The power of songs

– Have you ever considered the dreadful power of songs? – the chief commissar asked the chronicler. – The battle fought in the last month, for example, inspired a tragic song. If I wished to apply your favorite images, I could put it somehow like this: the war, under cover of the song, glides across the centuries, like fog carried by the wind. The war is over, but the song flies from generation to generation. And it will give birth to new wars, because this world is made so that sooner or later everything gets repeated. The misfortunes remembered by the songs will happen again and again, round and round. How could you extirpate the baleful black bird of this song?
Ismail Kadare, The Citadel

Fleur, of whose sensitive and rich blog we are addicted readers, promised us to write about the songs of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) for our thread “History sung”. Until we can read it, let us listen to another song from another war of independence, on the anniversary of the battle of Kosovo of 1389, where Serbian, Albanian and Bosnian troops still fought side by side – and lost both the battle and the whole Balkan – against the Turk.

We have already published this song by the group Kulin ban performing medieval Serbian music, but this recently found beautiful video adds a lot to the athmosphere of the song. In the spirit of the above motto by the Albanian Kadare, it is worth to pay attention to the subtle changes of layers of time, from the archaic role play of the lad joining the “partisans” (this is how we translate, for want of a better expression, the old Southern Serbian term kumite), through the photographies of the kumites that used to really fight against the Turk, to the final tableau vivant frozen into one more photo, where the Serbian warrior and the Turkish photographer wear the face of the same person. We took the Serbian lyrics from the site of Kulin ban, where it is published with a somewhat “Serbized” orthography, as if highlighting that it was not written in the official Serbo-Croatian. Although in the song the warrior sets out against the Albanian Turks, we can find on the web a number of versions both of the song and of the video provided with a commentary like that: “Serbian Hero going to war to defend Kosovo.”

Cry, Zara, cry for me, we have to part from each other
You from me and I from you, I go far away from you
I go far away, far away from Vranja
I’ll join the partisans, I’ll be a young partisan

I take my royal sabre, I take my royal weapon
To go to Pčinja, to go to Prešev-Kaza
I cross the water of Vardar, the wide water of Vardar
I will fight the Turk, the Albanian Turk

Cry for me when the sun shines on you
When the sun shines on you, consider that it comes from God
Know that it is my face, my sweet face
Know that it is my face, my sweet face

When the wind blows, consider that it comes from God
Tell that it is my blessed soul
When the dew falls on you, consider that it comes from God
Tell that it is my falling tears
Žali Zare da žalimo kako će se razdvojimo
Ti od mene ja ot tebe ja će idem na daleko
Ja će idem na daleko, na daleko belo Vranje
Će se pišem u kumite u kumite mlat kumita.

Pa će uzmem kralsku sablju i toj kralsko sve oružje
Pa će idem čьk u Pčinju čьk u Pčinju Prešev-Kazu
Pa će pređem Vardar vodu Vardar vodu bьš golemu
Će se tepam s tija Turci tija Turci Arnauti

Žali plači da žalimo kьt će slunce da ogreje
Kьt će slunce da ogreje ti pomisli ot Boga je
Ti da znaješ toj je mojo toj je mojo belo lice
Ti da znaješ toj je mojo toj je mojo belo lice

Kьt će vetar da poduvne ti pomisli ot Boga je
Pa ti rekni toj je moja toj je moja blaga duša
Kьt će rosa da zarosi ti pomisli ot Boga je
Pa ti rekni toj su moje toj su moje drobne sluze

Six hundred years before the battle of Kosovo, across this same region ran the border of the Empire of Byzantium, defended by the akrites, the border warriors obliged to twenty-five years of military service. The Balkan borders of the empire were protected mostly by Greek and Armenian soldiers recruited in Cappadocia, the later Turkey – due tho whose influence Bogomilism, the offspring of an Armenian heresy, put firm roots in these provinces – against the Slavic tribes attacking from the north, whose descendants six hundred years later tried to defend in Kosovo the same borders against the Turkish army of Sultan Murad, of Cappadocian birth and of Greek blood, attacking from the south.

