Sometimes the spirit of women ancestors is as close as the songs our grandmothers taught us. Last night I went to a performance of traditional Balkan music, including a women’s a capella choral group. The group offered songs sung for centuries by Bulgarian women in the towns and villages as they worked, celebrated marriages, accompanied dances and went about their daily lives.
The music is both enlivening and haunting, evoking images of life from centuries ago through music that seems, at times, otherworldly because of its use of a “drone” (where some women sing a steady undertone, like a bagpipe), its sometimes dissonant harmonies, and its unusual rhythms and scales. Even the vocal technique is unusual to our ears, but perfectly suited for being heard miles away, across mountains or farms. Whatever the musical theory behind it, to hear twenty women singing loudly and joyfully in complex and magnificent harmony is a spiritual experience. To know that women are coming together again to bring this music of extraordinary ordinary women to us is empowering and hopeful.
This music has undergone somewhat of a renaissance in recent years and a number of performing groups have sprung up in the US and elsewhere. They can be seen at folk festivals and concerts like the one I attended and many have CDs available. One European group is called The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. A US group whose website has some audio clips is Kitka. For a longer list of US groups, go the Mary Sherhart’s site.
The culture of that region is extremely ancient, with folk art echoing the symbols and stories of women from millennia ago. While the music has most likely evolved over the centuries, it is still is exciting to think that perhaps captured within those harmonies and lyrics are the voices of ancient women telling us about their lives.
~ Carolyn Lee Boyd