Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia

Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia

Paperback(Audio CD.)

Usually ships within 6 days

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819564887
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 12/09/2002
Series: Music/Culture Series
Edition description: Audio CD.
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 11.10(w) x 9.70(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

The authors have worked together on a variety of projects, including Polka Happiness (1992), co-authored by Dick Blau and the Keils. Dick Blau is Professor of Film at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Charles Keil is author of Urban Blues (1966) and Tiv Song (1979), and co-author (with Steven Feld) of Music Grooves (1994). Angeliki Vellou Keil is the compiler/editor of the Autobiography of Marcos Vamvakaris (1973). Steven Feld is Professor of Music and Anthropology at Columbia University. His sound recordings include Voices of the Rainforest (1991) and Bosavi: Rainforest Music from Papua New Guinea (2001). Papua New Guinea (2001).] His newest recording, Bells & WinterFestivals of Greek Macedonia (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), is a perfect accompaniment to Bright Balkan Morning, and is available at Ian Hancock is Professor of Linguistics, Asian Studies and English, and Director of the Romani Archives and Documentation Center, at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also Romani representative member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.

Read an Excerpt

Bright Balkan Morning

By Charles & Angeliki Vellou Keil

Wesleyan University Press

Copyright © 2002 Richard Blau, Charles Keil, and Angeliki Vellou Keil
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0819564885

The Most Important Instruments in the World

The dauli (derived from davul, the name for the big drum in India) is a two-headed bass drum played on both sides; a big beater is used to thump one side, and a little stick is tapped on the other side or pressed against the skin to rattle whenever the opposite side is thumped. The zurna (clearly the same word as sona in China or shahnai in India) is a shawm or outdoor oboe with a double reed-that is, a round reed is flattened and trimmed to form two vibrating elements, unlike the single reed of a saxophone or clarinet. Double reeds are loud, penetrating, and hard to control, and they are capable of producing pitches, overtones, sound effects that can't be notated. A bass drum played on both sides at once often sounds like two drums: loud, buzzing, and clattering. Blended together, a dauli and two zurnas create complex "surround-sounds" that are similar to the sounds of double-reed and percussion ensembles found across Asia and circum-Saharan Africa (Dietrich 1983) and to the bagpipe and drum styles found across Europe and the British Isles, wherever the peopled landscape is still used for theenactment of rituals.

In this chapter we begin by documenting the outdoor dominance of this sound across Old World cultures, times, and spaces. Then we listen in as the instruments are played at three events in Greek Macedonia. Finally, we begin to make some inferences about the roles of instrument players and their rules of engagement.

I first heard an ensemble of two zurnas and a dauli in the summer of 1964, appropriately enough, on the way to my own wedding in Thessaloniki, Greece. Stopping in Athens, we went to an evening performance of the Dora Stratou Dance Company as they entertained tourists near the Acropolis. It was there that the sound of the instruments hit me for the first time. Zurnas wailing, dauli pounding-all of jazz history culminated for me at that moment. This was the sound that the John Coltrane Quartet had been laboring toward so faithfully night after night at the Fivespot in New York, at McKee's Lounge in Chicago, and in all the joints and bins from coast to coast. The busy bass and piano parts of Jimmy Garrison and McCoy Tyner were here condensed into the penetrating drone of the second zurna player. The polyrhythmic churning of Elvin Jones at his drum set was essentialized flawlessly here by the little stick flicked against the tighter head of the dauli while the right-hand thumping stick delivered clean accents uncluttered by ringing cymbal overtones. Distillation of bass and piano to a single tone. Essence of Elvin Jones focused in one bass drum. And soaring above the drone and dauli, the voice of Dionysus, like Coltrane's never to be described in mere words and, once heard live and in person, never to be forgotten.

The many Old World manifestations of this blown-and-beaten sound connect us to contemporary jazz and "world music." They also connect people to something very old and to the sacred in each locality. From Scotland to Tibet, from Chechnya to Tivland in Nigeria, from Greece to Korea, crossing cultures, regions, and continents, there is some kind of deeply rooted magic and mystery in double reeds and percussion. Something very old is carried in these sounds and in the dancing bodies, the wrestling bodies, and the processioning bodies that these sounds inspire and support in Greek Macedonia. Something both old and new may be in the sounds too, a way of celebrating differences across languages and cultures rather than fighting over them.

Even with today's technology the whole configuration is difficult to reproduce. Ask the people who record symphony orchestras in performance how they feel about percussion and reeds, timpani and oboes; they will tell you that these instruments are the hardest to capture and to keep in balance. Zurna and dauli multiply recording problems: both heads of the bass drum are being beaten, left-hand rattlings and right-hand thumps interpenetrant. Each double-reed horn creates odd overtones and Tartini tones audible only at various proximities from the instrument; on top of that, the two horns are constantly blending their tones and overtones in different ways. Finally, the instruments are often in motion - zurna and dauli play to and with the dancers, turning and directing their sounds at a dancer to create auditory spinning and phasing effects. Two big oboes and a bass drum may not record well or seem like much of a band to people who like major symphony orchestras, or the Count Basie big band, or a heavy-metal rock extravaganza, or the complexities of John Coltrane's Quartet, but "in your face," as they say, the sound can seem like the future of jazz and the root of the most ancient rites simultaneously.

