Rambling across the folklore regions of Bulgaria

Photo: library

Bulgarian folklore is very popular across the globe – not just to listen to, but to practice as well. Meetings and seminars for the study of Bulgarian folk songs, dances and instruments have been taking place in USA for dozens of years. Some years ago Martha Forsyth wrote in an article for the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Bulgarian Folklore magazine.



“Most Bulgarians are surprised to find out the extent of the interest in Bulgarian folklore in USA– by people who are not professionally involved in folk music. They regularly get together to dance horo, and do their best to learn the steps as well as the traditional way it is danced. There are American musicians who sing and play Bulgarian instruments so well, that when you first hear them it is difficult to believe they are not Bulgarian…”

Martha Forsyth says in her article that the reason why so many people have been displaying such a lasting and unbending interest in Bulgarian folk music is due to its overpowering beauty. She points to the vibrancy and energy of this “old and never ageing” folklore with its asymmetric rhythms and intervals, so strange to the unaccustomed ear, the two-part singing, the wealth of melodies and ornamentation… These specific features of Bulgarian folk music are to be found in this ramble across Bulgarian folklore. We have selected music from the Bulgarian National Radio fund for your listening pleasure.

The first recording takes us to the folklore region of Dobroudja in Northeastern Bulgaria. Here, the ruchenitsa is danced with supple and graceful movements, the pace is moderate, unlike other parts of the country, where it is a whirlwind of motion.

The people living in the Rhodope Mountain have a mild and warm-hearted character and have created gentle love lyrics. The next song from the Rhodope folklore region paints a poetic picture – against the backdrop of the majestic mountain, a young girl is sitting on a white stone, combing her luxuriant hair. Typical of the Rhodope region is the solo, as well as the group one-part singing.

Muslim Bulgarians lived in isolation for centuries, and this has kept the folklore tradition intact. We find beautiful Rhodope, Macedonian and Northern songs in villages with a predominantly Muslim population. In the region of Central Northern Bulgaria, in some Balkan villages one can hear ancient songs with original ornamentation.

The Thracian region is the biggest folklore region in the country that has given us renowned folklore singers like Yordanka Ilieva from Nedyalsko village, Yambol region. She left the village where she was born to come to Sofia and record her first gramophone record in 1943. That same year she made her debut at the Bulgarian National Radio and quickly became very popular. Her voice is clear and sonorous and her songs flow easily and naturally.

Two-part singing is a hallmark of folklore from Central Western Bulgaria. The instrument played by Mihail Vassov from the village of Mramor near Sofia is a wooden tube with two apertures for the melody and the keynote. It produces a two-part melody, so it is called dvoyanka (twin pipe).


The audio features the following pieces:

-  Men’s Ruchenik, performed by the instrumental group from Garvan village, Silistra region;

  -  Lass, little lass, performed by the men’s group from Dolno Kupinovo village, near Kurdjali;

-  The Day Has Come, Rada, performed by Rossitsa Stefanova from Babintsi village, Lovech district;

-  Vulko Was Saying to Ganka, Yordanka Ilieva  singing to the accompaniment of Tzvyatko Blagoev’s male group;

-  Daychovo Horo, performed by Mihail Vassov;

  -  I Have Been Drinking Wine, performed by the Pirinski Grivatsi male group from Eleshnitsa village.

Author:Valya Bozhilova

English version: Milena Daynova


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