Labor Records' second volume of new Bulgarian wedding music has just been released. Thracian Rhapsody II is a poetic interpretation through improvisation of a traditional Bulgarian wedding. It starts with the "Abduction of the Bride" and continues with BBachelors' Dance," a contest or competition between the musicians, the "Dance of the Temptresses," based on Bulgarian folklore, the well-known Dilmano, the passionate and climactic "Golden Necklace" (part of the bride's costume but also a suite of increasingly intense dances) and ending with "The Sun Is Coming Up."
Like the first, it contains some of the greats of modern Bulgarian wedding music featuring the Bulgarian folk/jazz singer Yîldîz Ibrahimova and the clarinetists Ivo Papsov and Mladen Malakov, the Christo Yotsov Trio as well as the ensembles Bisery and Shumen.
The new Bulgarian wedding music has been described as a grass-roots phenomenon which has traveled from popular to high culture in a short time. It combines improvisation, exquisite melody, daring technical innovation, irreverence and change as well as dynamism, excitement and highly charged feeling. Criticized and suppressed under communism, it has exploded in recent years and its appeal now far transcends the region that gave it birth. This modern descendant of traditional Balkan folk, gypsy, and klezmer music, has taken Eastern Europe by storm; the excitement has spread to Western Europe and, now, the United States as well. These young musicians, riding on fiery, driving rhythms of extraordinary richness and complexity, have a stunning virtuosity, poignant expression, and ensemble excitement that is irresistible. The music, at once ancient and furiously contemporary, must be heard to be believed; it will take your breath away.
Originally performed at weddings, the new genre has quickly found its place at all major festivals and rituals of life in Bulgaria. An instrumentation of voice, violin, clarinet, trumpet or flute, drums and accordion is often augmented by guitar and folk instruments like the kaval and gaida. The kaval, a flute that uses Eastern non-tempered scales, produces melodies and harmonies of bitter-sweet flavor. The gaida, a Balkan bagpipe, is like the familiar Scottish type in having a drone and a melodic chanter, but the playing technique and musical style is quite different. Drums and percussion include the tîpan, carried with a shoulder strap and played with heavy and light beaters.
Many of the current greats of Bulgarian wedding music (including the ones on this album) came to wide notice after 1985 at the annual village folk festivals in Stambolovo. These young musicians, most of them gypsies, are steeped in traditional Balkan and gypsy music. They have pioneered a new fusion using elements from Macedonian, Greek, Turkish, Romanian, Arabic and even Indian sources and are also influenced by contemporary classical music, pop and jazz. The whole, characterized by driving, asymmetrical meters and rhythms, and eastern melodic forms, is performed and improvised with emotional intensity, often at white heat. It is impossible not to respond to the breathtaking physicality of this music. All these performers possess levels of technique and improvisatory powers that extend instrumental possibilities into new realms of virtuosity and imagination.