Balkan Transit was formed in 1988 after a holiday-trip to Limnos, a Greek island. While playing in the evenings at a Taverna with local musicians, we became interested in playing odd rhythms and odd scales.
In 1995, we visited Bulgaria, and we played with one of the most famous Bulgarian Kaval-players, Stoyan Velichkov. We also met and played with the most famous Bulgarian folk singer, Yanka Rupkina. Yanka Rupkina is known from Le Mystére de Voix Bulgares and Trio Bulgarka, and from the many excellent recordings she’s made with other musicians such as Kate Bush and George Harrison. Among other things, we got airtime on a radio program called Horisont, a Bulgarian radio program that features Bulgarian folk music.
In 2001 we were invited to participate in the 28th Folklorefestival in Bourgas, a costal city on the Black Sea. We were a great success at the Bourgas festival, especially because of our fresh, innovative, westernized style with which we played the traditional Bulgarian music the audience there was accustomed to hearing. Most of the participants in this festival are huge dance-groups from the old eastern block.
Balkan Transit has played Balkan-music for 16 years now. Today, however, we engage with the music more intensively than ever before. Together with Bulgarian superstar Yanka Rupkina, Balkan Transit has just finished a new series of recordings. These recordings are going to form the basis for future CDs from both our band and from Mrs. Rupkina. At the end of May we are going to play at a Bulgarian folk-festival. We are also going to perform live on Bulgarian National TV. Later on, during the autumn, we are going to make more recordings with yet another, famous Bulgarian folksinger.
In which musical genre can one place the music from the Balkan-area? Is it to be defined as folk music, as it is classified in libraries, or as what many journalists have termed world music? In the sense that it is not a product of some corporate office in the West, it is, of course, folk music. Moreover, it is living folk music, and as such it is an expression of everyday life inseparable from the experience of average Bulgarians. Yet it is also world music in the sense that it doesn’t have it’s roots in the small part of the world where we live. It is structured differently, uses different instruments, different sounds, and different bar-times.
But when all is said and done it’s just music. As such it transcends all labels, as all good music does. And it’s influence upon us is something we can’t describe, but only experience.
This engagement with, and experience of, the music is what Balkan Transit wishes to convey to our listeners. We have fallen in love with the uniquely Bulgarian way of playing music, with the odd rhythms, the different harmonies, and the wide variety of songs expressed in beautiful lyric poetry, which contain a thousand years of Bulgarian history and the often harsh stories of individual lives, which the history encompasses.
The withdrawn and melancholy sensibility of the music contains sweeping rhythms, which can be both grave or festive and inspire dancing, singing, and fellowship – far above the banal, it is music on the highest level.
Balkan Transit combines these features of Bulgarian music with the roots of our Western musical traditions. From the West we bring e-bass, guitar and accordion, from the Balkan we bring kaval, tambura, töpan and darambouka. When this is all added together the result is a large musical repoirtoire. We know a lot of songs and melodies, which tell about Bulgaria’s special position as a melting pot between the West and the East. The songs are about loss, battle, the inevitable confrontation with death, and not unlike songs from all over the world, they are also about love and the joy of dancing. But in the Balkan-area the musical style is unique, and this style hasn’t yet been discovered, and corrupted by the marketing strategies of the pop-music industry.
Such Balkan tunes are the ones we wish to perform and to pass on. We aspire to uphold and renew this musical tradition by playing a selection of lyrical and rhythmical Bulgarian tunes, and by playing new compositions, which are inspired by the traditional music of the Balkan-area.
Balkan Transit plays a lot of different bar-times: 3/4, 4/4, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 7/16, 9/8, 11/16, 13/16, 15/16, 22/16.
We also teach dancing.