The Kaynak Pipers Band, a kaba gaida (bagpipe) ensemble playing traditional music from the Rhodope Mountains in southern Bulgaria, will be giving a concert at Kinisi Festival of Sound on Friday 21 October, as well as giving a bagpipe workshop with the Greek tsabouna (bagpipe) player and maker, Yannis Pantazis, on Saturday 22 October. On the final day of the festival, Sunday 23 October, they perform in a site-specific collaboration with electronic musician Ivan Shopov.
Cvetelin, the manager of the group, first encountered the kaba gaida whilst trekking in the Rhodope Mountains: “It is a magical place. I was on a trip there for a couple of weeks by myself with a backpack. I was trekking the peaks. One year later I bought a gaida and started to learn.”
The kaba gaida, unique to Rhodope region, is pitched in E and made from natural materials — goatskin, elder reeds, plum and cornel. Compared to the dura gaida, also common in Bulgaria, the kaba gaida is larger with a hexagonal, conical chanter that is larger at the end due its lower pitch.
In 2005 Cvetelin started learning with Kostadin Gerdzhikov as his teacher in Sofia. Originally from the Rhodope region, Konstadin began playing the kaba gaida since the age of 10, inspired by his cousin Nikolay Belyashki, one of the few traditional makers of the kaba gaida in Bulgaria. Nikolay constructs all of the bagpipes used by the core group of Kaynak pipers. The fluid ensemble, often supplemented, began meeting in Sofia eleven years ago, and includes pipers Cvetelin Andreev, Kostadin Gerdzhikov and Yanko Marangozov, as well as vocalist Todora Vasileva, and drummer Peter Yordanov.
Cvetelin shared stories about the activities of the group, the history and traditions of the Rhodope region and the tradition of making and playing the kaba gaida.
CA: Nikolay started making the gaida when he was 15. He is quite a traditional guy, and he understands how the gaida should sound. This is the only criterion he has. Not about the ease of use, or simplicity of materials. This is important and something we should respect, because the Rhodope Mountains is a slightly separated region, and the synthetic materials arrived there later. They came when the information economy started excelling, but we were able to preserve this way of making the gaida, the traditional way. It’s not like this has been entirely prevented here either, but the traditional gaida in Bulgaria is really blooming. I believe this is because of the information available through the Internet and the communities we have been able to build around this initiative. It is because people are beginning to think about preserving it in this way and rather than the easiest or easier way. That it is more important to keep the spirit of the gaida than to make it easy. I’ve been playing for 11 years and it’s hard for me to tune it. When the gaida is new for example, the reeds are not settled and you have to put a lot of effort to make it play right. That’s why it's easier to use plastic reeds. The other way is harder but it pays off.
RS: What is the spirit of the gaida?
CA: The gaida is a complex instrument. You can use it for personal development. It’s good for the health, for the mind, for emotions. You develop a lot of human values… like patience. If you cannot tune the gaida after 11 years of playing, you learn to be patient. And it’s a social instrument because it gathers the people. Here we gather to learn together, we share the knowledge. When you go to a wedding everyone gathers to dance. For the Bulgarian tunes, and folklore, it is quite widespread to use irregular rhythms. The rhythms correspond with dances. You have ‘rachenitsa’, and the most common one, which is ‘horo’ (circle dancing), and when you play the gaida everybody wants to dance. So it’s a social instrument that gathers people. Many people have told me they get goose pimples, especially when many bagpipes play together, the sound is very majestic. I thought it was only in Bulgaria that you felt this way because it is in our DNA, but when we’ve performed abroad, a lot of people, foreigners and people from other cultures, come to us and say they feel the same. So to me, the gaida, this gaida, is something more than a Bulgarian instrument.
RS: Are people still playing it?
The gaida is an instrument for the people - it’s not for the stage. Traditionally the shepherds would move the sheep from the mountain to the valley in the winter and play the gaida.
CA: The gaida is an instrument for the people - it’s not for the stage. Traditionally the shepherds would move the sheep from the mountain to the valley in the winter and play the gaida. This way of life has changed, so you have to get the basis of the traditions, it is something that gathers people that brings them joy. You go to weddings, you play the bagpipe. Using a new way of presenting the folklore is ok.
