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Alino, a village known for its great folk songs

Photo: vestnikpriatel.com

The group for authentic folklore in the village of Alino, western Bulgaria, has for decades been keeping alive ancient folk songs from this part of the country. The group’s leader is Momchil Chalakov, a young and energetic man who grew up in Alino. Since early childhood he has been fascinated with the incredible antiphonal singing technique of the women from the village, a skill passed down from generation to generation. This is a distinct style of two-voice singing performed by two groups of female singers – one of the groups sings and the other group replies. 

Local folk music though is more than that. As a child,  Momchil was impressed by the tune of a simple shepherd’s whistle called pishtialka. This whistle and its unexpected capacity inspire the young man to devote a lot of time and effort to studying folk music traditions in Alino. His grandmother, her sisters and the whole extended family are famous local folk singers. He recorded them singing and he later taught their songs to the folk choir he leads. Its repertoire boasts in excess of 200 Alino songs.

People say that Alino was blessed by God not only with beautiful songs and diverse traditions but also with breathtaking natural scenery. Momchil Chalakov tells us more about the activity of the local cultural center and the group for authentic folklore but before that introduces us to the nature and historical sites of the village and its vicinity:

It is close to Sofia, at the foot of Mount Plana. To the north is St. Spas Monastery, 7-8 km away into the mountain. Legend has it that it is older than the celebrated Rila Monastery by at least 50 years. However, its frescoes were created much later in time – in 1626. The site was built by an affluent resident of the town of Vratsa. A little bit to the north is Momina Skala (Maiden Rock) known for a spring with healing water. St. Nicholas Church whose frescos were created in 1863 has been declared monument of culture. Another site includes six Thracian mounds from the Classical Anti1uity, and the locality of St. Archangel Michael where a stone sarcophagus has been found. It is believed that the daughter of a rich Roman was buried there. Since its very beginnings, the Vasil Levski cultural center has been at the heart of the village community. It has always been very active. Its folk choir was founded in 1965 and it soon won a medal from its very first singing competition. The folk choir was created by Gyulka Kanazireva who will soon turn 86. She still helps us together with other old amateur singers. Everybody respects the women in the choir, because they have extensive experience, and are expert in the local singing technique.

Although the folklore of Alino belongs to the traditions of the Shoppe region (central western Bulgaria), the two-voiced songs from the village are quite distinct. The singing manner is quite different as well as the melodies. The spectacular judder singing is performed in a special local way. Momchil also tells us that the songs are difficult to sing authentically and he finds it hard to attract young singers who would continue these traditions. Well, at least local celebrations and festivals are alive and attract all Alino families several times a year. Here is more from Momchil:

Christmas is known here also as Bozhich and it is a big feast. We also venerate Easter, Velikden, St. George’s Day (Gergiovden) and other traditional feasts. On Spasovden we organize a gathering near the monastery of the same name where people visit the church to light candles and then celebrate the feast. Both days dedicated to Virgin Mary (15 August and 8 September) are days of great celebrations. On the last Saturday of August we mark the day of the village. And of course, our folk group takes part in all celebrations.

Momchil Chalakov is constantly looking for opportunities for the folk group – festivals, concerts and media appearance. The popularity of the folk choir is a good reason for local pride. His dream is to make sure that the songs of the folk group in the village of Alino are certified as nontangible cultural heritage and are listed on the respective UNESCO list.


English: Daniela Konstantinova

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