The zurna may be the most important instrument in the world-after the voice, of course, and after the drum or dauli. Birds, whales, gibbons, and wolves all sing; we humans may have sung (and sung much more) before we acquired language. Voices come from inside us. Instruments are external, found or put together, manipulated, starting perhaps with hand claps. After our voices and bodies, the drum comes first; gorillas pounding their chests and chimpanzees beating logs tell us that. Drums are close to the ceremonial core and shamanic curing processes of most cultures) Whistling and fluting, blowing across openings, probably evolved next. As for strings, I have long believed that the twanging mouth bow preceded and made possible the hunting bow. The little stick that beats the vibrating vine or sinew of the musical mouth bow was flicked from the bowstring one day and became an arrow, but we may have to wait a long while before archaeological evidence proves it.

There is abundant evidence from antiquity demonstrating that paired pipes were used in ancient Egypt, and the double-reed instrument, called aulos by the Greeks and usually played in pairs, was the central sound for carousing symposia as well as for rituals. The double aulos provided the accompaniment for athletic contests dedicated to the gods, and it was closely associated with Dionysian rites in particular. The same Plato who thought that poets were dangerous railed with even greater passion against the aulos virtuoso Timotheus of Miletus on account of his shrill squealings in the uppermost tetrachord when he accompanied the performance of Greek tragedies. Plato's elevation of forms and ideas to dominance over the sounds of passion seems to have been permanent, for no zurna or oboe players have been asked to accompany the most traditional interpretations of tragedy in Greece today.

The "goat song" rites of spring that preceded tragedy may also be audible in carnival celebrations all over the Catholic world and in the apocries (Carnival) parties of Orthodox Greece up to the present. The bagpipes, known as tsambuna in the Cycladic islands, are made of sheep- or goatskins that push air through paired (or double-bore) reed pipes. The tsambuna seems to be fading fast on an overtoured island like Santorini, but it is still played at wine-drinking parties in the villages of Naxos. It is accompanied by a drum, the tumbi, and often featured at apocries celebrations and at wine-making or wine-drinking events. The bagpipes could be the descendants of a double-aulos tradition that goes back millennia before the marble figure of a double pipe player found on the Cycladic isle of Keros and dated circa 3000 B.C. I am not arguing here for direct lines of descent and continuity for instruments (that the aulos evolved into a zurna) or for tangled lines of diffusion (that the Greek aulos became a shenai in India), but rather that a very stirring sound of paired reeds and percussion serves ecstatic, bliss-inducing, celebratory purposes over space and time and will find its instrumental and dancing-human-body vehicles. The sound and purposes of the paired pipe whose player is immortalized in marble on Keros might be quite similar to the sound and purposes of a tsambuna on nearby Naxos five millennia later. Just as in the pre-Christian era dozens of different gene pools, races, and tribes may have carried language and values along a continuum that can in retrospect easily be labeled "Greek," we may be talking eventually about a "Balkan paired-reed and drum" or a "Eurasian pipe and percussion" or an "Old World blown-and-beaten" tradition that has deep roots.

This paired-pipe tradition represented by bagpipes and zurnas is important not only because it seems to have been at the center of diverse "Greek" traditions for over five thousand years, but because it is the instrument that penetrates to the core of Eastern cultures as well. Sona players with lots of percussion have supplied the sound for weddings, funerals, and festivals in rural China ever since the Persians may have sent the instrument down the silk route. Can 800 million Han peasants be wrong about the sounds required for rites of passage?

In Tibetan tradition, a pair of double reeds and a pair of long bass trumpets are used by monks to bring up the sun each morning and put it behind the mountains every night. The double reeds are usually the most prominent pair of the many pairs of instruments used in monastery ensembles to send the maximum number of vibrating overtones up into the spirit world: two double reeds, two bass trumpets, two shinbone trumpets, two conchs, two vertical cymbals, two horizontal cymbals, double skull drums, a little bell whose clapper going back and forth gives it a doubling effect, and a two-headed bass drum.

In India, two or more double reeds called shahnai are the sound for temples in Benares, and Bismillah Khan's many recordings attest to the delicate control that can be maintained over every nuance of tone production. In Korea, the double reed is known by three names: as the t'aep'yongso ("great-peace flute," equivalent to the Chinese sona), outside court music circles as the hojuk ("Mongolian flute"), and by its onomatopoetic folk name, nallari. It is often at the center of nongak ("farmer's music"), surrounded by players of big and small gongs as well as by the hourglass drummers who spin and dance as they play both sides of the drum. This is the sound of rural festivals in Korea, and the ensemble has been adopted by most high schools throughout the country. Gat, the music of a shaman's troupe and its curing rites, can include both nallari and piri, the shorter double reed, blending with voices and percussion differently in each region and curing everything from one person's common cold to an entire village's jealousies.

