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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.






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