Što Mi E Milo the Song
For Što Mi E Milo the dance, scroll way down.
Što Mi E Milo has been variously translated as “what I would like” or “how dear it is to me” or “I’m glad”. There are numerous songs in North Macedonia and Bulgaria that start with this phrase, and more than one of them continues with the phrase milo i drago. However only one has all those words plus the melody in 7/8 time, and THAT Što Mi E Milo is the subject of this post. Most Recreational Folk Dancers were introduced to this song by the iconic ’60s folk group the Pennywhistlers.
I’ve also found one North Macedonian version from that era;
However the song is much older. Here’s a recording from 1908 by “Argir Manassiev with the Wind Music in Gevgeli” which was a town then in the Ottoman Empire, soon to be on the North Macedonain-Greek border
Here’s a couple of modern interpretations from Bulgaria. The Beleva and Milanov Duo are soloists with the Philip Koutev Ensemble.
And this one from Bulgarian bluegrass fan Lily Drumeva
Clearly both Bulgarians and North Macedonians identify with this song. The lyrics are set in the Macedonian town of Struga, and the earliest recording is from North Macedonia. Most of these versions are sung by a solo voice. The earliest North Macedonian version has two-part singing. So what’s Bulgaria’s claim to the song, and where did we get those gorgeous multi-part harmonies? I believe the answer can be traced to one of Bulgaria’s most respected composers of folk-influenced classical music, Petko Gruev Staynov. His biography can be found here;
On the same page listing his compositions, under “Concert Songs and Ballads for A Capella Choir” we find Što Mi E Milo I Drago. Bulgarians point to this as proof the song was written by Staynov, but a closer look at the listing reveals the words “harmonization for TTBB Choir”. Since Staynov was only 12 when the 1908 recording of an already established song was released, it stands to reason he didn’t compose it, but that his extensive classical training would later tempt him to embellish the song by adding harmonies.
This “is it Bulgarian or Macedonian” controversy is taken rather seriously by both sides. In the infamous Balkan Wars of 1912-13, Serbians, Bulgarians, Albanians, Greeks, & Montenegrans combined to gang up on the Ottomans and successfully drive them out of Europe, leaving a lot of previously Ottoman land to be divided up between the victors. North Macedonia was acquired by Serbia (which evolved into Yugoslavia). North Macedonia was once (900’s – 1300’s) the heart and capital of Bulgaria, (see https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/ethnicity-history-geography/bulgarians/ also https://folkdancefootnotes.org/culture/ethnicity-history-geography/macedonians/) and the North Macedonians are ethnically and linguistically very similar to Bulgarians. So Bulgarians believe North Macedonia should be a part of Bulgaria, not an independent country. Most North Macedonians, however, don’t agree with being swallowed up by a bigger neighbour, even if they are first cousins.
Here’s the lyrics. For sheet music, look under MUSIC>SHEET MUSIC>Što Mi E Milo
Što Mi E Milo the Dance
I can find only one YouTube of Što Mi E Milo being used to accompany dancing in Macedonia or Bulgaria. It’s of dubious value, as it shows some trained dancers doing random choreographic bits to accompany a Rosita Peycheva Christmas(!) music video.
In Andrew Carnie’s excellent website Folk Dance Musings, he says “This dance is a bit of a mystery to me. I haven’t been able to find a printed source for this. We learned it from Harvey Gardner, who learned it in Santa Fe from Scott Lowry. It has the feel of a North American IFD choreography to it, but I have no clue if that’s true. Generally speaking when I’ve danced in other places people simply do a Lesnoto to this music. There is an entirely different IFD dance choreographed to this same tune by Jim Gold.”
As Andrew notes, there are many ways Recreational Folk Dancers dance to the song Što Mi E Milo, but I believe Macedonians and Bulgarians don’t consider it a dance. If they wanted to dance to the song, I believe they would revert to the Taproot Dance, which I’ve YouTube proof is the footwork pattern of choice for many other songs.
Thanks to Rosemarie Keough for her contributions.