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Čaglavcanke sve devojke (92)

This song has been stuck in my head for months.

With the help of this fellow (who I cannot endorse on anything other than his notes on the meaning of this text), I have translated the text of the song as follows:


Čaglavčanke sve devojke, jadna ja, jadna ja,

žito nose, travu kose, jadna ja, jadna ja,

platno tkaju u razboje, jadna ja, jadna ja,

A Lipljanke varošanke, jadna ja, jadna ja,

cel d'n spiju, lice miju, jadna ja, jadna ja,

oro vode u sobore, jadna ja, jadna ja,

Čaglavčanke momci prose, jadna ja, jadna ja,

Čaglavčanke momci prose, jadna ja, jadna ja,

a Lipljanke doma sede, jadna ja, jadna ja,


All the girls from Čaglavica, poor me, poor me,

they carry grain, mow the grass, poor me, poor me,

they weave cloth on looms, poor me, poor me,


And the town girls from Lipljan, poor me, poor me,

sleep the whole day, make up their faces, poor me, poor me,

lead the oro in the halls, poor me, poor me,


Boys beg for the girls from Čaglavica, poor me, poor me,

Boys beg for the girls from Čaglavica, poor me, poor me,

but the Lipjan girls sit at home, poor me, poor me.


Čaglavica/Çagllavicëand Lipljan/Lipljan are, respectively, a village and a town in Kosovo. They are located just south of Pristina/Prishtinë. The song compares the girls from the two places, eventually proclaiming the girls from Čaglavica as superior, because all the boys want to marry them since they are hard working.


This sort of enmity, playful competition, if you will, seems delightful because it is so familiar—reminiscent not only of my childhood, where my class was divided into two diametrically-opposed groups of girls, but also of common pop culture tropes during my childhood (i.e. movies like Bring It On). My first thought was, I wonder if the Lipljanke had a comeback! But actually, looking at it from the perspective of 2021, the cultures underlying all of these competitions are patriarchal ones, and not something to necessarily take delight in. Although, I imagine it was one important way the poor hardworking girls from Čaglavica could have a little bit of fun.


The version above by Mara Đorđević is one of the most popular versions of the song today. Đorđević, born in eastern Romania in 1916, was a well-known singer of traditional music and apparently a longtime soloist for Radio Television Beograd. Her nickname, according to online sources, was the “nightingale of Kosovo” (a name also given to Nexhmije Pagarusha (1933-2020))—perhaps because she was best known for an album entitled Pesme sa Kosova i Metohije (Songs from Kosovo and Metohija).


“Čaglavčanke sve devojke” is one of the songs from this album. With over 33,000 views (as of posting) on just one of her recordings on YouTube, this is likely considered the foundational recording of the song available today. Đorđević has a bright, forward tone to her voice, and the way she glides in and out of the phrases, with dynamics and puffs of breath, especially on “jadna ja, jadna ja,” conveys playfulness and bitterness at the same time. The intro and interlude melody? It’s addictive. Rhythm is mostly provided by a strings section and light percussion, while the accordion plays expanding and contracting mushy harmonies behind Đorđević's piercing sung melody.


There’s a more modern version from Zanovet, recorded live in 2017. This one is a lower key, at a slower tempo, and featuring different instrumentation—including a kaval, a few šargija, a modern drum kit playing a steady if plodding beat, and a chorus of backup singers harmonizing on the refrain, “jadna ja, jadna ja”. There’s even a rock-inspired “whoo!” thrown in there somewhere. The vocalist’s darker tone and pronunciation in combination with these other musical elements give it a more somber feel—but one that seems more consistent with the sound of contemporary world music. This version replaces the violin/accordion part at the beginning of Đorđević’s version, which I find so catchy, with a kaval interpretation of the melody. While nice, it loses some of its momentum and umph.


The song has remained popular and seems to be standard in Serbian-songs-from-“Kosovo and Metohija” repertoires. Serbian language songs from Kosovo have gained extra political and cultural significance in the Serbian traditional music catalogue due to the war in Kosovo and the post-1999 status of the country, which was formerly an autonomous province within the People’s Republic of Serbia, within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Although Kosovo is now an independent country, Serbian nationalists (including its leading politicians) attempt to maintain Serbia’s claim to the territory (calling it “Kosovo and Metohija”) and refuse to recognize its independence. There are still several Serb communities living in Kosovo, although their population has dwindled and many places where Serbs formerly lived have seen their almost complete disappearance. Cultural heritage from Kosovo, viewed by Serb nationalists as the spiritual heartland of the Serb people, has been elevated as part of the political push Serbian politics to maintain its claim to the territory itself.


This excerpt from an RTS program showcases six young girls from KUD Branko Medenica (from the village of Ulgjlare, in the municipality of Gračanica, which is near Čaglavica) singing the song entirely a cappella. The program (only partially available online) combines live performances with background information about Serbian girls’ singing in Kosovo, and I would be remiss to note that the portion available at the link above contains some statements of questionable accuracy. But it also shows how love for music and community motivates these women and girls to continue to practice and perform these traditional songs.


If you were inspired by “Banaćansko kolo,” you’re in luck—“Čaglavcanke sve devojke” can also be danced to, and in fact, in their paper about how the songs and dances of “Kosovo and Metohija” should be taught as part of musical and physical education in order to help children “make a better connection between educational system and life, country, people and to strengthen and develop aesthetic, social, national and ethical feelings” (a somewhat horrifying goal), Professors Biljana Pavlović, Branko Popović and Dragana J. Cicović Sarajlić have written a paper stating that the song is ideal for elementary school children. Through “Čaglavcanke,” “pupils are introduced to various everyday work and responsibilities of people in the past. The singing should be accompanied with movements of arms and body, to illustrate the lyrics.”


Unfortunately, I have no further information on any formal moves for the dance, but you can make them up yourself. Tradition is never fixed in the past! Although I cannot endorse the main motivations or conclusions of the Pavlović, Popović, and Cicović Sarajlić paper, I can endorse your nascent choreography career.

You can find a collection of all the songs from Velika Narodna Lira that are available on Spotify on my playlist.