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Bulgaria

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The Bulgaria Album !

A new post ! Lots of things to talk about in this one, but let's first take a short moment to relax, and get to an optimal reading mind-set, with ... this picture of an Orthodox priest rokin' my blue ukulele, at the St. Dimitar Basarabovski (St.D for short.) Rock Monastery, 

Okay. Perfect. Let us start.

As you may have (absolutely not at all) noticed, there hasn't been a post and song or a podcast in a while. Well, I've been very busy putting my best efforts into making a sort of end product to my Bulgarian adventure, the first country visited by Ukulele Road Trips. And down in the basement of Yo Ho Hostel in Varna, I've come up with... wait for it... the Bulgaria Album ! [insert imaginary enthusiastic fans here]

It is sort of a big deal on these travels; all the songs, recorded, arranged with ukuleles, drums; pianos, lots of voices, and even a kazoo ! which will hopefully convince you to get this Backpacking Ukuleleling set of songs. You would also be helping me to continue the adventure, because the postcard thing really isn't picking up. I'm not saying one every three weeks is a bad average, it's just that it's not sustainable-making material. So,

Ben's Ukulele Road Trips - THE BULGARIA ALBUM !!

To entice you to support these shoulders of mine, which then support my backpack, which in turn supports the little blue ukulele, here's a nice relaxing one that you can download for free. Because it's you:

I hope you enjoy the album.

Coming back to the emotional narrative of these travels, I'm writing this today from Romania, where I have just set foot. At the border, in the city of Ruse, Bulgaria, just before leaving this country I enjoyed so very much, I felt a certain standstill. The moment when time freezes (for an amount of time technically incalculable because, well, time has stopped), just before a leap in the unknown. A song may or may not have come from this short stay in Ruse. It may. It did. It's actually right here:

 
 


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Martinitza, Martinitzi - Varna, Bulgaria

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Martinitza, Martinitzi - Varna, Bulgaria

Some goodbyes are not that easy.

And with this post, I am saying goodbye to Bulgaria. And, logically, this post isn't easy to write. But you probably saw that coming because you understand how syllogisms work. Basically, me a bit sad.

There is a beautiful tradition that has followed my travels all the way through Bulgaria, and that is the Martenitza bracelet. A bracelet each Bulgarian has to say goodbye to every year, but they didn't seem to mind as much as me.

These red and white bracelets are offered and worn from the beginning of March when people start sensing Spring might just be deciding to come back slowly. And when a person sees a Stalk, he hangs his bracelet(s) on a blooming tree, for good health. You get to pick a nice one if you like of course.

 I got my first and only Martenitza in Sofia from Viktoria, carried it all around, and then, with a smile and a slight feeling of loss, I perched it near a Thracian Tomb and onlooking stalks, in the Kanzanluk area, in the middle of the country. You might have noticed in the videos how it disappears from my wrist between two songs.

And now, on the Black Sea, the other side of the country, having been zig-zagging in this beautiful land for two months, I record a song about Martenitzi (the plural), my favourite Bulgarian tradition. Very much like this bracelet I took an irrational liking to, I leave behind beautiful landscapes, moments and people. And as much as I'd like to take some of them with me, that's not how Martenitzi, or travelling, works.

But with the comfort that the memories will travel on with me, joyfully celebrating Spring, and with all my thankful thoughts to all the wonderful Bulgarians I have met here and who have made it such a wonderful discovery for Ukulele Road Trips in it's first country, Martenitza, Martenitzi !

 
 

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Music and Folklore by the Sea - Varna

Very much like everyone's Bulgarian grandfather makes his own Rakia (tasty alcoholic beverage) in the basement, every single Bulgarian region has its very own traditional baggage. The dances, the outfits, even the specific melodies and special rhythms. From the Strandzha Mountains to Koprivshtitsa, they all have their own characteristics. And very much like Rakia, it's something you need to learn to appreciate, at small doses at a time, because, despite your eventual confidence, this is strong stuff that your non-Bulgarian body is not used to.

Let me then take you on a little introductory promenade. Small doses is key to really enjoying the taste.

 
 

It must be said though, that for myself, it is really in Sea capital Varna that I experienced the colourful traditional Bulgarian folklore first hand. A fine city on the East Coast (or "Coast, as there's only one), lying on the Black Sea and on layers of Thracian, Greek and Roman ruins (but for more on that you might need to listen to the Podcast from Varna).

Let us start off with a little song from the famed Mysterious Bulgarian Voices, and more specifically here, by the a capella women's choir BWVFE, stealthily filmed by my (hardly) discreet phone:

 
 

These very unique voices, luckily for you, can also be heard individually, outside of a typical choir formation. If you look carefully at the video above, you will notice young Polina, second from the left, who was kind enough to record a few songs for the website in the Varna Sea gardens, right after having already graced the Podcast, Episode 4 with her wonderful singing.

Fifteen-year-old Polina is playing these traditional melodies on the Bulgarian version of the Ukulele, the Tambura! It is actually stringed like the last four strings of a guitar, except it's strings are doubled, which gives it this particular sound.

If you listen closely to Polina's song on the right, "Sadi Rada Radouli" which is a song about this guy called Radi who sells radishes (this is a total guess by the way), you will notice irregular rhythms throughout the song, as if some beats were avoided or added and the music was taking surprising detours and short cuts. This is a very specific trait of Bulgarian traditional music. And this is not (solely) due to over-consumption of Rakia by Bulgarian folk-song-writers. Bulgarian folklore, cut off of Western influences during the Ottoman rule kept developing it's very unique musical style.

As surprising as that may sound, many of these "confusing" rythms are perfectly natural to most Bulgarians who, having heard and danced to them all their lives, are more than glad than to skip effortlessly to them on a sunny afternoon in the popular "Sea Gardens". Try to spot which ones are the non-Bulgarian tourists.

 
 

This rythm could probably be best decribed as the da-x-dou-bi-DOU-DOU-di. Maybe. I don't really get it to be honest. I would love to join in though. But similarly to following Bulgarians drinking Rakia, it's probably something you can only do after a lot of practice and spending many years living in the country.

Despite a craving to join in with the dances and the Rakia, I might just stick with what I know for now. Speaking of which, do any of these Ukuleles ring a bell?

 
By the entrance of Yo-Ho Hostel, Varna

By the entrance of Yo-Ho Hostel, Varna

 


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