Migrating Melodies

In April 2018 we gave a presentation at the symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe about the migration of melodies. We use part(s) of melodies as an example. The full version of which the examples are extracted can be found at the end of this page.

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:

  • migration of people for economic reasons
  • (forced) migration of a whole population caused by political reasons
  • melodies brought by foreign occupiers to other regions
  • melodies following trade routes
  • spreading via modern media (radio, tv, records, cd's, etc.)
  • coincidences
  • or a combination of these reasons

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.

Emigration for economic reasons

The song "Tora ta poulia", "And now the birds are singing", is originally from Western Thessaly and Eastern Epirus. Three versions of this song:

  • The first was recorded in New York early 1940s. The singer is Amalia, artist name of Mazzeltov (Molly) Matsa (1897-1979). After her second marriage known as Amalia Bakas. You can find a short but nice article about her on Wikipedia under "Amalia Bakas". She was born in Ioanina (Epirus) of Romaniote Jewish descent. Emigrated for economic reasons to the USA and lived in New York and Chicago.
  • The second was recorded in Greece around 1930. The singer is Serafeim Gérotheodhórou. We know almost nothing about his life, except that he was a singer in the Byzantine church. He made about 75 recordings (both religious and folk songs) for the Polydor, Odeon, HMV, Columbia UK and Parlophone record companies. Curiously he ends the couplet with "Aman, aman", which does not show up in versions from other singers.
  • A third version, recorded in the seventies, is added for comparison. It is somewhat slower than the first two versions.
  1. Tora ta poulia
    Vocals: Amalia
    Source: CD, Arhoolie CD 7049, track 20

  2. Tora ta poulia
    Vocals: Serafeim Gérotheodhórou
    Source: CD, FM Records 669 track 11

  3. Tora ta poulia
    Vocals: Stelios Bellos
    Source: 30 cm lp record, Minos-Emi 14 C 034 70339, side B, track 5

Forced or "encouraged" migration of population

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.

  1. Shota
    Unknown musicians from Tetovo
    Source: CD Jehona, no number, track 5

  2. Şote
    Üsküp Folklor Ekibi
    Source: 17 cm record, Columbia SC 88522, side B
    Reissued by Jugoton in 1973 with the same number

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.

  1. Čukanata
    Strandžanskata Grupa
    Source: 17 cm record, Balkanton BHK 2585, side A

  2. Daktili
    Gajda: Pashalis Hristidis
    Source: 30 lp cm record, Vasipap VAS 255, side A, track 3

  3. Bati kouritsa stou houro
    Vocal: Marina Zografou
    Source: CD, Kyklos (no number), track 9

Occupiers bring music with them

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.

  1. Çargâh Sirto
    Golden Horn Ensemble
    Source: CD, Kalan CD 039, track 10

  2. Zeybek
    Doğru Yol Ens. Prizren
    Source: 17 cm record, RTB EP 16298, side B, track 2

Local population adopts music from the occupiers

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 Northwestern 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":

  • sung by Hüsnü Bey with the remark "Tuna" (Danube-songs), referring to the Turkish on the Balkan on a record produced by the Gramophone Company (1910)
  • sung by the same singer somewhat later on a record produced by Odeon
  • sung by Hanende Ibrahim (Uygun) Efendi with the remark (Rumeli Havası) produced by Orfeon
  1. Dağlar, dağlar viran dağlar
    Ensemble led by Ulvi Erguner
    Source: CD, Aras 39, track 8

  2. Gorušice crno oko
    Vocals: Mirvet Belovska
    Source: 17 cm record, RTB EP 12750, side B, track 2

  3. Gorušice crno oko
    Vocals: Gavrovski Trio
    Source: CD, Ensemble Of National Instruments And Songs Stefče Stojkovski

Melodies following trade routes

The following example has disseminated 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.

Trade routes

  1. Djurdjevka, by Serbian emigrants in the US from the village Veliki Sempetar (in Romanian Sânpetru Mare). The village is situated in the western part of the Romanian Banat, close to Arad. They emigrated early in the last century.
  2. Djurdjevka, by an orchestra in the Serbian town style.
  3. Djurdjevka, by a villager from Donja Mutnica (Pomoravlje, Central Serbia).
  4. Pajduškoto by an orchestra of traditional instruments from Macedonia.
  5. Baidouska, by a halkina (brass) ensemble from Goumenissa (Central Greek Macedonia).
  6. Baidouska, from Greece, Thrace.
  7. Pajduško, West Bulgaria, Šopluk (the area around Sofia in Bulgaria).
  8. Pajduško, Bulgaria, Thrace.

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.

  1. Djurdjevka
    Banat Tamburitza Orchestra
    Source: CD, Festival Records, CD 1, track 4
    The picture shows the original orchestra in 1913. The melody is played by descendants of them in the fifties.

