Balkan party music in Seattle

Balkan sheet music from Balkanarama

Posted on Apr 16, 2018

Balkan sheet music from Balkanarama

Music transcribed by Michael Gordon

I’m publishing an online collection of sheet music for songs from the southern Balkans that I’ve transcribed over the years. Most are from the repertoire of Balkanarama, the Seattle dance band that I helped start in 1997 after many years in the L.A. Balkan scene. The sheet music is in high-resolution PDF format and is available to musicians anywhere for free. At the moment I’m adding two songs a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Enjoy!

Players whom I greatly respect say the best way to learn this style of music is by ear. No doubt they’re right, but the world is full of musicians who prefer to see notes on paper, including our band when we learn a new song. I hope these charts will inspire people to explore Balkan music in live performance and on YouTube, and to find opportunities to experience in person the union of Balkan music, song and dance as a living art form, not just as notes on paper. The East European Folklife Center, which runs wonderful Balkan music, song and dance camps on the east and west coasts of the U.S. every summer, is an excellent place to start.

This collection will include music, lyrics and English translations for songs mostly from the southern Balkans: Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece and neighboring countries. Among these will be a number of songs of the Roma, the people once called “Gypsies” (a term now considered a slur) who migrated from northwest India to Europe starting about a thousand years ago. Rom performers have long been an important part of traditional live music in the Balkans, both within their own communities and as hired performers at weddings and other events, and in recent years have discovered global audiences for their music.

Caveat emptor: The charts here are NOT the original or official scores for these songs. They are just my transcriptions of recordings originally found on vinyl, cassettes, CDs and now YouTube. Many versions exist of these songs, and the version known in your village might be different from the version known in my village. Or I might just be wrong… so if you see errors or potential improvements in the notes, chords, lyrics or translations, please mention them in comments and I’ll take a look.

The images of music and lyrics shown in the blog posts are medium-quality previews. Click on the “View high-resolution PDF” link below each image to see, save or print a perfect facsimile instead.

Lead sheets are PDFs created in Finale and show notes, chord progressions and, if there’s enough space, lyrics and translations, which otherwise are shown on a separate lyric sheet. Think of these charts as no more than a starting point. While the transcriptions hint at ornamentation, they don’t attempt to capture all the nuances of the original performance. Listen closely to musicians from the Balkans, live or on YouTube. These lead sheets do not include improvised parts, including introductory taqsims and instrumental solos during songs – you’re on your own for those.

(Please comment if you see any charts where the chord placement over the lyrics looks wrong – it might be a Finale bug.)

Lyric sheets, available for some but not all songs, are PDFs created in Microsoft Word and include the words and chords, but not notes, for singers and/or rhythm players. Singers will need to listen to recordings of the songs to understand their prosody (how the syllables fit the melody), so I link to YouTube recordings where available. English translations of highly variable quality are shown for almost all songs; if you can improve them, please do in the comments. If you store this music on paper in a physical notebook, many of our lead sheets and lyric sheets are designed to work as facing pages.

Lyrics for songs in languages that use non-Latin alphabets are transliterated to the Latin alphabet using commonly used diacritics. In Seattle we use â for the Bulgarian unstressed vowel. (Alas, diacritical marks are absent from blog posts like this, including song titles – no se puede in WordPress.) Guides to the orthography and pronunciation of Balkan languages are available elsewhere online and are not included here.

The charts credit song authors and source recordings to the extent of my imperfect knowledge. Many of the songs are traditional folk melodies with no known author. Communist-era recordings did not always credit composers and performers accurately. Modern artists have written new lyrics for traditional melodies and claimed them as copyrighted compositions. If you have more accurate information about authors or original performers, please mention it in comments. I can remove copyrighted songs at the request of their legal owners if they object to this tiny bit of unofficial free publicity.

The songs are in the keys in which our band plays them, which in more than a few cases are different from the source recordings. We transpose songs as needed to make them comfortable for our SATB vocalists. If another key works better for you, go for it.

