FolkFire Reviews

November / December 1998 Issue

  • The Kolev Family: Balkan Voices
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  • The Kolev Family: Balkan Voices

    The Balkan Voices (Balkanski Glasove) of the Kolev Family: Nikolai, Donka, Penka and Maria presented the rich folklore and musical heritage of their homeland in the Rose Valley of Central Bulgaria. It was an honor and a treat to have had these talented artists perform for the International Folk Dance Association of University City in October.

    Nikolai Kolev is one of the few people who has been able to master the gadulka. He began playing the gadulka, a traditional instrument for his native village of Karavelovo in Thracian Bulgaria, when he was ten years old. He became one of the youngest players to master the art of this instrument. In 1985 Nikolai formed Rozova Dolina, a folk music ensemble. Since graduating from the musical folklore high school in Shiroka Luka, he has performed constantly, first as a soloist for the Sliven Folk Dance and Music Ensemble

    In 1992 he founded the prize-winning ensemble Balkanski Glasove. They recorded folk songs that were written and arranged by Nikolai for the Bulgarian National Radio. Nikolai has accompanied many well-known Bulgarian singers. He collects and reproduces original music from the villages of Bulgaria.

    Bulgarian Voices received invitations to national festivals throughout the world in 1995 following their first place award winning performance at the national folk festival in Varna. They received their first invitation to perform and teach at Balkan Folklore Camp in Maryland in 1996 and, due to their great success, they were invited to perform and teach at Mendicino the following year.

    Donka Koleva, vocalist and tambura player, is a native of the village of Tuzla in Stara Zagora in Thracian Bulgaria She graduated from the musical folklore high school in Shiroka Luka and performed for 3 years with the Sliven Folk Dance and Music Ensemble. She was the director of the Folk Song Chorus of Sopot, and has participated in many singing competitions throughout Europe. Donka has been featured as a soloist on and has recorded for Bulgarian Radio and Television.

    Penka, vocalist and tarambuka player, is a graduate of the Folklore Music High School in Shiroka Luka. Maria, vocalist and daire player, is currently a student at Shiroka Luka. Penka and Maria recently won first place honors for singing at a Bulgarian teen music festival. The gadulka, Nikolai’s instrument, is a traditional Bulgarian fiddle with only 3 melody strings that are bowed and 10 to 12 strings that are sympathetic. Sympathetic strings vibrate on a harmonic, giving a rich texture to the sound, but they are not fingered. The gadulka is probably the most popular and also most ancient folk instrument in Bulgaria today. Although loud and resonant, its distinctive Slavic voice is warm and soothing. Most folk musicians make their own instruments following strong regional traditions of form and tuning. Two types of gadulkas are commonly played. Both are made from large single blocks of hardwood that are carved and hollowed into pear like corpus, then covered with resonant softwood faces. The more prevalent form has three bowed strings, tuned A’EA with ten to twelve additional sympathetic strings. The other type is much smaller and its playing is restricted to the Dobrudjan region near the Black Sea. It usually has three strings tuned EAA’. Unlike violins, gadulkas are played tucked into a shoulder strap or belt and bowed horizontally.

    The tambura is also a popular instrument. It is similar in form to the gadulka, with a curved, pear shaped form. It has a loud, bright tone somewhat like a banjo, and is commonly used for both melody and chords. The strings are double-coursed like a mandolin but are tuned like the upper strings on a guitar.

    Portions of this article were based on "Bulgarian Folk Instruments" by Hector Bezanis, who has done extensive research in the Balkans and is a highly respected maker of Balkan and Middle Eastern folk instruments. The article can be found on Lark in the Morning at