Bulgarian Folklore Fiesta: Svitanya and Lyuti Chushki

On Friday, November 16th, 2012, I had the pleasure of attending the Bulgarian Folklore Fiesta organized by the Bulgarian Music Society and the Bulgarian Cultural Center —  an evening of Bulgarian folk music hosted at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC and presented by two of the most popular folk ensembles on the U.S. East Coast: ensemble Svitanya (Philadelphia, PA) and ensemble Liuti Chushki (Washington, DC).

Bulgarian Folklore Fiesta with Svitanya and Lyuti Chushki

I have always loved Bulgarian folk music, having grown up in a part of Bulgaria known for its rich musical heritage, in a family which always appreciated folk singing. Living abroad, of course, gives you a heightened appreciation of the beauty of this art which transcends borders and touches hearts in a way that is truly universal. I am particularly delighted that so many foreigners seem to love this music so much that many of them dedicate their lives to it. That is exactly the case with the wonderful performers we saw at the Embassy: all but one of the singers of Svitanya are Americans and among the performers of Lyuti Chushki are a singer and a kaval player from Bulgaria, tupan and tambura players from the U.S.A. and an outstanding gaida (bagpipe) player from Turkey. That such a diverse group of musicians has been inspired to master traditional Bulgarian songs is no small feat and truly worth appreciating.

Over the last dozen of years I befriended the musicians from Lyuti Chushki and in particular their manager Larry Weiner who plays the tupan (drum) and his daughter-in-law Tzveti who possesses a beautiful singing voice and, remarkably, can sing songs from all folk regions of Bulgaria, but most of all I got to know the phenomenal gaida (bagpipe) player Varol who was my coworker for several years.

At the embassy, I got a chance to talk with the singers from Svitanya, curious as I was about their interest in Bulgarian folk music. Anne shared about discovering her love for Balkan music during a family trip from the Middle East across Europe many years ago, love with which she nurtured her beautiful daughter Leela who has been singing along her mom since 11 year old girl. I was also delighted to meet the only Bulgarian in this octet, Petya, who has clearly found a creative home away from home among this dedicated group of singers.

I recorded (“video taped” would not be a proper choice of words) most of the performances and took a couple of photos with the talented musicians who so generously shared their talents with the grateful audience. Using the iPhone 5 as a video camera is not ideal but the audio turned out surprisingly good.

Here are some of the highlights from this wonderful musical event:

Moma bega prez livade (A young woman runs across the meadow)” – Svitanya

A flirtatious song whose lyrics tell how a handsome man rides near and asks the woman “Have you a belt?” She replies, “I already have a belt, but I do not yet have a love. Yes, you may become my love.”

“Izgryala e mesechinka / Moon is Shining” – Svitanya

A song about a young girl working in her garden, while the moon is shining:

“Sadi Moma” – Svitanya

A young woman laboriously planted the grapes, and for a while afterward regretted the hard work. But the vines grew and matured; they filled nine barrels with wine, and another with strong, clear rakia.

“Mori Todoro, Todorke” – Lyuti Chushki

In this slow melody, Todora’s mother laments while scolding her daughter for staying up late at night and daydreaming during the day:

 “Tzvetinite Ochi / Tzveti’s Eyes” – Lyuti Chushki

“Tzvetinite Ochi”, a song from the Pirin region in southwest Bulgaria in 9/8 meter telling of Tzveta’s beautiful sad eyes.

“Gena Mi Poide Na Cheshma” – Lyuti Chushki

A dance tune found in Western Bulgaria, similar in many ways to the popular dance tunes Eleno Mome or Petrunino Horo:

Kalino Dyulber Pravo Horo – Lyuti Chushki

No concert of Bulgarian folk music can be complete without a line dance, horo, which is joined by young and old, women, men and children. The most popular dance in Bulgaria is Pravo Horo and this is an excellent example of the type of Pravo Horo songs found in Central Bulgaria (Thrace), bringing to joyful conclusion the performance by Lyuti Chushki at the Bulgarian Embassy in Washington, DC.

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