Što Mi E Milo – North Macedonia/Bulgaria – Revised again

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.

A version by Ansambl Biljana, a group from Ohrid, North Macedonia. Significant differences from the lyrics listed below. Henry Goldberg adds “I like that one because it includes the verse about drinking ljuta rakiya while sitting around watching the girls go by, seems consistent with behavior I have observed”

My mistake:

The recording below is by the “Duet Arfa”, Arfa being the Bulgarian record label.

I previously mis-identified this recording [based on a misunderstanding of the caption accompanying the posting] as being made in Macedonia, 1908. Henry Goldberg kindly wrote me, drawing my attention to an EEFC listserve posting by Larry Weiner, who posted a photo of the record’s label.

Larry wrote: “This 78 rpm record was made by the Bulgarian record company “Arfa”.  Arfa was one of about a dozen Bulgarian record companies that existed in Bulgaria from the mid-1930s until around 1948 at which time the recording industry became nationalized under the name Radioprom (which later was renamed Balkanton). My best guess is that this record was pressed sometime around 1940 +- a few years (these records are really hard to date because few catalogs still exist and because often the Matrix#s can’t be traced).  I have no idea who the singers are in Duet Arfa; but I strongly suspect the the band is Ramadan Lolov’s band because his band is featured on the flip side of the record (and it does sound similar).

Based on my mis-dating this recording, I concluded the composer Bulgaria claims wrote the song, Petko Gruev Staynov, born 1896, was too young to have composed it before the 1908 recording date. However, since the recording was made in Bulgaria in the mid-1930’s at the earliest, my conclusion no longer holds up.

Most versions of the song are sung by Bulgarians.

Sung by Kostadin Gugov, a Bulgarian
Another, newer and slower recording by Gugov.

Here’s a couple of modern interpretations from Bulgaria. 

The Beleva and Milanov Duo are soloists with the Philip Koutev Ensemble. 1st 3 verses.

And this A Capella jewel from Bulgarian bluegrass fan Lily Drumeva

Clearly both Bulgarians and North Macedonians identify with this song.  The lyrics are set in the North Macedonian town of Struga.  Most of these versions are sung by a solo voice, which is the usual setting for a ‘folk’ song. The earliest known recording [the Arfa above] 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”.  So did Stoyanov compose the song, or did his extensive classical training lead him to upgrade a ‘folk’ song to the category “Concert Songs and Ballads for A Capella Choir” by adding 4-part 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, very close to the Pennywhisler, Gugov, & Drumeva versions. For sheet music, look under MUSIC>SHEET MUSIC>Što Mi E Milo

Sto Mi Lyrics

Now a word about those funny marks above certain words in Slavic languages (Bulgarian, Macedonain, Serbian, Croatian, Czech, Slovak, etc.), like the mark above the ‘s’ in the Što of Što Mi E Milo. Henry Goldberg has again kindly pointed out that the above rendering of the lyrics are lacking those marks [called diacriticals]. – True, I did a lazy cut-and-paste of some text that didn’t have them. To render the sounds properly, the text should look like this:

Što mi e milo

1. Što mi e milo, milo i drago,
vo Struga grada mamo dukjan da imam.
Lele varaj mome, mome Kalino,
vo Struga grada mamo dukjan da imam.
2. Na kepencite mamo da sedam,
Stružkite momi mamo, momi da gledam.
Lele varaj mome, mome Kalino,
Stružkite momi mamo, momi da gledam
3. Koga na voda, voda mi odat,
so tia stomni mamo, stomni šareni.
Lele varaj mome, mome Kalino,
So tia stomni mamo, stomni šareni.
4. Na ovaj izvor, izvor studeni,
tam da se s’ družki mamo, s’ družki soberat.
Lele varaj, mome, mome Kalino,

tam da s’ družki mamo, s’ družki soberat.

Basically, if you see a little check mark above a 'c', 's', or 'z', add an 'h' sound. c=’ts’;  j=’y’;  aj=’eye’; š=’sh’;   ž=’zh’ (French ‘je’)

More recently, English some speakers have dropped the diacriticals, (not everyone knows what they mean) but added the extra letters the diacriticals represent. Under that system, the lyrics look like this:

Shto mi e milo

1. Shto mi e milo, milo i drago,
vo Struga grada mamo dukyan da imam.
Lele varai mome, mome Kalino,
vo Struga grada mamo dukyan da imam.
2. Na kepentsite mamo da sedam,
Struzhkite momi mamo, momi da gledam.
Lele varai mome, mome Kalino,
Struzhkite momi mamo, momi da gledam
3. Koga na voda, voda mi odat,
so tia stomni mamo, stomni shareni.
Lele varai mome, mome Kalino,
So tia stomni mamo, stomni shareni.
4. Na ovai izvor, izvor studeni,
tam da se s’ druzhki mamo, s’ druzhki soberat.
Lele varai, mome, mome Kalino,
tam da se s’ druzhki mamo, s’ druzhki soberat.
i as in’ski’ EXCEPT ai=’eye’;  e is never silent, it is always pronounced, e.g. “mome” = “mo-meh”

Henry has also added a more accurate translation, including an interesting footnote and some photo illustrations.

1.      How nice it would be for me to have a shop in the town of Struga. Hurry young Kalina …
2.      To sit by the door and watch the young girls go by. Hurry young Kalina…
3.      As they go to fetch water with their colorful jugs. Hurry young Kalina …
4.    To the spring, where they meet with their friends. Hurry young Kalina …    

SMALL SIDE NOTE: For what it’s worth, “Na kepentsite da sedam” doesn’t really mean “sit by the door,” it means “sit on the shutters.” The kepentsi were shutters that covered the whole front of the market stall at night, and folded out and down during the day – so goods could be displayed on them, and the shopkeeper could sit on them and watch the girls go by…Thanks, Henry!

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 and Henry Goldberg for their contributions.

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