This is a story of generations, of war, of momentum, of language, of music. It all starts in Central Asia. That nexus of the world where bits of Turkey, India, Russia and China smash into each other, making something that is the child of all of them, but unique unto itself.

The Roman Empire had pushed out into the world. Following in Alexander’s footsteps, they had marched over the ends of the Earth, bringing roads and the concept of the large world to isolated peoples. The steppes of Central Asian were the farthest reaches of the Empire, and the home to the people that would one drive it to its end.

When the Roman Empire contracted, opportunistic warlords rose up its wake. Goths, Vandals, Huns spilled into the cracks. The spoils of former oppressors were theirs to take. They pushed into the heart of Europe, and ultimately settled there. Roman and Germanic cultures were supplanted by invader’s, creating a pocket of the East, smack in the middle of the West.

The Eastern influence was reinforced when the last spasm of the Mongol invasion petered out in Bulgaria. The Mongols had fought for so long, and come so far from home, that they didn’t know how to get back. Luckily, they found a group of people that weren’t so different from them and settled down. Two cultures, far removed from their homes, merged into one, making something new.

Now that we’ve gotten the history lesson out of the way, what does all of that mean and what does it have to do with music?

Well, it means that you’ve got a language and a music theory in the middle of Europe that doesn’t match anything around it. The folk music of Hungary and Bulgaria has more in common with Chinese opera than it does with anything in Europe.

The specific example I’m going to give you is the Bulgarian Women’s Choir.

This is Pilentze Pee (Pilentze chante) off the Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares – Volume 1 record.

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Just on a surface level, you can feel the mystery that permeates this music. But if you apply a knowledge of history, and understand just who these people are, and why their music sounds like this, then you can start to peel the music apart, layer by layer. You can hear all the history that came together to make this amazing sound happen.

Here is Mar Stanke le (Chant de moisson thrace), a slower ballad off the same record.

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Lastly, just to show you that these impossible people are still rolling new bits of culture into themselves, here is the Bulgarian Women’s Choir performing “Oh! Susanna” on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

This is your Friday Frequency.