  2. Djurdjevka
    Orchestra led by Žarko Milanović
    Source: LP record, RTB 2114127, side A, track 3

  3. Djurdjevka
    Okarina: Božidar Vekić
    Source: LP record, RTB LPV 192, side A, track 4

  4. Pajduškoto
    Probably the orchestra of traditional instruments of Radio Skopje
    Source: LP record, Fiesta Records FLP 1340, side B, track 6

  5. Baidouska
    Halkina (brass) orchestra led by Athanasios Serkos
    Source: CD, Vasipap Therm 196, track 10

  6. Baidouska
    Gajda: Giannis Dobridis
    Source: CD, FM Records FM 821, track 13

  7. Pajduško
    Kaval: Metodi Jančev
    Source: CD, King K30Y, track 4

  8. Pajduško
    Accordion: Kosta Kolev
    Source: LP record, Balkanton BHA 1323, side B, track 3

  9. Petko Stajnov: Trakijski Tanci, part 1, Pajduško
    Symphony Orchestra of the BRT, conductor Vasil Stefanov
    Source: LP record, Balkanton BCA 500, side B, track 1

Spreading via modern media (radio, TV, records, CDs, etc.)

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.

  1. Oj Safete, Sajo, Sarajlijo (composer Dragan Toković)
    Vocals: Muhamed Pašić - Mašura
    Source: 17 cm record, Jugoton EPY 3527, side A, track 1

  2. Pravo Oro
    Unknown accordionist
    Source: own recording August 1967 in Peštani


Example 1

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.

  1. Jove, maloj mome
    Šopskata Grupa
    Source: CD, Gega GD 134, track 11

  2. Jove, maloj mome
    Accordion: Koče Petrovski
    Gajda: Pece Atanasovski
    Clarinet: Tale Ognenovski
    Guitar: Aco Piperkov
    Source: LP record, Folkraft LP 26, side A, track 1

  3. Janino Oro
    Orchestra of traditional instruments, led by Pece Atanasovski
    Source 17 cm record, RTB EP 14719, side A, track 2

Example 2

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".

  1. Gastouriotikos
    Kerkyraiko Laiko Kouarteto
    Source: CD, Fidelity 526534, track 5

  2. Im Grunewald is Holzauction
    Source: part of a video from Youtube of an old Beka 78 rpm record


All music examples are taken from our collection, except the recording of "Im Grunewald", which is from YouTube.

All other information comes from our library, except:

  • the data about the number of migrants, which is from Wikipedia
  • the story about how the melody of "Im Grunewald" came to Corfu, which is from John Corfu World

Thank you

  • Hugo Strötbaum ( and Paula Jansen for their suggestions, comments and the data about Serafeim Gérotheodhórou and the early recordings of "Dağlar, dağlar viran dağlar".
  • Velika Stojkova and Ivona Opetčeska for the discussion about the three beat meter Djurdjevka.

Full version of the used examples

The time in the second column gives the start of that track. It roughly indicates the start time and may vary by a minute or so.

01 00:00 Tora ta poulia, Vocal: Amalia
02 02:41 Tora ta poulia, Vocal: Serafeim Gérotheodhórou
03 05:38 Tora ta poulia, Vocal: Stelios Bellos
04 09:22 Shota, Unknown musicians from Tetovo
05 14:35 Şote, Üsküp Folklor Ekibi
06 17:33 Čukanata, Strandžanskata Grupa
07 20:32 Daktili, Gajda: Pashalis Hristidis
08 23:42 Bati kouritsa stou houro, Vocal: Marina Zografou
09 25:57 Çargâh Sirto, Golden Horn Ensemble
10 27:38 Zeybek, Doğru Yol Ens. Prizren
11 30:22 Dağlar, dağlar viran dağlar, Ensemble led by Ulvi Erguner
12 34:09 Gorušice crno oko, Vocal: Mirvet Belovska
13 36:35 Gorušice crno oko, Vocal: Gavrovski Trio
14 40:16 Djurdjevka, Banat Tamburitza Orchestra
15 43:17 Djurdjevka, Orchestra led by Žarko Milanović
16 45:39 Djurdjevka, Okarina: Božidar Vekić
17 47:12 Pajduškoto, Orchestra of traditional instruments of Radio Skopje
18 49:42 Baidouska, Halkina (brass) orchestra led by Athanasios Serkos
19 52:08 Baidouska, Gajda: Giannis Dobridis
20 54:38 Pajduško, Kaval: Metodi Jančev
21 55:46 Pajduško, Accordion: Kosta Kolev
22 58:52 Petko Stajnov: Trakijski Tanci, part 1, Pajduško, Symphony Orchestra of the BRT, conductor Vasil Stefanov
23 61:12 Oj Safete, Sajo, Sarajlijo, Vocal: Muhamed Pašić - Mašura
24 64:14 Pravo Oro, Unknown accordionist
25 66:36 Jove, maloj mome, Šopskata Grupa
26 69:22 Jove, maloj mome, Occasional ensemble
27 71:50 Janino Oro, Orch.of trad. instruments, led by Pece Atanasovski
28 74:56 Gastouriotikos, Kerkyraiko Laiko Kouarteto
29 78:06 Im Grunewald is Holzauction, Vocal Harry Steier