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About this album

Čalgija was a Dutch ensemble that existed from 1969 till 1995, led by the late Wouter Swets (1930–2016), who aimed to perform ethnomusicologically sound arrangements of traditional music from the Balkans and Anatolia. The underlying assumption was that this music had suffered from westernisation since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1922, and in his arrangements Swets set out to restore pieces into more pristine states. This might suggest that Čalgija’s music was cerebral and intellectual, but it is quite the opposite: their arrangements, instrumentations, overall sound and approach in general were quite unique.

There is of course no way to know to whether Ottoman Greeks, Slavs, Albanians, Vlachs or Turks would have accepted Čalgija’s recordings and performances as valid renditions of their music. I’d say probably not: it is already difficult enough to bridge large geographical distances culturally, let alone distances in space and time. But Swets actually referred to his orchestra’s style as neo-Ottoman, so maybe it is more accurate to think of his work as a thought experiment rather than a restoration effort. How might music from the Balkans and Anatolia have evolved if the large, polyethnic Ottoman Empire had not collapsed? What if the relationships between peoples that once lived together under its rule had never become burdened by nationalist politicians creating forced identities for their brand-new nation states? And what if the search for these identities had never been accompanied by denying others theirs? What if the music would still be shared between peoples, rather than becoming a point of dispute between states that all bear ancient names, but are younger than Australia?

Maybe the question should not be whether Čalgija’s music could have meant something in the past, but whether it is meaningful today. The ensemble played a pivotal role in introducing Dutch audiences to music from the Balkans and Anatolia. Musically, perhaps their most important contribution was to set a very high standard. During their existence, and until at least 15 years after they broke up, no other Dutch group in the genre really matched Čalgija’s level of interpretation and playing. Most of them never got beyond exploiting the catchiness of certain Balkans rhythms and ‘scales’, sampling rather than exploring tradition the way Swets did.

Čalgija around 1987 (unknown photographer)

Čalgija around 1987. Front row (LR): Jan van Eekeren, Wouter Swets, Frank Leenhouts; back row (LR): Monique Lansdorp, Jan Hofmeijer, Roel Sluis, Tjarko ten Have. Unknown photographer; copyright control.

Pioneering work

Was introducing Dutch audiences to this music relevant? Of course it was. People from Turkey and various Balkan countries have been migrating to the Netherlands since the 1960s, and so have people from Morocco, where musical traditions are found that have much in common with those from the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. It would be naive to say that familiarity with their music made for a warm welcome to these new residents of the Netherlands, where in fact their integration was and still can be difficult in many ways. But at least music gave people of good will a means to communicate and interact. This also included dancing. In the 1960s, folkdance became quite popular in the Netherlands. There were many folkdance groups that typically had a rather eclectic repertoire with a strong emphasis on Balkan dances, because these were rhythmically interesting and challenging. To Čalgija and ensembles alike, folkdance made for a considerably larger following than concert audiences alone.

The members of Čalgija and the people they initially inspired to enjoy or play the music from the Balkans and Anatolia are now in their 60s and 70s. They were part of the 1960s and 70s counterculture, to whom enjoying different, exciting music—whether it be unsettling Western rock or exotic Eastern folk tunes—was to a varying degree an expression of rebellion and generational conflict. To their children and grandchildren, who are now roughly in their forties and teens, respectively, all of that music has been a part of their upbringing. Some actually enjoyed Balkan and Anatolian music—not as previously for its exoticism but as something natural, in a process similar to the Rolling Stones becoming transformed from a threat to society into an institution. This actually creates better conditions to interact through music, in ways that just didn’t happen earlier when Balkan music and folkdance groups consisted almost entirely of Dutch men and women trying to break with conventions. So gradually, Dutch familiarity with Eastern musical idioms, set off by Čalgija, started to pay off. Spearheaded by amongst others Codarts in Rotterdam, Dutch stages and tribunes are now being shared by people of different cultural backgrounds, even people who’d have been unlikely to interact in their regions of origin.

So, was Čalgija authentic? None of its members except one, Nahim Avcı (around 1990), was born into the traditions Čalgija drew from, so they couldn’t represent those traditions in the ways people do to whom the music was handed by their forebears. And, frankly, if these people now choose to harmonise, jazzify, rockify or otherwise modernise their music, that’s entirely up to them. The music is theirs and the future will separate out whimsy from true progress. So, with respect to their music’s roots, Čalgija is not, and cannot be, authentic. But the orchestra was authentic—very much so—in the literal sense: true to itself.

Čalgija performing in Amsterdam (Henk Arends, 1962/63)

Čalgija in its 1960s line-up performing amidst dancers in Amsterdam (1962/63). Musicians (L-R): Pedro van Meurs, Albert van der Meulen, Wouter Swets. Not shown is the ensemble’s fourth member Rob van Altena. Photo: Henk Arends; © Pan Records.

