Music From Macedonia

A Recording Partnership with Smithsonian Folkways

Mitre Konstantinov, Rusalii dancer from the village of Petrovo

Project Description
Balkan Echoes requests funding to produce a high quality recording featuring outstanding examples of traditional music collected in Macedonia in 1968 and 1973 by Martin Koenig.  In the time period when these recordings were made, it was rare to be able to bring a professional recording engineer into the field with high quality recording equipment to record traditional musicians.  But this was exactly what was done. $48,250 has been raised; $23,299 remains to be raised for a total budget of $71,549.

Professional Recording and Accompanying Materials:
David Jones, recording engineer for numerous recordings of the Nonesuch Explorer Series (as well as many other recordings of Elektra and various other recording companies), was hired to come to the former Yugoslavia to make these recordings.  This 77 minute recording will be enhanced by an attractive accompanying booklet containing interpretive notes and photographs and will be issued and distributed by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings in direct-to-digital format.  Prof. Sonia Seeman, ethnomusicologist, University of Texas, Austin serves as contributor and consultant for the recording.

Smithsonian Folkways
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution.  They are dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increasing “understanding among peoples through documentation, preservation, and dissemination of sound”.  They, as we, believe “that musical and cultural diversity contributes to the vitality and quality of life throughout the world”.  Because of fiscal constraints Folkways has no funds to underwrite their recordings.  Collectors and producers must bring a master tape to them, and pending sufficient funding, the Smithsonian Folkways Label has agreed to publish this recording and distribute it worldwide.

Located in Southeastern Europe nestled between Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Albania, Macedonia holds a rich variety of music within 25,713 square kilometers. As a former Ottoman territory, this region is also home to many linguistic, ethnic and religious communities: Macedonians, Albanians, Roma, Vlahs, Turks, Greeks, Jews, Christians and Muslims who have all contributed to a medley of distinct and intertwined musical traditions.

The Recording:
This recording represents a sonic perspective not available on previous recordings, culled from the field recordings during two trips in 1968 and 1973.

This is an important period in Macedonia, as these recordings predate the influx of new popular and modernized forms of rural music (such as the “newly composed folk music” genre) and capture the period in which local traditions maintained older styles alongside the state radio’s centralized broadcasting of folk and regional music.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, most available recordings were disseminated through the state radio, and were recorded by professional staff members of the state radio and folklore ensemble, Tanec. During this decade, radio versions of national folk music was becoming more regulated under national guidelines. Yet the repertoire and styles from state ensembles drew from those modeled by regional artists such as those represented on this rare set of field recordings.

The tracks here broadly represent three key genres found in Macedonia: zurli-tapan music; vocal music from rural communities; and Ottoman-derived urban ensemble called “calgija” that refashioned Ottoman court music with local songs in local languages, dance meters and Ottoman urban and court musical styles. With the exception of one of the singers from the village of Petrovo, all of the artists recorded here are long dead, and in most cases these musical expressions, also are no longer alive. However, there is now a revival of interest in just such forms by young musicians and singers in urban centers in Macedonia, North America, Western Europe and Australia who are now looking to these authentic forms for inspiration, repertoire and interest.

Alo Toncov at Veles Wedding

Calgija (pronounced as chal-gi-ya) is viewed as a significant genre for the expression of a unique Macedonian identity, and Alekso “Alo” Toncov, the violinist featured here, was one of the leading musical sources for a wealth of calgija songs, instrumental pieces and dances. Calgija retains the strong imprint of a 500-year Ottoman Turkish cultural legacy intermixed with the musical styles from ethnic and linguistic communities found in the current Republic of Macedonia. Derived from Ottoman court and urban music, calgija repertoire has in turn preserved older Ottoman styles and items, which are highly valued in contemporary Turkey as part of the Rumeli genre of music from Southeastern Europe.  While calgija-type genres existed throughout former Ottoman territories, this locally-inflected Ottoman urban genre has been best preserved in Macedonia.

In Macedonia, calgija refers to an instrumental ensemble tradition, a musical style, and also a particular repertoire of urban music. Calgija ensembles instruments include: violin, kanon (a trapezoidal plucked zither), ut (short-necked fretless plucked lute), clarinet, dajre (frame drum) and tarabuka (goblet shaped drum). These instruments perform a single melody with each instrumentalist executing simultaneous variations of the melody, contributing to a dense and lively texture.

Calgija is also defined by a particular urban repertoire of songs, instrumental listening pieces and dance music, and is characterized by stylistic features such as the use of the mekam (Ottoman-derived melodic modes), with an aesthetic for improvisation. The state radio established a professional calgija ensemble in 1945—the first of its professional music ensembles, and thus began to forge a national calgija style. However, each Macedonian town nurtured its own unique style of calgija. Alo Toncov was considered to be the leading exponent of the Veles calgija tradition.

Alo Toncov was born in the town of Veles into a Macedonian musician family in 1910. Alo joined the ensemble of his father, clarinetist Jovan, which entertained a variety of ethnic, religious and linguistic communities with clarinet, violin, lavta (a fretted plucked instrument) and dajre (frame drum) for some 50 years in the town and surrounding villages. Their repertoire spanned Macedonian, Turkish, Jewish music, contemporary urban songs and dances, and a variety of “ala franka” (ie., Western European) songs and dances such as waltzes and polkas. Due to his extensive history of performing for a variety of local communities for weddings and in coffeehouses, Alo Toncov was a living repository for a range of urban musical repertoires. His family’s repertoire was recorded at the state radio and used as the basis for many transcriptions given to the radio calgija to record and broadcast.

Ilija Gulev, Zurla Player from Gevgelija

The Gevgelija zurli tradition here represents one not found in radio or state folklore ensemble, as those groups worked primarily with musicians from Skopje and Veles. Zurli-tapan tradition has been retained throughout Southeastern Europe and Turkey as a legacy from the former Ottoman military ensemble tradition known as mehter. Many of the military musicians formed small groups that provided musical services for outdoor life cycle and calendrical cycle rituals. The small ensembles are comprised of three to four instruments: 2 double–reed folk oboe (zurli) and 1-2 double headed drums. Typically, one zurla plays melody accompanied by a second zurla on drone, and the complex rhythms are produced by 1-2 tapans, each instrument using a thick stick on the lower-pitched head, and a thin wand on the higher pitched head. The musicians here hail from Macedonian Romani families near the Greek border. The repertoire represented here includes music to accompany traditional oiled wrestling, which can be heard still at ritual entertainments at weddings and at the table na trapeza.


Village singing has been at the core of music-making in rural settlements throughout Macedonia and the Balkans.  In Macedonia one and two voice singing existed and was primarily performed by younger, as well as older women.  The Petrovo singers are women who lived in the village of Petrovo, one of sixteen villages in the Gevgelija area, that shared a song and dance tradition.  On special occasions the Gevgelija zurli would be hired to play for these rural villages. Singing occurred while working in the fields, at different family or other social occasions, while dancing, at winter working bees and for religious holidays.  Since these recordings were made there has been a huge exodus of people who formerly lived in these villages either to towns and cities throughout Macedonia, or to places in the west where there is work.  Nowadays, the village of Petrovo has 25% of the population it once had in the late 1960s and that population, mostly of older people, consists of few young women.