The bagpiping tradition in Bulgaria is widespread and very developed. Everyone knows the gaida and will know couple of songs. But it’s not only Bulgarian, it is Rhodopean, it’s from the mountains. You know Orpheus? The guy who went to the underworld? He is from there, the bagpipe is from there, the songs are from there, it’s all from there. And it is very traditional.
Because of the economic situation many come to Sofia to learn and play, which is one step closer to the international scene. Nevertheless, it is my belief that the sound from the gaida in the Rhodope Mountains is different. I could play the same gaida here, but when I go there it sounds different. It’s a majestic mountain and the home of gaida is there. You should discover this through personal experience – just go there! The difference is to be sensed, it cannot be explained in words…
RS: Where do the songs come from?
CA: The songs come from our oral tradition. Konstadin is from the mountains, and he knows the songs from his parents. His parents know the song from their parents. There is no interruption in transmission. Of course the lyrics change a little according to the times, but the tunes are the same. I don’t know any songs that reflect the current environment. The latest songs are from the communist regime; they talk about the corporations. Other ones are from Russo-Turkish war. We were under Turkish occupation for 500 years so there are a lot of songs commemorating this time. And love songs.
One of the songs we play is a funny song. It’s a marriage song about Rushika who is in a hurry to get married far from her birth village. She probably wanted to feel something new and get away from home. The first weekend she’s came back she tells her mother “Oh I am very hungry, I am starving over there, there is no one to look after me, give me some traditional food!” It’s maybe not a story to get married to.
Another song is one where a girl goes to the mountains to pick cherries, the fog comes down and she meets a group of guys. They’re usually alone in the mountains, so when they see this girl they want to have some fun. And she says: “Come on, we are brothers, be my brothers, show me the way.” And they say: “No no, we already have sisters, we don’t need another sister, we need parties, lovers.” It’s a song for the men, because it’s hard, you’re isolated. It’s not necessarily a warning to the girl, but rather to show the loneliness of these men, who don’t have the opportunity to meet a girl, to kiss a girl.
HH: What projects are you involved in as a group?
CA: Our mission is to get people closer to the kaba gaida. We believe that this gaida has a special place in the world, and a unique cultural heritage, so we want to help people feel it. For this reason we give online lessons and manage the online community of kaba gaida fans, as well as face to face lessons here in Sofia. We. There are a lot of Bulgarians who live abroad, who sometimes wish to get closer to Bulgaria. They start learning the gaida and we use Skype or Youtube to help them learn. Online interaction is of course good, but it is not as personal. We want to build these learning communities everywhere.
We organise workshops with children and show them that the instrument is only one part of the whole experience. We've built small bagpipes because the children can’t put their fingers on the chanter, so we have to make smaller ones so they can reach. If kids have a role model, someone to watch and learn from it can be very intuitive and easy to learn. So we gather the parents and children so they can have a common experience. We play, dance together, and learn different rhythms, we teach our bodies to make complex movements. With the small gaidas we teach them to play, we touch the materials so they know – this is wood, this is cornel, this is plum, so they can feel and know the difference, this is heavier this is softer. We sing together, which is very beautiful, they learn a song in each workshop.
At the moment I’m also leading the crowd funding campaign for our US tour. We’re going to Richmond, Chicago Music festival, and we'll also perform at MIT in Boston.
HH: Final words?
You know what kaynak means? In Turkish it means spring, source, where the water comes out. And it describes the state of the musician when he plays his own things, and he plays really well, and you recognise him by hearing only this aspect - this is him.
CA: You know what kaynak means? In Turkish it means spring, source, where the water comes out. They say: “Go to kaynak to fetch water.” So it means source, and in the bagpipe tradition in the Rhodope Mountains they say: “This is his kaynak, this is his source.” And it describes the state of the musician when he plays his own things, and he plays really well, and you recognise him by hearing only this aspect - this is him. Often they are really fast tunes, really from the soul and he is just a transmitter, and he receives it and it is transmitted through the fingers – the kaynak. This is a musician.
Listen to a field recording of the Kaynak Pipers Band from our most recent research trip to Sofia, Bulgaria:
Try playing the kaba gaida using your keyboard (see comments for instructions):