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Macedonia: Grassroots Effort to Preserve Folk Music Online

Categories: Eastern & Central Europe, Macedonia, Arts & Culture, Digital Activism, Ethnicity & Race, Language, Music

Appreciation of folk music has been a distinguishing feature of the Macedonian culture, and thanks to selfless efforts of one dedicated blogger it spreads through the blogosphere, too.

As part of the world heritage, traditional Macedonian music has been enjoyed and reused world over, sometimes without attribution [1].


(Video: Many Hands diverse ensemble performing traditional tune from Macedonia [2] “Jovano, Jovanke” [3] [MKD] in Kyushu, Japan.)

An old internet joke about ex-Yugoslav stereotypes [4] – which has been circulating for at least 12 years – states that one of the top 10 advantages of being Macedonian is:

4. You get to be sad and suffer while listening to folk music.

This cultural feature extends to good times also, as the EVS [5] volunteer Katarina Karcolova noted [6] in her article on the youth portal Mladi!nfo:

The young people here share many similarities with young Slovaks, but there is one significant difference, which I really like. It is the preservation of the folklore, music and dance especially. For example if there is a house party, it is common to listen to traditional music. Actually, it is not only about listening but also about singing and dancing. When I asked whether all those people are members of a folklore group because they could dance so well, they told me that they are not. Macedonian folklore is so rich that they are proud of it and want to keep it.

The most significant recent development related to folk music and poetry in the Macedonian blogosphere is moving of the content of the Macedonian Folk Songs blog [7] to a dedicated domain and hosting service – pesna.org [8] (the word for “song” and “poem” in Macedonian), enabling its author Zoran Stalevski, aka GoodBytes, to add more functionalities, such as various kinds of sorting, and options for translation into English, French, and German. In addition to this, he announced [9] [MKD] that:

All the songs are transliterated into Latin alphabet. For instance “А бре Македонче (A bre Makedonche) [10]” [MKD]. To access this version click on the tab “Transliterated.” This will aid at least two things: the foreigners would be able to read the text more easily, and it can facilitate access of search engines, whose users often don’t or can’t use Cyrillic.

Audio files of the songs are no longer limited to one minute, but at popular request they are posted complete. However, in order not to violate the copyright of the performers, the downloadable mp3s are encoded to 32kbps. This is enough to hear the song or “to have it,” but no audiophile or folk music lover would be satisfied with such low quality. Therefore I assume they would buy the songs they like in the future. And if some musicians would like to share some of their rights to recorded performances, I would be happy to post the high-quality versions of the songs.

Mr. Stalevski also stated that he intends to finance the site with his own funds till the end of his days, with some possible aid from online advertising. In an interview for It.com.mk, he confessed [11] [MKD]:

I started the project as my personal hobby, but also out of revolt, because the institutions paid to promote our cultural heritage still use the computers mainly to play Solitaire while waiting to punch the clock.

By collecting the songs, I followed Gandhi’s dictum [12] that “you have to be the change you want to see in the world.” As the collection grew, I started receiving praises, advice and direct help with the texts or audio files from visitors who like folk music. This support from people world over, including foreigners interested in Macedonian language, culture and traditional music, provided inspiration for me to continue with enriching the website. I actually do not need financial contributions, because publishing online is not very expensive. But the project can really benefit from more audio files, especially of rare songs, which are almost impossible to find via regular channels. There’s a great need to digitize the audio/video archives of the Macedonian Radio & Television [13], which hides an invaluable treasury, rotting in the cellars of that black hole [14] of a “public broadcaster.” Probably some of those rare materials have been appropriated by some ethnologists or collectors – people I cannot easily reach.

Macedonian Folk Songs [8] uses Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License. With over 640 songs, it is probably the richest collection of its kind on the web. Archeological Diary noted [15] that it has been used as a source for content for Wikipedia in Macedonian language [16].


(Video: Oneself76 performing “Jovano, Jovanke”. His covers receive admiring comments from YouTube users from Macedonia and the diaspora.)