Bulgaria is famous for dance rhythms featuring uneven beats. Other Balkan countries also have some of these rhythms, but it is in Bulgaria that they are most common and intricate. Uneven rhythms include 5/16, 7/16, 9/16, 11/16, 15/16, 18/16 (7/16+11/16), and 22/16 (9/16+13/16). To be sure, the most common rhythm in Bulgaria is an even 2/4 or 6/8, (see Bulgarian Even Dance Rhythms) but uneven rhythms are also very common.
Western musicians might be tempted when seeing an 11/16 time signature to count to 11, then start again, but that’s not the way a Bulgarian conceptualizes his or her 11-beat rhythm. Often the individual beats are very fast (up to 520 beats per minute, or more than 8 per second!), so the mind just can’t count that fast. Also, Bulgarians were playing this music before Western concepts of what constitutes rhythm were developed. The idea of 11/16 is a Western invention.
Bulgarian folk musicians think of beats as either “quick” or “slow”, with the “slow” beat being approximately 1 1/2 times as long as the “quick”. Instead of trying to count a half beat, it’s easier to count a “quick” beat as 2, and a “slow” beat as 3. Ethnomusicologists have a couple of terms for dances and rhythms based on beats of uneven length. The more general term is additive rhythms. When applied to music from the Balkans the term aksak is also used. Aksak is a Turkish word for “limping, stumbling, or slumping”, which is the effect felt by a dancer moving to these rhythms.
5/16 – Pajduško
If you count a 5-beat uneven rhythm as a 2+3, you get 1,2,+1,2,3, or 1,2,1,2,3, or Quick, Slow, or Q,S. The Q,S, rhythm is repeated, like a rather rapid heartbeat. Here’s what 5/16, or Q,S, sounds like. Listen for the bass drum thump.
Bulgarians might know this rhythm as Quick-Slow, but more likely they would call it pajduško (pie-DOOSH-koh), because that’s name of the dance most commonly associated with this rhythm. See what pajduško looks like while you pick out the rhythm.
Also see Pajduško under Living Dances for more examples.
7/16 – Račenica
By adding one more “Quick” beat to the front, you get Q,Q,S, or 1,2,1,2,1,2,3, or 7/16. This uneven rhythm is commonly referred to as račenica (ruh-cheh-NEE-tsah), after the popular dance. Račenica’s come in solo, couple, and choral dances, and vary greatly in speed from one region to the next. Here’s a rather fast example of what one couple račenica looks and sounds like. For the first 45 seconds you can watch the feet, as they keep the beat exactly.
See also račenica under Living Dances for more examples of the dance at various speeds and configurations.
7/16 – Makedonsko
Slow down the tempo, put the slow beat at the beginning, and you have a 7/16 rhythm that’s popular in Western Bulgaria and Macedonia. Bulgarians call it Makedonsko (Macedonian), Macedonians call it Pravoto or Lesno, International Folk Dancers call it Lesnoto. The pattern is S,Q,Q, OR 1,2,3,1,2,1,2. Here’s what it sounds like, sung by the “Queen of Gypsy Music” Esma Redžepova. The bass is (usually) hitting the first beat of 1,2,3,1,2,1,2.
Speed up that SQQ pattern and you get četvorno (chet-VOHR-noh)
9/16 – Dajčovo
Add another Q to račenica‘s QQS and you get QQQS, or 1,2,1,2,1,2,1,2,3. Here’s the legendary Boris Karlov making it sound easy.
Here’s what dajčovo the basic dance looks like:
Beware there are MANY ways to do this dance.
9/16 – Other Dances
There are MANY other Bulgarian and non-Bulgarian dances that use this rhythm. Here’s Djanguritsa from Pirin
And Svornato from the Rhodope region
11/16 – Kopanica
Now it gets complicated. Instead of the slow beat being at either end of the chain of beats, it’s in the middle. QQSQQ
The dance below is Kopanica
This one’s called Petrunino
11/16 – Gankino
And here’s Gankino
13/16 – Krivo Sadovsko Horo Q,Q,Q,S,Q,Q,
13/16 – Postupano Q,Q,Q,S,Q,Q,
Here’s, Postupano, from Macedonia. One look at the physical demands of the dance, as shown in this film from 1948, shows why it’s not too popular today.