The Balalaika (балала́йка)

Balalaika WOmanAnother folk instrument of Russia, here’s a short post about a beautiful and well-loved instrument that might be heard at the Winter Olympics this year in Sochi.

A balalaika is a three-stringed instrument from Russia that is known and loved all over the world. Although it hails from Russia, you can hear it in many of the regions that made up the former Soviet Union (USSR) and it has also become popular in different countries around the world. If you listen to pop music, you will hear the balalaika mentioned in the Beatles song “Back in the USSR” as well as the Scorpions “Winds of Change”. You can hear Ian Anderson play balalaika on the Jethro Tull album Stand Up and Oleg Bernov plays a huge red electric contrabass balalaika with the popular Russian-American rock band, the Red Elvises.

So what is a balalaika? Well, it actually is a family of stringed instruments that are triangular in shape. They range from the smaller, mandolin-sized prima balalaika to the huge contrabass balalaika which is so large that it needs wooden legs to support it as it stands on the floor. Most often the prima balalaika is heard as the solo instrument and is generally strummed or played with the fingers. The larger balalaikas (listed below in order of size and tone) are generally played with a pick. The largest contrabass balalaika needs a pick so large it may be made from a large piece of leather or even a boot heel – wow!

Types of balalaikas (from smallest and highest in tone to largest and lowest in tone) are:
· Piccolo (rare)
· Prima
· Sekunda
· Alto
· Bass
· Contrabass

Would you like to hear a balalaika played with an orchestra? Check out this version of the popular Russian song – the Volga Boatmen. You will see the large contrabass balalaika right in the center of the orchestra behind the vocalist.

Want To See A Balalaika Dance?

I’ve just finished recording and creating a video animation for the song Tum Balalaika. It’s a Yiddish folksong and the title of the song talks about strumming the balalaika. You can see and hear the song here.

Want To See a Balalaika Orchestra?
In this group, you can see kids and adults in a balalaika orchestra performing a beautiful version of the Beatles song “Yesterday”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjdDq0IqBDc&feature=related

Color A Balalaika And More Fun Things To Do
You can also find a great balalaika coloring page below as well as links to other fun balalaika-related info! What a great way to share beautiful music and learn about the exciting cultures of the world!

Balalaika Coloring Page
http://www.dariamusic.com/images/Balalaika%20Coloring%20Page.pdf

The Wikipedia balalaika page
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balalaika

Videos
Tum Balalaika – Daria’s Video

Multicultural Kids Music Vid’s
Shares many videos from all over the world

Yesterday (The Beatles) is played by Balalaika Orchestra

BALALAIKA VIRTUOSO DMITRY BELINSKIY, Moscow

Even Santa plays the balalaika

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African Roots of the Banjo

Most people associate the banjo with bluegrass music or with the culture of the rural South of the United States.  But if you dig a bit deeper, it appears that the banjo has African roots.  In fact, most scholars and music historians trace the banjo back to amazing, creative “banjo ancestors” found in various regions of Africa.

If you’d like to learn more about the cross-cultural travels of the banjo, check out the resources below.

           

NPR Reconsiders The Roots of The Banjo

In a short podcast, NPR’s Greg Allen tells to story of Gambian musician, Laemouahuma Daniel Jatta and his banjo-like akonting.  The akonting has three strings, a long neck as a fretboard and a main sounding area made from a gourd stretched with goatskin.  Jatta, who learned the instrument from his father, belong to the Jola people and the similarities of this instrument to modern American banjos are explored in this short audio podcast with great photos and a striking Youtube video.

The Banjo’s Roots Reconsidered

http://www.npr.org/2011/08/23/139880625/the-banjos-roots-reconsidered

Bela Fleck’s Throw Down Your Heart

Acclaimed US banjo player, Bela Fleck was so intrigued with the banjo’s roots that he took a trip to Africa to make his own comparisons.  The result was a documentary called “Throw Down Your Heart” which follows Bela’s journey and offers interviews with African master musicians as well as plenty of jam sessions between instruments.  The short excerpt below gives you a taste of this cross-cultural banjo experience.