The charts already published use the name “Macedonia” to refer to the former Yugoslav republic and “Greek Macedonia” to refer to the Macedonian regions of Greece. When time permits, I will update them to use the terms now agreed between the Macedonian and Greek governments: Northern Macedonia for the former Yugoslav republic, and Greek Macedonia when distinguishing it from other regions of Greece.

My grateful thanks to all who, wittingly or otherwise, have enabled me to assemble these charts, particularly the lyrics and translations: Carol Silverman, Mary Sherhart, Kultur Shock, Amir Arslanagic, Anton and Mina Kirilov, Jana Rickel, Laura Blumenthal, Sava and Ben Hruska, Martha Forsyth and Jane Sugarman. I’ve taken the liberty of showing some lyrics and translations from my precious hard copy of Rromani Songs from Central Serbia and Beyond, by Dusan Ristic and Suzanne Leonora (can’t find a link to purchase it, alas) and my well-thumbed 1994 second edition of Balkan Folk Songs, edited by Carol Silverman (ditto).

Personal footnote: I’m an American of mostly British Isles descent with no family connection to the Balkans. I fell in love with Balkan music and dance in Los Angeles during the 1970s, where I performed as a dancer with Aman and a musician with Avaz, Kárpátok, the dance band Nama and the Balkan women’s choirs Nevenka and Slaveja. During the communist era I traveled in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia, spent a month playing Hungarian folk music in Hungary, and afterwards visited Greece and Northern Macedonia. In 1996 I moved to the Seattle area, where my wife, Eva Moon, who sang with Nevenka, Slaveja and Kárpátok, and I played a few impromptu duets at Friday night Balkan dancing. (The first time we showed up, Bruce asked us, “Have you ever done this before?”) Drummer Zuki, a former Washington state baton twirling champion, and saxman Ferko, who used to play Zappa covers, started jamming with us. We began calling ourselves Balkanarama in 1997 and have played at dances, parties, weddings, festivals and nightclubs in the Pacific Northwest ever since, now with Krk (yes, the entire island) on six-string bass. We’ve released three CDs, two of which are available at CD Baby: Nonstop, Black Sea (an out-of-print curiosity), and Balkanarama Live.

This Balkan sheet music archive is free – I have no right to profit from any of these songs – but if you’d like to support our band’s other activities, you can hit our “Donate” tip jar, follow us on Facebook or join our email list, all in the right-hand column of this page. Thank you!

Nota bene: Balkanarama is the name of a band in Seattle, a traveling music event in the UK, and a hostel in Mostar, Bosnia. To be clear, this sheet music is from the band in Seattle, not the UK event or the Mostar hostel. We’re pretty sure we used the name first, but the world is big enough for all of us.

18 Comments

Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Rachel Teare

    Hi, i am trying to learn some balkan stuff on the concertina- would love your sheet music but can’t find the files on your website?

  2. Lúcio

    Hi EVa, Iwould like to get this book, but there is not a link to download it. How can I download it? Thank you in advance, greetings from Brasil.

  3. Jane

    Any update on posting sheet music yet? I have some interest in learning Balkan tunes so looking forward to seeing these.

  4. Dennis

    Hi eva, just wondering if theres a link to download music sheets?

  5. Jack Brul

    Hello
    My (local) ensemble would like to play “Zamini” from your CD Black Sea;
    is there sheet music available on PDF format?
    would appreciate it!!
    thank you very much!
    Jack

    • Mike Gordon

      Coming by May 1: the real Balkanarama music archive, with scheduled updates. I will add Zamini when I get to Z.

  6. Steve Davidson

    I read your reply to Lucio about posting the music. That was two years ago and I would also like to download the book. Any chance the files will be posted soon?

  7. Arend Veldkamp

    I would like to play Balkan music – it will be great to use your book (if possible

    Thanks in advance – Arend Veldkamp – Te Netherlands (Bandonion – accordion – piano)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *