police was delayed for unknown reasons, maybe the abductors paid a bribe, so Despina was still kidnapped and married to the mentioned Risto! Older people from Ohrid told that the groom Risto Grdan, who was not characterized by clarity of mind, but on the contrary, was advised to take the kidnapped bride to Bitola, until he forgot about the shameful incident.
However, he was not destined to live with the beautiful Despina, she managed to escape from him on the very first day by filling the bed with pillows covered with a quilt, in order to get time to leave Bitola and Macedonia forever.
Although there are several versions about who Despina actually was, the most reliable is the one based on an entry by Kuzman Shapkarev in 1864, who says that the most beautiful girl at that time, Despina Pauncheva, married his cousin Risto Gjorse Grdan. She was the only daughter of Petre and Marija Pauncevi, whose home stood on the sunniest part of Ohrid and today is called "Na Pauncho'no", under the church of St. Kliment. The Paunčeski houses were considered the most beautiful and representative buildings in old Ohrid, at one time the Metropolis was located here, and after the burning of the houses, the place was left that way for many years.
In the twenties of the 20th century, more precisely in 1923, the Ohrid women's society St. Kliment bought the place from the heirs for 5,500 dinars in silver at that time and later erected a building called Radnichka Shkola.

What happened to the beautiful Despina?

Documents indicate that she found her peace, along with her family - mother Maria and brothers Alexander and Aristotle - in present day Bursa, Turkey, a famous center of silk, beautifully woven carpets and healing baths.
According to a document, they authorize Ion Pascali, a delegate from the Pandonos neighbourhood of the Ohrid municipality, to sell all real estate on their behalf and send the money to Bursa.
The song remains to testify to Despina's defiance, which can be envied by today's feminists, and to the way of life in the town by the lake.

The text of the song

Taken from the site of

In the text old words are used, like Голема риџа ти чинам, кира, меџидија i азуал.

MacedonianTransliterationEnglish translation
- Голема риџа ти чинам
ти кира Савето,
и јас те поздрављам,
да ми дојдиш на визита,
јас да те пречекам.

- Не можам јас да дојдам
ти кира Марие,
таџис не чини се,
ќе ти ја пратам сестра ми
кира Катерина.

Чукна, тропна на вратата
тетка Катерина
отвори Деспина,
је се спушти на Деспина,
ја баци раката,
во раката меџидија
нишан за Деспина.

- Нишан ти давам Деспино,
да не ме заборавиш.
Поминаја три години,
ти ме заборави.

- Дојди горе во одаја,
тетко Катерино,
на џамфес миндери,
ти благо да си земиш,
кафе да с' напиеш.

- Јас благо не ти љубам,
кафе не ти пијам,
ти кира Марие.
Само ја сакам Деспина
за кир Ристакија.

Бог да бие тој Пармака,
Пармак Димитрија,
Димитри чапкунот.
Што је мамил три години
таа кира Деспина,
што је мамил три години,
и пак не је зеде.

Во сабота навечер,
во осум сатот,
свирит Караѓуле.
Бргу направи азуал
ти кира Марие,
фрли го на Андронакија,
ти кира Марие.
- Голема риџа ти чинам
кир Андронакија,
Деспина ќе ја грабеа,
јас не ќе је видев.

- Колку се ѕвезди на небо,
пушки ќе донесам,
пушки ќе фрламе.
Деспина ќе ја грабиме
ти не ќе е видиш.

- Немој Марие, нечинит
резил да не бидиш.
- Golema ridzha ti chinam
ti kira Saveto,
i jas te pozdravljam,
da mi dojdish na vizita,
jas da te prechekam.

- Ne mozham jas da dojdam
ti kira Marie,
tadzhis ne chini se,
kje ti ja pratam sestra mi
kira Katerina.

Chukna, tropna na vratata
tetka Katerina
otvori Despina,
je se spushti na Despina,
ja baci rakata,
vo rakata medzhidija
nishan za Despina.

- Nishan ti davam Despino,
da ne me zaboravish.
Pominaja tri godini,
ti me zaboravi.

- Dojdi gore vo odaja,
tetko Katerino,
na dzhamfes minderi,
ti blago da si zemish,
kafe da s' napiesh.

- Jas blago ne ti ljubam,
kafe ne ti pijam,
ti kira Marie.
Samo ja sakam Despina
za kir Ristakija.

Bog da bie toj Parmaka,
Parmak Dimitrija,
Dimitri chapkunot.
Shto je mamil tri godini
taa kira Despina,
shto je mamil tri godini,
i pak ne je zede.

Vo sabota navecher,
vo osum satot,
svirit Karagjule.
Brgu napravi azual
ti kira Marie,
frli go na Andronakija,
ti kira Marie.
- Golema ridzha ti chinam
kir Andronakija,
Despina kje ja grabea,
jas ne kje je videv.

- Kolku se dzvezdi na nebo,
pushki kje donesam,
pushki kje frlame.
Despina kje ja grabime
ti ne kje e vidish.

- Nemoj Marie, nechinit
rezil da ne bidish.
- I have a big plea for you,
lady Saveta,
and I am sending you my regards,
please come to visit me,
I’ll welcome you.

- I can’t come,
lady Maria,
but don’t be sorry,
I’ll send you my sister,
lady Katerina.

She knocked on the gate,
aunt Katerina,
Despina opened it,
she reached for Despina,
who kissed her hand,
in her hand there was a silver coin,
a gift for Despina.

- I am giving you a gift Despina,
so that you don’t forget me.
There’s been three years now
how you have forgotten me.

- Please come upstairs to the room,
aunt Katerina,
sit on the silk settees,
have some sweets,
drink some coffee.

- I don’t like sweets
and don’t drink coffee,
lady Maria.
I just want Despina
for mister Ristaki.

May God punish that Parmak,
Parmak Dimitria,
Dimitria the seducer.
He was cheating for three years
lady Despina,
promising to marry her,
but didn’t marry her in the end.

On Saturday night,
at eight o’clock,
Karagjule is playing.
Quickly make a plea
lady Maria,
to mister Andronaki,
lady Maria.
- I have a big plea for you,
mister Andronaki,
they planned to grab Despina,
I would never see her again.

- As much as there are stars in the sky,
I’ll bring rifles,
we will shoot the rifles.
We will grab Despina
and you will never see her again.

- Please, no, Maria, that is not good,
it will be a shame for you.

The songs

Klime Sadilo

The oldest recording known recording is played by the group "Ohridski Trubaduri" with Klime Sadilo as leading violonist.

Klime Sadilo

The second version is played by another group from Ohrid "Biljana" in a more modern style. Their recording was made in 1976.

Klime Sadilo

The first two versions are played in the Ohrid Čalgija style. This version is performed in the Skopje style by Nikola Badev.

Klime Sadilo

The last version in modern and arranged style by the group Oktet Kumanovo in 1986.


The article of Vlado Žura and the interview we had with him in Ohrid in Spring 2023. Many thanks to him for that!
Borivoje Džimrevski: Čalgijskata Tradicija vo Makedonija, Skopje 1985.
Interviews with many friends in Macedonia about musical items., a site with lots of texts of Macedonian songs.
A lot of information about the Čalgija (mostly spelled as Chalgya) tradition can be found on the internet.
And as already mentioned: the site of Deutsche Welle Macedonia.