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Written in Folk Roots issue 92/93, 1991

"Two Girls Started to Sing..." Bulgarian Village Singing

Rounder CD 1055 (1990)

This is just wonderful - the sort of Bulgarian singing, mostly two-part, melody against drone, that creates such excitement when Balkana and Le Mystère do it, but here recorded, sometimes quite literally, in the field, recently (between 1978 and 1988), and full of melodic and harmonic sophistication and brilliance. There are 25 tracks, with notes and transcribed lyrics with very readable English translations. Martha Forsyth, who did all the recording, provides the best explanation, so I leave most of the rest of this review to her:
      "The singers you hear on this album are for the most part no longer young. Times have changed very rapidly in Bulgaria in the past forty or fifty years, and younger Bulgarians don't sing old songs much anymore. But most of these women, in their 50's, 60's, 70's, even 80's when I recorded them, grew up when singing still accompanied every aspect of village life. Even now, when they may not have had occasion to sing these songs for twenty years or more, they can unhesitatingly entertain you for an afternoon, singing or telling you song after song.
      "These people are not professional singers. They are you, your sister, your grandmother, the school cleaning lady, one of the village shepherds. Nearly all of them still live in the village where they were born and grew up, or into which they married; most of them do not even dream of travelling outside of Bulgaria." (- I wonder if this has changed during the past extraordinary year). "They sang for me with no special preparation or rehearsal - in fact, often they did not even know I was coming to the village.
      "I recorded all of these songs in the south-western portion of Bulgaria (the Shop, Pirin and Rhodope regions). I chose this area for my work because this is where two-part singing - a melody and a drone - is done. These are in every sense of the word field recordings; I am never willing to constrain the singers by insisting on "perfect" conditions or "perfect" renditions of the songs. So the singers review the words or comment on what they've just sung, doors squeak, roosters crow, cars and trucks pass by... Life goes on, and Martha keeps her tape-recorder running."
      Thanks Martha.

© 1991 Andrew Cronshaw

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