Also of Cappadocian birth is the hero of this akrites song “Εβράδυν παληοβράδυν κι ο ώλιος έδυσε” – “Evening, evil evening, the sun set down”, the border guard Yannakos, who is ambushed by the enemy, but heroically fights against them: “I slayed a thousand for Christ, and five hundred more for the Virgin Mary”. Finally he is caught, tortured, killed, and his body cut in pieces is left at the feet of the mountain “dispersed and unrecognizable”.

Εβράδυν παληοβράδυν κι ο ώλιος έδυσε - Early medieval Greek border guard song, performed by N. Constantinopoulos

Very similar to this is the Hungarian ballad of Izsák Kerekes that was collected by János Kriza in the 1860s in the Székely plateaus of Eastern Transylvania, but whose action takes place in the same Balkan world. The hero from “the famous Moha”, having said farewell to his lover:

He girded his sword on his side,
and mounted on his good brown horse,
and looking back, he told such words:
– I will let my blood flow for my father and mother
I’ll let myself be killed for my beautiful fiancée
I will die today for my Hungarian nation.
Felköté a kardját mindjárt oldalára,
S felfordula szépen jó barna lovára
És visszatekinte s ilyen szókkal beszélt:
– Kiontatom vérem apámért, anyámért,
Megöletem magam szép gyűrűs mátkámért,
Meghalok én még ma magyar nemzetemért.

he confronts alone the enemy army – in this case the Serbians, “from Szeben” – “cleaning a footpath while getting along between them, and opening a carriage-way while coming back between them”, until finally he is overcome by superior force.

Tomb of Izsák Kerekes in the churchyard of Nagymoha (Grânari)
Tomb of Izsák Kerekes in the churchyard of Nagymoha (Grânari)

The tomb of Izsák Kerekes still can be found in the churchyard of Nagymoha (Grânari) in Southern Transylvania, and according to its inscription he lost his life in 1704. However, the outstanding Transylvanian ethnographer István Pál Demény in his book Kerekes Izsák balladája (The Ballad of Izsák Kerekes), published in 1980 in Bucharest points out that the ballad is much older, and that the name of the hero was inserted in it only as an actualization at the time of the wars of Ferenc Rákóczi (1703-1711). The original ballad is an episode of the heroic epic poetry of the nomadic Hungarians of the first millennium, of which another version was left to us in the legend of King Saint Ladislaus (1077-1095) going to fight against the Cumans breaking into the country through the Transylvanian borders. It is as if we heard the same words of Izsák Kerekes from behind the veil of the Latin text of the chronicle: “Utilius est michi mori vobiscum, quam uxores vestras et filios videre in captivitate” – “It is better for me to die with you than to see your wives and sons in captivity.”

However, Demény also goes further, pointing out that this same song can be found, identical in all details, in the heroic epic songs of the steppe, among Mongolians and Turks. Perhaps one or another version of it was also sung by the Turkish warriors while assaulting the Citadel of Ismail Kadare, after the battle of Kosovo, or when setting out to fight against one of the Bosnian, Serbian, Albanian, Vlach, Bulgarian, Greek, Hungarian kumites – either alone, or in alliance with another of them.

10 comentarios:

Julia dijo...

Quería hacer un comentario sobre esta entrada, pero me costaba aclarar mis pensamientos. Comentar otra vez para agradecer ya me parecía redundante y no podía entender bien qué me generaba esa preciosa canción y el video que la representaba. Creo ahora que esto se debía a las sensaciones encontradas que me producían: por un lado, un evidente deleite estético pero, por otro, una incomodidad ante ese orgullo masculino por la guerra. Un cierto sentido de amargura y de absurdo que generalmente me despiertan esas demostraciones. Sin duda habrá habido guerras justas y luchas necesarias para defender al propio pueblo. Pero de todos modos, la imagen de hombres que no se conocen y se matan porque otros han decidido que eso deben hacer, se me figura siempre absurdo y hace surgir el interrogante sobre la sensatez y verdadera inevitabilidad de esas acciones. Nada original lo mío, pero al menos logré desentrañarme, que no es poco. ¡Saludos!

