Fatiše kolo vranjske devojke (214)
Updated: Jul 11, 2021
We have again arrived at a kolo song, this time from the southern Serbian town of Vranje.
Fatiše kolo vranjske devojke (2 puta)
Vranjske devojke na tu vranjsku češmu. (2 puta)
Na čelu kola Živkova Taša, (2 puta)
Živkova Taša-lepotinja naša. (2 puta)
The girls from Vranje joined the kolo (2 times)
Girls from Vranje at Vranje’s fountain. (2 times)
At the head of the kolo is Živko’s Taša (2 times)
Živko’s Taša, our beauty.
This song is so catchy.
We have visited Vranje before with the song “Džanum nasred sela,” and like that song, “Fatiše kolo vranjske devojke” is also associated with the play Koštana—however, this song is not in the TV movie, but rather in the 1931 opera, written by Petar Konjović.
In the opera, the song is called “Velika Čočečka Igra.”
There seems to be some question about whether the song originated from a folk song in Vranje or from Konjović's opera (but I would guess it’s some combination of the two). This page from the Society of Folk Dance Historians contains really comprehensive information about the dance and the song, mostly written by Dick Crum, a folklorist who traveled to Vranje and learned the dance there in 1952. He raises the question of whether this is really a traditional song from Vranje, or whether it was introduced to the region by the opera. He writes that the program notes for the opera usually state that the author based his music on traditional melodies from Vranje, but notes that the opera was so popular in Vranje that the people “apparently adopted all the arias and dance tunes as theirs”, thus making it “hard to tell whether, and if so, which, tunes are authentically Vranjanski, and which were created by the composer.”
The YouTube user who uploaded this choral version of the song (ostensibly this 1963 version performed by Grupa pevača and Veliki narodni orkestar (Group of singers and Grand national orchestra) of Radio Televizije Beograd under the direction of Ðorđe Karaklajić, part of a record entitled Muzički pejsaži Jugoslavije: VRANJE (Musical landscapes of Yugoslavia: VRANJE)), responds to a question of this nature. He affirms that he believes the song was first a “narodna” song by saying that on the record cover, it is written: “Interesting rhythms, characteristic of the neighboring Macedonian musical folklore, are highlighted by the play with singing ‘Fatise kolo vranjske devojke’ (9/8 rhythm), whose melody has found its place in the work of composer Petar Konjović…”
This is less than convincing to me. In order to prove anything one way or the other, we would likely need to try to try to find archival material from Konjović’s composing process. In any case, this highlights a key tension—between claims of authenticity and artistic renderings of folk music—that I am interested in finding examples of in this and other works, and something that I will certainly explore more in an essay.
In the “Banaćansko kolo” post, I mentioned the song was commonly performed among folklore groups in the Balkans and the diaspora. But another type of folklore group that I did not discuss is the folk dancing recreational groups that were wildly popular in the United States, particularly on college campuses from approximately the 1950s-1970s. These groups, from what I gather, were specifically interested in folk dances from other countries, such as those from eastern Europe.
“Fatiše kolo vranjske devojke” seems to be a popular dance among these groups, as it is discussed not only on the blog post from the Society of Folk Dance Historians mentioned above, but also on the blog Folk Dance Musings and the webpage International Folk Dancing in Dayton and Ohio, among others. In fact, there are even two competing versions of the dance in the US (one introduced by Dick Crum, above, and the other by Anatol Joukowsky, a Ukrainian choreographer and dancer specializing in “ethnic music” who trained and worked in Belgrade, Serbia before World War II and may have choreographed the dance for the Belgrade Opera himself).
A French folk dance website mentions something about the song which caught my attention: “With its unusual 9/8 rhythm, it features Renaissance elements.” The 9/8 rhythm is discussed extensively on the Society of Folk Dance Historians page. Given Vranje’s location in southern Serbia close to both Bulgaria and Macedonia, it would not be unusual for this rhythm to be found in folk music in Vranje, even though the rhythm is typically associated with “Bulgarian” and “Macedonian” music; regionality is here (as always) better for understanding music than strict national categories. However, I also know from Jim Samson’s Music in the Balkans (among other sources) that specific rhythmic patterns are frequently used by composers or musicians from the “north” (of Serbia) trying to evoke the “south” (and in turn the idealized source of Serbian cultural heritage) in their music.
The thing that strikes me as strange about the song is the tune, and that is where the “Renaissance elements” comment really piqued my interest. One of the key elements of Renaissance music is that it is modal, or based on modes. A mode is basically a specific scale, of which there are several, and thus modal music is music that only uses the notes of a specific mode (or scale).
In the first and second lines, the melody jumps a sixth and circles around the sixth, and then in the third and fourth, it starts from the eighth and moves down the scale back to the second, playfully jumping here and there. The seventh of the scale is flat. This is the Mixolydian mode! It also kind of sounds like we’re going up from the tonic in a major key in the first two phrases and down the scale in the key of the minor supertonic on the second two, which gives the first phrase a joyful sound and introduces some melancholy into the second phrase.
The use of modes in Balkan music is sometimes related to the Turkish makam system of melody types. I’m still getting into this topic a little bit, but I could see the melody either generating from that space of Ottoman ecumene or being intentionally written in that way to evoke Ottoman ecumene.
There is a really nice version from the Tea Hodžić Trio (called “Fatiše kolo, gradske devojke”), which to me really emphasizes the elements one would usually think of as “Renaissance”—which for me includes the melody (as described above), the harmony movement in relation to that melody (alternately converging and diverging), and the instrumentation, particularly the violin used in the interludes and the violin and guitar chord harmonization with the melody.
The other segment of the population that has really taken to this song has been choirs. On YouTube and Spotify, there are numerous recordings of a choral arrangement by Ivan Marković, which seems to be the most popular mode of the song today. There are basically no folk-esque performances of the song available on YouTube.
Finally, I caught wiff of a YouTube comment controversy over whether the lyrics should be “Vranjske” or “Niške” (in reference to Niš, a large city in southern Serbia) devojke, but the Niške song is a completely different song! It just has the same title, “Fatiše kolo niške devojke.” Glad we cleared that one up.
You can find a collection of all the songs from Velika Narodna Lira that are available on Spotify on my playlist.