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Weekend Soundtrack – Gela Gajda

This is a repost from the lost posting of 29 July 2011  (with an added link or two).


Gela Festival and Sveti Iliya's chapel.

Gela Festival and Sveti Iliya’s chapel.

Ah, to be in Gela at Ilinden ….  Now that we have known the pleasure, we want to go every year (but, shhh, don’t tell as we’d like it to stay just the way it is).  Ilinden is either July 20th or August 2nd depending on which calendar you favor.

Here’s a taste of the festival at Gela from a previous year  (Yes, you heard the announcer fire a pistol!)

Ilinden is the name of a holiday special in Bulgaria for two reasons, one religious and one political.  St. Elijah, otherwise known as Sveti Iliya, is associated with the earlier Slavic God Perun (see Crossroads post from June 1 for more mythology). Perun is the god of thunder, fire and lighting who rides a chariot pulled by a goat and you may recall that Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot of fire. Perun deserves his own post so for now suffice it to say that the small chapel in the beautiful meadow at Gela is dedicated to St. Elijah and that the fantastic festival is held on the weekend closest to Ilinden.

St Elijah as seen in the church in Shiroka Luka (just down the hill from Gela).

St Elijah as seen in the church in Shiroka Luka (just down the hill from Gela).

It’s tricky to talk about the political side without favoring one group or another.  I’ll just say that the Ilinden holiday is celebrated in Bulgaria & Macedonia because of an uprising in 1903 against the rulers at the time, the Ottomans, which very briefly established an independent republic centered around Krushevo in present-day Macedonia.  The Ottoman response to the uprising created much discussion in Western Europe about the treatment of Christian subjects of the Empire. We’re singers, not historians, so I’ll leave it there.

Ilinden is thus festival-time in Bulgaria and Gela is the festival where our hearts are.  On the face of it, the festival is a competition for up and coming gajdarche to show their stuff in front of their peers.  The festival is really for the local kaba gajda players, but competitors have been spotted playing bagpipes from Hungary and other non-Rhodope-mountain regions.  For my part, I think the festival is about enjoying hearing a bagpipe outdoors in the mountain air.  To paraphrase, all music is local, and Gela is about local music by local people.  Never mind that the scenery, the food (and even the portable toilets) are amazing!

I’ll give you a little taste of our 2010 visit in photos, with the hope of posting some videos in the future.

Campers near the Gela meadow, August 2010.

Campers near the Gela meadow, August 2010.

The line for lamb, Gela, 2010.

The line for lamb, Gela, 2010.

Tempting textiles for sale at the Gela festival, 2010.

Tempting textiles for sale at the Gela festival.

Performance offstage at Gela.

Performance offstage at Gela.

















Our wish is that the festival can remain a home for lovers of the kaba gajda. To hear a gajda in among the aspens surrounding the meadow is to hear it where it is most at home, making the music and the moment inseparable as they are special.

PS for more details about the festival & visit our friend Katia’s blog True Bulgaria.






Listen here

Never Drone Alone

Well the weekend pretty much over, but here’s the soundtrack just the same!

Our friends will understand our love of the steady drone which underpins so many Balkan harmonies. The rest of you will shortly understand how much there is to enjoy as I share with you just a few of the songs that form our repertoire where the drone makes all the difference. We often tease each other by saying “Never drone alone.”

The Brothers Teofilovic, really caught our attention with this version of “Navali Se Sar Planina.” We can only hope that when we perform this song we keep the level of tension that high!  The song tells the story of three shepherds caught on Shar Mountain by a storm, who plead with the mountain that they the must go home to their families.  The mountain refuses to release them saying “your wife will mourn you for a short time, your sister will mourn a bit longer but your mother will mourn you until she dies.” (A version of the lyrics slightly different than ours can be found at in Cyrillic)

Here’s the Macedonian legend Vaska Ilieva with the Ansamble Teodosievski singing a fabulous version of Ajde Red.  I can just picture clever Iljo the bandit hiding out in a tavern in Thessaloniki (which back in the day was known as Soluna Grada, the town of Soluna) drinking and flirting with the pretty serving women.  (See the Cyrillic lyrics courtesy of

There’s more flirting going on, this time onstage with the Pirin Ensemble in this version of of Dobra Nevesta – Dobra the Bride.  This video is as much about the dancing as the singing but that’s ok. In case you were wondering, Dobra the bride is preparing for her wedding and the song provides a long list of everyone who will receive one of her hand-made presents – she stayed up all night spinning thread!

Thanks to the serendipity of the internet I came across this song, Ogreyala Mesechinka, which we don’t have in our repertoire.  I’m so happy to discover these ladies and their songs.  Mnogo blagodarya to sfenbb of who posted this one! I can see an entire posting coming about this region of Bulgaria.

Obvious we aren’t the only non-Bulgarians entranced by these “magical” arrangements.  The fabulous ladies of Cipkice, sing one of our recent favorites,  “Izgryala E Mesechinka,”(stay with it or fast forward about a minute). We’ve been captivated by this song  for years but only recently did we settle on a arrangement and start singing it ourselves. The song is from Thrace and while the words don’t exactly translate, the song describes moonlight in a garden.

I’ve barely scratched the surface, but I’ll adjourn until another day.




Weekend Soundtrack – Leading Ladies of Bulgaria

Sadly, many previous posts were lost. I will bring back these posts from time to time. Here is a repeat of the post from 24 October 2011 (unfortunately, the links are not the same as in the original post)


Valya Balkanska. Photo credit: Wikipedia user Daznaempoveche.

Most everyone in Bulgaria will recognize singer Valya Balkanska – and many won’t be embarrassed to sing a bit of her most famous song, Izlel e Deljo Hajdutin (ask us, we should have taken videos!) Here’s the contemporary: Izlel E Delyo Haydutin from Bulgarian Idol. But you really need to check out the original as well: Valya Balkanska, the recording that travelled on Voyager. Don’t miss the beautiful Rhodope costume & scenery.

Readers of the blog will recognize the name of Le Mystere Des Voix Bulgares. Three of the singers are famous both in their own right and as Trio Bulgarka. You’ve seen them on another post with Kate Bush. Trio Bulgarka is Yanka Rupkina from Standzha, Stoyanka Boneva from Pirin, and Eva Georgieva from Dobrudzha. In this recording of Lalitsa sung by Yanka Rupkina, there is a really amazing kaval accompaniment by Theodosii Spassov. (The kaval deserves a post of its own … perhaps another day). To see how these ladies looked in 1989, watch this performance of Zaplakala E Gorata with the Biserovi sisters (they are all identified in the comments).

The late Nadka Karadjova from the region of Thrace was another singer well known outside of Bulgaria. She was famous as part of Quartet Slavei (nightingale) as well as a soloist. Here she is singing Neno le. The ornaments – wow, they have to be heard and savored is all I can say. We should all rock the house like this 2009 performance of Moma Kalina by the quartet. Hey, I want to sing like that when I’m 70!

I’ll close the post with a lovely lady and mentor, Donka Koleva. Donka performs with her family and with Kabile Wedding Band. This song, Turci ot Kalofer Slyazoha, showcases her beautiful voice and again features many ornaments.

It’s been an eclectic tour – with many opportunities to re-visit in order to hear more leading ladies!

The Mistress of Chaos bids you enjoy your weekend!