African “Banjo” Music and Bluegrass

Want to compare African “banjo” music and bluegrass?  Here’s Banjo Bloggers list of top 10 songs that can illustrate bluegrass banjo music.  Checking out these tunes can show you some striking similarities and differences between the musical styles of both continents.

http://banjoblogger.com/?p=125

 

El Cóndor Pasa – One Of The Best-Loved Songs from South America

Can you imagine seeing a bird with a ten foot wingspan fly overhead?

That awesome site was probably the inspiration for the song:  El Cóndor Pasa which translates loosely to “The Condor Passes By” or “The Condor Flies By”.  Often mistaken for a folksong, this beautiful melody was written by Peruvian composer, Daniel Alomía Robles, in 1913.  And since his composition remains true to the sound of Andean folksongs and the music that dates back to Incan times, El Cóndor Pasa is often considered an anthem of the Andes.

Many people in the USA recognize the song because singer/songwriter/ musician, Paul Simon, used one part of it in on his Bridge Over Troubled Water album.  In the original composition, the song consists of three parts: the yarabi (first part), the fox (second part) and the huayno (last part).  You can hear a version of the entire song recorded by DARIA with the band SONQO at the link below.

Condor_ManWhy would a condor inspire such awe?  In Incan times, the condor (known as kuntur in the Native language of Quechua) was seen as a messenger for the Apus – the Gods of the Mountains.  Seeing a condor was a rare but powerful experience and its feathers and likeness are part of several sacred or ceremonial dances, such as the one seen here at the Festival of the Virgin of Candelaria in Puno, Peru.

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To hear a traditional version of El Cóndor Pasa and five other songs from the Andes performed with authentic instruments, check out DARIA’s new cd – Cancioncitas De Los Andes/Little Songs of the Andes. 

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes On Itunes

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/cancioncitas-los-andes-little/id602798167

Cancioncitas De Los Andes / Little Songs Of The Andes on Amazon mp3

http://amzn.com/B00BG9ABEE

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Christmas Traditions In Greece – Caroling With A Musical Triangle And Much More!

There are so many beautiful Christmas traditions that vary from country to country around the world. My husband grew up in Greece and loves to remember caroling with a triangle during the Christmas season. He and his brothers and sisters would go door to door and even on the bus to sing special songs with the accompaniment of a triangle. Those who listened and enjoyed the songs would have to give a coin or a small donation to the carolers. What fun!

You can see several traditional carols performed by children in Greece here with English translations:

As I looked into the holiday traditions I learned a bit more. Although you can hear Christmas carols (calenda) throughout the season, there are three official caroling days – Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and January 5, the Eve of the Epiphany. In many parts of Greece, during the twelve days of Christmas (December 25 – January 6th) fires are kept lighted so that goblins cannot enter a house by the chimney and play tricks on people. In modern Greece, you will also see Christmas trees and boats lit up with fancy lights as Saint Nicolas is the Protector of sailors.

Of course, my husband also loved the special goodies that were made at this time of year. Traditional cookies for Christmas and New Years are melomakarona (semolina wheat, cinnamon and cloves in cookies that are rich with honey) and kourabiedes (rosewater and butter cookies served with powdered sugar). Then there was the tradition he did not care for.

On January 6th, Christmas celebrations wind down with “Theofania” when all waters are blessed. At that time, a cross is thrown into the water and the first to bring it back is supposed to have great luck for the year. Although this is wonderful in Greece where the waters are reasonably warm in January, my husband will never forget diving into freezing and murky waters here in the USA hoping that he’d have the good luck not to catch a cold!

To check out a trio of merry musicians on New Year’s Eve in Crete, visit: http://multikidsmusicvids.com/?p=1354