Randy tries: Balkan folk music

It’s good to spice life up. Whether it’s a different brand of oatmeal, a more comfortable pair of socks or exploring a new culture of music and dance, I’m always looking to dive into the unknown, and bring it back for all the bored novelty seekers out there.
A regular Saturday night may have included sitting at home or wriggling on the dance floor of some Capitol Hill bar, but I decided this evening would be a good time to switch things up.
I heard about Balkan Night NW through a new friend, Eleni Govetas. I have no Balkan heritage, but I’m always open to world music, and I have a special place in my heart for the accordion. So I knew I had to go see what this was all about.
The festival showcased the music and culture of the Balkan peninsula. The Balkans are a region in Southeastern Europe that includes Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Macedonia.
Govetas grew up listening to Balkan music and has been performing it with her family since the age of nine. She said that the event was started one night around the dinner table when her mother wondered why there weren’t more Balkan music events in Seattle.
“She’s a mover and a shaker and she always has these ideas,” Govetas said. “so we decided that we should put on a huge event, incorporate new people and get fresh blood in the scene.”
Govetas said what she liked most about the scene is that it’s a party culture, but not one that’s limited to one age group. Events like this often have an audience of all ages.
I drove down to St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church and I knew I was in the right place when I heard the music.
I was pulled into the main stage by the rhythmic pumping of an accordion and the rapid strumming of strings, accompanied by the voices of a faraway culture. The dance floor was hot: friends and strangers all joined hands in a line that spirals around itself like a single entity.
John Morovich, who was the show’s MC and one of the four principal organizers of the event said the proceeds go towards scholarships which send talented musicians to Balkan music camps – one in California and another in Oregon.
“We hope to achieve a cross-pollination of the Balkan communities,” Morovich told me. “It’s a way for people from all those different countries to become exposed to a community scene.”
I knew I would have to jump in and start dancing but I wasn’t sure how to get started. – but I was able to jump in with the encouragement of Jennifer Cook. Cook has been a fixture of the local Balkan scene for almost 40 years, her interest beginning at the age of 6 because her mother couldn’t afford a babysitter while studying balkan dance.
“I come here to reunite with the people I used to live with 30 years ago,” Cook said, “[coming here] reignites that solidarity.”
All you needed to do to start dancing was to find a spot along the line and join in. Some people seemed to know the steps, but figured out the moves by imitating the feet of the person next to me.
A few of the night’s highlights included Sinovi Tamburitza, The Dueling Accordions (Kalin Kirilov and Sergiu Popa) and the final act Drómeno – which included Govetas on Saxophone, her brother on percussion and her parents, Ruth Hunter and Christos Govetas – playing Accordion and Clarinet, respectively.

_Randy Hatfield

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