The Bistritsa Babi
Archaic Polyphony, Dances and Ritual
Practices from the Shoplouk Region
 

The candidature is dedicated to the archaic polyphony, dances and ritual practices that can be found in the Shoplouk region of Bulgaria, which are performed by a group of elderly women, the Bistritsa Babi. It encompasses diaphony, or what is known as shoppe polyphony, ancient forms of the horo chain dance and the ritual practice of lazarovane, an initiation ceremony for young women.

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Diaphony is a specific type of polyphonic singing in which one or two voices build the melody consisting of izvikva meaning to shout out and buchi krivo meaning “crooked rumbled roars”, while the other singers hold a monotonic drone that is doubled or trebled to produce a more sonorous sound that accompanies the lead singers. The dancers, dressed in traditional costumes, usually hold each other by the waist or belt and dance in a circle, stepping lightly and moving counter-clockwise. A number of variations are performed within this structure, depending on the song and the ritual purpose. One specific feature of the performance is that the rhythm of the music and dance performance is asynchronous.

Although the social function of the polyphonic singing has changed over the twentieth century, as it is now primarily performed on stage, the Bistritsa Babi are regarded as an important element of the region’s cultural life, promoting traditional cultural expressions among the younger generations. It is stressed in the candidature file that the Bistritsa Babi belong to the few remaining representatives of traditional polyphony and that the village of Bistritsa is one of the last areas in Bulgaria in which this cultural expression and its transmission from generation to generation has been maintained over centuries.

Due to its location near the capital Sofia, which offers a range of cultural attractions, young people’s interest in community-based traditions is declining. The rich repertoire of songs and dances has reduced over the years and some of the songs, such as the harvest songs, are no longer practised. Another reason for the dwindling of the complexity of the cultural expression is that the repertoire had to be shortened, often to just the most popular highlights, in order to be performed on stage.