Bulgarian Music

Examine the Music in Bulgaria

Bulgarian music, terminology, classification of instruments, and much more examine the history from its earliest polyphony through to modern day.

There is a strong traditional culture in the region of the Balkans, across Southern Europe, the area to which Bulgaria belongs.

Bulgarian music is internationally famous for a number of reasons. Singers are well known for their special technique of constricting their throats, which strengthens and amplifies their voices. This action also gives them a unique sound. The complexity of both rhythm and harmony is another distinctive mark of this usually lively style of music.

There are several different types of musical instruments played in Bulgaria. Here are just a few:

  • The Gadulka is a string instrument related to rebec (similar to the violin).
  • A Gaida is a bagpipe made from goatskin of which there are two variations, both differ in their tuning. These are called the Thracian or Rhodopi gaidas.
  • The Tarabuka (Dumbek) is a finger drum that is shaped like an hourglass.
  • The Tambura is a half pear shaped metal-strung lute.
  • The Tupan is a drum with a large frame - one side is struck with a beater called a Kiyak and the other side is struck with a thin stick called an Osier. For comfort, it is worn over the shoulder.

Electric instruments (guitars, basses), accordions, drum sets, saxophones and clarinets are used in parties to play Bulgarian dances or Wedding Music.

In folk Bulgarian music, there is a quantity of different regional styles: Rodopi, Sofia, Dobrudzha, Bulgarian Macedonia in the area of the Pirin Mountain, Thrace and the Danube coastline share the particularity of their unique sounds.

Folk music in Bulgaria is closely tied to celebrations and holidays such as Christmas, New Year's Day and midsummer, apart from the various feasts and fairs along the year. One clear example is the one of St. Lazarus, along with the rites performed in the area of Strandzha, precisely in Nestinarstvo. These rituals are famous because dancing participants, being in a trance, often dance on hot coals in the feasts that honour Saint Elena and Saint Konstantin, on May 21st.

Private celebrations and other gatherings joyful or not - involve several music manifestations (e.g. weddings), and traditional singing for both men and women is rather common. Women usually sang at some parties at work called sedenka (usually attended by youngsters looking for partners), in betrothal rituals and ceremonies, and also for fun. However, Bulgarian music was also present in some sad events of life - the lament, sung at funerals or in the occasion of the departure of men for military service.

Apart from the special techniques implied in singing, the unique sounds of women are partly due to their unique polyphony, rhythms and harmony. The use of close intervals and their drone accompaniment, along with the melody also add a note of exotic atmosphere.

With Communism, some music activities were state-supported, but, of course, amateur or private musicians were not. They had to live outside the supported music sphere, which was not so bad, because without official support, wedding bands were not tied to the restrictions of the official regime on music. The lack of limitations led to the fusion with foreigner styles and to the addition of different and /or electric instruments.

Artists such as Shoumen, Sever, Juzhni Vetar, Trakiski Solisti and clarinetist Ivo Papasov became popular after the festival on traditional popular Bulgarian music held in 1986 in Stambolovo (Thrace) - an important focus of traditional underground music.

Irregular rhythms made of uneven beats and its complex harmonies make music in Bulgaria really unique. Bulgarian uneven beats were just introduced in world music 130 years ago, when a music teacher called Anastas Stovan published Bulgarian folk melodies for the first time. Examples of such beats are 5/8, 7/8, 8/8, 9/8 and 11/8, or composite ones like (5+7)/8, (15+14)/8 and (9+5)/16 - (9+5)/16.

Traditional Bulgarian music became famous worldwide lately due to the breakout international success of Le Myst're des Voix Bulgares, a woman's choir that has topped world music charts all over the world.