About Macedonian Folk


A Message to my Students

by John Kuo, Chicago, U.S.A.

(Copyright (C) 1994 by John Kuo)

(2nd edition, Copyright (C) 1999 by John Kuo)

Goran-and-friendsFolklore, from epic poetry to the folk dance, is the means by which traditions are passed from generation to generation and helps to keep alive the cultural characteristics of a people. Macedonian folklore is of particular interest, not only for the Macedonians but also for anyone with a lively interest in that which is excellent in the world.

For the musician, there is splendid rhythmical variety including not only meters familiar from Western European folk and classical music such as 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, and 6/8, but also 5/8, 7/8, 9/16, 11/16, 12/8, 13/16, 15/16, 18/16, 22/16 etc. ("aksak" rhythms) and the use of "rubato" within the aksak rhythms to intensify the delicious, artistic tension in the music and dance. Also to be found are the plaintive, at times lyrical and at times harshly dissonant tonal colors of the natural, full-voiced singing and well as the traditional instruments, such as the "gajda", "kaval", "tambura", "zurla", and "tapan".

Tanec01In Macedonian dance, there is a contrast between the dynamic, structurally complex forms of the north and north-east, to the legato of the Pelagonian and Aegean regions, to the powerful yet smooth, "tai-chi"-like, "silk-reeling", continuous energy of the "tesko" family of dances of the western regions.

For the keen observer this tradition provides a window to its cultural history: from the minor mode "makams" which govern the melodic progressions, to the timeless shepherd's "ezgija", which echoes the freedom and freshness of the mountain breezes, to the shamanistic ritual dances of the "Rusalii", to the "calgija" style of music - complex, intoxicating, but gained through the pain of the Ottoman yoke. In all this, one can sense the work of heroes, poets, and saints.

When a tradition dies, it becomes the sole province of scholars who must maintain a respectful distance to conduct their dispassionate inquiry but in the process lose some of the vital essence. This folk tradition, millenia in its creation, and distilled through the "folk genius" of the Macedonian people, comes rich, vibrant, and living to be inherited by you, its new and future bearer. This inheritance is not about division but about coming together to discover a common, powerful voice which speaks from the heart of the Macedonian people, ancient and present.

Ljupco-JatilaTrue folklore cannot be bought or sold, but has to be learned through toil, sweat, tears, and, sometimes, even blood. Contrary to some who abuse its name for self-serving interests, it is not mere entertainment to amuse the throngs or to pander to an audience. Rather, it should, as with all true art, stimulate, educate, irritate, and, hopefully, lead all who are touched by it to a new level of insight. At the same time, by its nature folklore is also accessible, not merely to an artistic elite, but to all who pursue it with passion. It will take all of your concentration, creativity, and passionate effort to capture its essence, to add to its richness, and to transmit it undiluted to the next generation so that they, Macedonians and others, may yet know its sublime beauty and glory.

Tanec02Are you ready for the challenge?

Essay Credit: John Kuo, Artistic Director, Ensemble Balkanske Igre, Chicago, IL Director, Spring Festival of Balkan Dance and Music, co-sponsored by the International House at the University of Chicago and the Ensemble "Balkanske Igre" Folklore Instructor, "Kitka", SS Peter and Paul Macedonian Orthodox Church, Crown Point, IN "Goce Delcev", SS Kiril and Metodij Macedonian Orthodox Church, Hinsdale, IL

Photo credits: Steve Davis, USA and Tanec National Ensemble of Macedonia.

From top to bottom:

  1. Left to right: Goran Alacki, Naser Musa, Sue Rudnicki, and Souhail Kaspar, Levantine Cultural Center, Los Angeles, Jan. 15, 2006;
  2. Men's dance, Tanec Ensemble;
  3. Ljupco Manevski and Jatila van der Veen - Davis in "Sedenka", SOHO Dinner Theater, Santa Barbara, CA, Jan. 16, 2006;
  4. Tanec National Ensemble of Macedonia at Lake Ohrid Amphitheater, August 10, 2005.