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, I completely agree with you. In fact, this is what I wanted to illustrate in this post with the heroic and beautiful songs of the various nations of our small region killing each other since immemorial times. That absurd way of existence where some dozens of tribes and nations packed together in a territory less than one-sixth of Argentina, have been heroically massacring and being massacred by each other with the power of songs and other ideologies hovering above it and perpetuating it like a never-ending black spell. So much has been destroyed, so many energies wasted against each other, without any sense. This is one of the main constants of our histories and our existences, and I'm happy if I could convey the absurdity of it to the other end of the world, although not so happy to live in the middle of it.

Studiolum dijo...

Unfortunately, I have found too late this graphics of the outstanding Hungarian artist Béla Kondor (died in 1972), who created his oeuvre in a very depressing period of Communism. This would have been a perfect illustration of what both Julia and me think about the subject of this post:

Julia dijo...

Es verdad, Tamás, una obra muy oscura y conmovedora. Apropiada representación para lo que hablamos. Gracias por compartirla.
¿Podremos ver pronto los aportes de Fleur y de Antonio?

Studiolum dijo...

Lo de Fleur espero que sí, muy pronto. Ya envió un primer esbozo, y para mañana ha prometido la versión final. Pero Toni desapareció. El gran coloso de Bononia se derrumbó y lo enterró bajo de él. De allí envia señales de vida de vez en vez, mas para un entero post no hay bastante aria.

Julia dijo...

Jajaja! creía que Antonio ya estaba por dártelo, porque en el fin de semana habló de sus dudas sobre qué forma darle.

Studiolum dijo...

Hola. Aquí estoy viendo y escuchando todo pero calladito. Es cierto, Tamás: Bolonia aplasta y quita el aire. Estos planes de cambio se han urdido para acabar con los últimos residuos de inteligencia que pudieran quedar en la Universidad europea (que no era mucha, es cierto). ¡Bienaventurados vosotros que no os mancháis las manos en esta masacre! Quizá todas las Universidades europeas debieron reflexionar hace tiempo sobre lo que se venía encima y simplemente negarse a seguir este camino hacia la autodestrucción, diseñado de manera asesina por una nueva casta –de poder inmensamente destructivo, al menos España– como son los pedagogos. Bien, amigos, gracias por acordaros de mí. Ya casi he acabado. Ahora sí que es solo cosa de un día o dos, como mucho. Sabed que sigo vivo y os echo mucho de menos. Ya tengo casi todo el cuerpo fuera de este hoyo. Preparadme una cerveza fresca (o palinka) que estoy sediento!

Unknown dijo...
Este comentario ha sido eliminado por el autor.
Unknown dijo...

Hi! I just found your blog, looks very interesting! Greetings from Bulgaria :)

I wouldnt quite agree about the perennial ideological fighting of Balkan peoples - this is a new thing (XIX century). But it is a long topic.

I wanted to point you to one documentary that would be quite interesting for you - "Whose is this song".

Studiolum dijo...

Yes, you’re right. The ideological phase of the wars in the Balkans came in fact in the 19th century. But this region was always cross-cut by important frontiers: between “Romans” and “barbarians”, Byzantines and Slavs, Turks and Christians. This was a fertile soil to produce such songs, just like the changing frontiers between Christian and Moorish warriors in medieval Spain.

Thanks for pointing me to Adela Peeva’s fantastic film! I have already planned to write about the various “national” versions of this song, also with reference to her film. I will try to do it soon.

I liked your review of the film on imdb, and I completely agree with you. I also miss the solution of the enigma of the “true” origins of the song. A hypothetical Sephardic origin seems to be not very convincing, as the Sephardic version of the song known from Saloniki (“Selanik entero yo me caminí”) dates from quite late, from the end of the 19th century.

Thanks a lot and see you soon! and I’d also enjoy to read more ethnomusicological writings of you!