We’re starting 2010 off with a scorcher: a fine example of rural bagpipe music of the Balkans.

Preconceived, negative notions about bagpipe music abound, I believe, mainly because the instrument is primarily associated in the mainstream media with British Military processions. This, of course, is a frustratingly narrow view. Not only are there wonderful musicians and folk performances on the Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland, but the bagpipe itself is a positively ancient folk instrument with varying types and styles stretching from Ireland and the UK, to Spain, across Europe, to Tunisia, and as far east as India. Urban and rural cultures all over the globe have used the instrument to accompany vocalists and dancers since the 12th century, at least. Chaucer famously referenced the pipes in The Canterbury Tales. Bosch, Breughel, and Dürer depicted them in paintings and drawings.

For the uninitiated, the bagpipe in its most basic form (which visually seems to reference the human stomach) is comprised of a few simple parts: a blowpipe, the bag (made of animal skin), the melody pipe (known as the chanter), and the drone pipe. Wood and animal skin – and that’s it. These basic ingredients are expanded upon (or not) depending on the culture and geographical location. There are numerous varieties of Italian zampogna with several variations on the numbers of chanters and drone pipes – the Hungarian duda often has a double chanter and one drone. The Tunisian mizwad and the Maltese zaqq have double chanters and no drone pipes. There’s the German dudelsack, the Bahraini jirba, the Cretan askomandoura, the Swedish säckpipa, and hundreds more variations. On Excavated Shellac, we’ve featured music performed on the Galician gaita and the binioù of Brittany.

Another bagpipe variation is the Serbian gajde, the bagpipe played here by Kosta Šarćanski. His particular gajde is the Banat gajde of Northern Serbia, which is similar to Carpathian models of bagpipes as opposed to other Balkan styles (like the Bulgarian gaita). It has a double chanter and is bellows blown. Here he plays a kolo, a traditional, upbeat folk dance more or less comparable to the horo in Bulgaria. The title, “Bačvansko Kolo,” might be a reference to the region known as Bačka, currently divided between southern Hungary and northern Serbia.

Kosta Šarćanski’s powerful performance was recorded September 18th, 1930, in Vienna, by Gramophone Company engineer Douglas Ewen Larter. Larter was known for his recordings of European classical music. It would be fascinating to know the circumstances of how he came to record a few dozen Serbian folk records in mid- to late September of 1930. Šarćanski performed numerous solos that day along with Stevan Bačić-Trnda, a musician from Sombor, Serbia. Šarćanski has been documented performing earlier gajde solos on the Edison Bell label, as well – as “Koča Šasćarnski” and “Koča Šašćanski.” (“Koča” is his nickname, and it’s separated with a dash from his last name on the record label. The term “Izvodi” on the label simply means “performed by.”)


Kosta Šarćanski-Koča – Bačvansko Kolo

Technical Notes
Label: Victor (from HMV masters)
Issue Number: V-3096
Matrix Number: BL-6507

Many thanks to Steven Kozobarich. Also thanks to Ferenc Tobak and Mark Gilston for information on the bagpipes!

For more of the same, another Kosta Šarćanski performance can be found on the out-of-print Heritage CD The Ace and Deuce of Pipering.

“It is a well-attested fact that the bagpipes, when heard by persons who are not accustomed to them, give rise to violent griping pains in the stomach which closely resemble the pains of Asiatic cholera.” – New York Times, April 24, 1885.

nikolic.jpgSometimes I catch myself being overly swayed by certain music because of its rawness, or because it seems on its surface completely alien to me, as I close my eyes and ignore that I live in 21st century California. This is not a terrible thing to be swayed by (and perhaps is what keeps me alert), but I am often flung out of that narrow listening mode by music that I might have otherwise passed over that isn’t ostensibly “raw.” Today’s post is one of those recordings.

I had found this record years ago and played it once, quickly forgetting about it. Recently, I spun it again and was captivated. Recorded in December of 1927 in Belgrade, Serbia (then Yugoslavia), Steva Nikolič’s brilliant violin playing and the murky, sonorous backup accompaniment are haunting in a way that other “gypsy orchestra” records are not, in my listening experience. “Gypsy” music – music of the persecuted Roma people – is varied. This piece sounds similar to Hungarian Roma/gypsy music from the same period, but is a far cry from the music of the Roma in Spain, flamenco.

The title “Arnautka” is, according to the label, an “Arnaut National Dance.” Arnaut is the Turkish word for Albanian, so this may have roots there as well. Perhaps someone can help us out. Also of interest, this track was recorded in Belgrade by HMV engineer George Dillnutt, who, 25 years before he recorded this track, accompanied Fred Gaisberg on the very first recording expedition to the Near and Far East.

Steva Nikolič – Arnautka

Technical Notes
Label: Victor (from HMV master)
Coupling Number: V-3049
Matrix Number: BK2636