One end of the double-reed continuum seems to phase out in Japan, where the longer double reed can only be heard as a signal from noodle peddlers. The shorter hichiriki is a distinguishing feature of the oldest gagaku (court music). Neither instrument stimulates ecstatic dancing or accompanies peasant rites of passage, though the hichiriki might be thought of as sending sacred overtones heavenward.

Moving out in other directions from its ancient centers in Phrygia, Greece, Persia, and India, the double reeds and drums have provided ceremonial music for ten centuries all over the Arab world. It is this music you are most likely to hear in the bazaars of interior north Africa, and many a Western hippie has tuned into the Master Musicians of Jajouka via the writings of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin or the recordings of the Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and a more recent production by Bill Laswell.

The sixty million Hausa people spread over seven west African nation-states know the double-reed instrument as alakeita, and it has diffused from Islamic African peoples around the rim of the Sahara to a number of peoples in the savanna. The Tiv in the Benue River area of Nigeria play a version of the alakeita they call the gida, and though it has only four finger holes, skilled players nevertheless managed to "sing" any song for large circles of dancers during the 1960s, when gida and drumming gave the Tiv their first "highlife," a broadly popular music not tied to any particular clan area.

Outside Macedonia and the Balkans the sound of the paired double reed survives in Europe as Slavic and Celtic bagpipes. In addition to the Scotch and Irish, Bretons and Catalans keep the tradition going with their bombarde and graller. Where the double reed exists as a separate mouth-blown horn, I suspect that it is taking on the aura of a pagan, authentic, autochthonous past, often for nationalist purposes. Chris Small reports that ensembles of three to twenty grallers and tenor drummers in Catalonia provide the sound for many processions, annual carnivals, traditional dances, and certain acrobatic ceremonies: for "the castellers, that curious Catalan sport, or ritual, or art form (I'm not sure which it is) where they climb on one another's backs to build human towers, six or seven people high" and for the moixenganga, in which "the group of fifteen young men execute with great solemnity a series of slow but very demanding and athletic maneuvers, climbing on one another's backs and lifting one another in elaborate ways to represent the stations of the cross." This stylized men's athleticism seems to occupy the place of wrestling as the conclusion of saint's day rituals in Greek Macedonia. The whole constellation of dances, processions, Carnivals, and exhibitions of male prowess accompanied by double reeds and drums seems broadly similar or analogous at both ends of the Mediterranean.

How far back reeds and drums go in Europe west of Greece we don't know. Did the Etruscans have them? Is it a deep Basque tradition? From the paintings, iconography, and linguistic and textual evidence, we know that double-reed shawms "reflect the absorption of a Turko-Arab practice first adopted in Italy at about the time of the fifth crusade (1217-1221 AD)," that zurna and dauli appear in the frescos of "Ohrid monasteries dating to the 14th century," that they were spreading throughout Europe in the fourteenth century and that they were featured in powerful court consorts and town bands during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries when both kings and commoners enjoyed a rich mix of shawms, cornetts, and sackbuts or trombones. During the 1600s they declined in popularly; and by 1700 shawms of all sizes were replaced in most Western European countries by oboes and bassoons, which were more easily controlled, more evenly bored, less wild, and not as loud.


Excerpted from Bright Balkan Morning by Charles & Angeliki Vellou Keil Copyright © 2002 by Richard Blau, Charles Keil, and Angeliki Vellou Keil
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Foreword – Ian Hancock
The Most Important Instruments in the World
Layered Identities and Improvised Traditions: Roma in the Byzantine-Ottoman-Greek Continuum
The Roma Jumaya
Mahala Album
The Life of Mitsos Hindzos
In Their Own Words, Translated
Rides of Inclusion
Afterword – Dick Blau
Soundscapes of New Year’s Week in Greek Macedonia: CD Recording and Notes by Steven Feld, with Comments by Charles and Angeliki Vellou Keil

What People are Saying About This

Alan Trachtenberg

"In rapport with the layered text by the Keils — Dick Blau's amazing photographs give the book a sense of presence, the intimacy of people viewed up close and distant, always lovingly, with respect and with awe. There's an inviting pulse here, an energy and inwardness that take human shape; rapt bodies register and make palpable an unheard music. Blau's camera dances with its subjects and makes them real."

Dieter Christensen

"Feld’s sensitively recorded CD makes an already extraordinary book truly unique."

From the Publisher

"Feld's sensitively recorded CD makes an already extraordinary book truly unique."——Dieter Christensen, Director of the Center for Ethnomusicology, Columbia University

"In rapport with the layered text by the Keils — Dick Blau's amazing photographs give the book a sense of presence, the intimacy of people viewed up close and distant, always lovingly, with respect and with awe. There's an inviting pulse here, an energy and inwardness that take human shape; rapt bodies register and make palpable an unheard music. Blau's camera dances with its subjects and makes them real."—Alan Trachtenberg, author of Reading American Photographs

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews