Outsinging The Nightingale: Lost Treasures Of Bulgarian Music 1905-1950
There can be few who are quite unfamiliar with the sound of Bulgarian music, whether the plangent harmonies of the Mystère Des Voix Bulgares, or the rocket-fuelled instrumentals of the wedding band movement, but even the most assiduous devotee will find plenty of surprises, even shocks, in this new collection. The 100 tracks on these four CDs, beautifully remastered from 78 rpm recordings dating from between 1911 and the early 1950s, represent the fruit of more than 40 years' collecting by American accordeonist Lauren Brody, who has brought to light an unexpected wealth of musical riches.
After the Second World War and the Communist takeover, official cultural life, including folk and popular music, was subject to strict constraints, couched in a language of national identity, purity and authenticity. What the extraordinarily broad range of music on these recordings demonstrates is that before music in Bulgaria came under that ideological lens, an almost promiscuous mixture of musical styles coexisted, sometimes even in a single performance.
A striking example is clarinettist Ramadan Lolov's Orientalski Kyuchek, which combines a limping, irregular Bulgarian rhythm with a melody with a contour that we would today place as characteristic of Jewish klezmer, performed with a phrasing and sound reminiscent of the klarino of northern Greece. Add to this mix a central,
semi-improvised solo performed in a strongly Turkish manner, and it seems clear that any ideals of purity and authenticity held little interest for these performers and their audiences. Like the other Balkan states, Bulgaria, a multi-ethnic country in any event, only achieved its present borders after a series of conflicts in the early years of the 20th century, with a national identity consequently being assigned to people who previously considered their membership of a common culture to be of greater importance than a label of nationality. The collection includes choirs with an almost Adriatic sound, vocal duets with sprightly violin and accordeon which have an entirely Serbian cast, and ensembles of plucked tamburas which could easily pass for Greek.
Nevertheless, the core of the collection is sturdily Bulgarian: echoes of Boris Karlov's masterful accordeon, Vulkana Stoyanava's bright, joyous vocals and the break-neck village virtuosity of Ivan Arseov's Karlovska Ruchenitsa can still be heard today in the country's massively popular pop-folk.
Amazingly, the earliest of these recordings dates from 1911, a year before the First Balkan War, reconstructing part of a wedding ceremony in a kind of miniature documentary. We hear the shouts of the wedding guests, ritual chanting, a bagpipe melody, the sounds of procession and a blessing, leading to a final outburst of dance. It is a moving glimpse into a distant world.
The liner notes reflect Brody's dedication: there are thumbnail sketches of prominent performers, notes on the record companies, and a brief overview of the changing attitudes to the music by academics and its audience. This will remain the definitive guide to these once-lost treasures for many years to come.
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Published in http://www.frootsmag.com
Song of the Crooked Dance
Early Bulgarian Traditional Music 1927-1942
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