Čalgija’s ‘mystery album’

I have been playing with Čalgija veterans for many years, but it was only recently that I learned that Čalgija recorded an album in 1981 that was never released. I only knew their LP Music from the Balkans and Anatolia #1 (Münich MU7425, 1978) and their CD Music from the Balkans and Anatolia #2 (Pan 2007CD, 1991). My curiosity was aroused. After a few phone calls, several emails and a number of dead ends two Ampex tapes turned up from the archives of Bernard Kleikamp of Pan Records. They were marked Čalgija, A-side and Čalgija, B-side, but were undated and had no metadata other than the tape speed and recorder used.

The tapes had been sold to Kleikamp by Wouter Swets for the production of what was to become Čalgija’s ’91 CD. The liner notes of that album mention that eight of its tracks were recorded between December 1983 and May 1984, and mixed in ’85. From a hand-written note that came with the tapes, I learned that five more tracks were recorded during that session that were never released. So, even though I hadn’t found the ’81 ‘Mystery Album’, I was very curious to hear this extra material and establish whether it was release-worthy. This of course also depended on the condition of the 34-year old tapes.

There was only one way to find out. I took the tapes to Farmsound Studio in Heelsum to play and digitise them, where they turned out to be a production-ready LP master. Eight out of thirteen tracks were indeed identical to those of the ’91 CD, apart from the fact that they sounded different, had probably been remixed and were certainly remastered to achieve consistency with the material recorded later. Five tracks had not been used: ‘Köşküm var’, ‘Naz bar’ and ‘To aidhoni’ were re-recorded in ’90, and ‘Cheimariotikos’ and ‘Tronkata’ were discarded altogether. So the tapes were of the recordings made in ’83/84, but I did not know that they had been as close to being released as an LP as they now prove to have been. I never actually managed to find the ’81 recordings, and based on what I heard we must assume that they are lost. The recordings that did turn up revealed that there had been not one but two stalled album projects in the 1980s, and this raises a new question: why?

PS: a copy of the 1981 master tapes was found in the estate of Wouter Swets after the release of Unforgotten, and used for the album Üçayak.

Wouter Swets performing in Greece (Henk Arends, 1965)

Wouter Swets playing his accordion while on fieldwork in Greece. Photo: Henk Arends, 1965; © Pan Records.

In search of a new voice

I have heard three reasons as to why the ’81 album was not released. One is that Wouter Swets was unable to finish the liner notes. This might well have been the case, because he wanted such notes to be nothing less than a musicological treatise, and was notoriously perfectionistic. The second was a lingering business dispute concerning the debut LP, the details of which remain somewhat unclear other than that it was settled around ’83. The third is that Swets was dissatisfied with the results, and wanted to give it another try. So he did, but the results were shelved until 1990.

The most likely root cause is dissatisfaction. After all, the business dispute was settled, the liner notes were eventually finished, and pieces were redone for a reason. So, what could Swets have been dissatisfied with? The music offers some clues. One piece that didn’t make it to the ’91 CD, ‘Cheimariotikos’, is basically a respectful rendition of the piece as it is traditionally played. The instrumentation is a bit unusual; a Greek recording would probably not have had accordion and a sopranino recorder, but other than that Čalgija did not add much. The same goes for ‘Tronkata’, even though it has a stronger Čalgija signature. So Swets basically discarded the two least ambitious pieces of the mid-80s sessions and did not record them again.

The replacement versions of ‘Naz bar’ and ‘Köşküm var’ have instrumentations that are basically less Balkan and more Anatolian. This is not surprising. Over his career Wouter Swets inevitably gravitated towards İstanbul, the former cultural epicentre of the south-east European music traditions he studied. He presented a radio lecture series on traditional Turkish art music in 1981, and published a book (in the Dutch language) on the topic in 1983. In this, he was basically running ahead of his fellow musicians in Čalgija. The way I heard them play Kemal Batanay’s Nikrîz Peşrev in a live recording made in 1983, for example, was not entirely convincing as a rendition of Turkish art music, and the piece was a bit of an outlier in Čalgija’s folk repertoire. But Swets eventually took part of his ensemble along on his eastward musical journey.

‘To aidhoni’ was replaced by a version in which Wouter Swets played the synthesizer he started using in the late 1980s. He was originally trained as a classical organ player and switched to accordion to play Balkan music, but felt increasingly limited by the inability of that instrument to produce the microtonal intervals that are used in Turkish music as well in the Balkans before westernisation struck and music started to become harmonised and tempered. He therefore started playing the kanun in the 1970s, but never at the high level of playing he had reached as an accordionist. He also experimented with a microtonally tuned accordion, the ‘Swetsophone’ that features on track 5 of the ’91 CD, but in the late 1980s he turned to a Yamaha synthesiser, which he had programmed to be as tonally versatile as the kanun, but much easier for him to play.

Swets initially used a santouri virtual instrument, but at that time digital technology still presented serious limitations to sound quality and, unsurprisingly, the synthesiser simply didn’t blend well with the traditional instruments that the other musicians used. In fact, Čalgija lost fans who couldn’t agree with an instrument that they considered an insult to traditionality. Swets, never a crowd pleaser, did not care much. He abandoned his accordion, the instrument that had given him musical access to the Balkans, using it only once in the ’90s sessions. The synthesizer, the instrument that had set him free by fully opening up the world of modal music, would eventually become his main instrument.

Altogether the material recorded in ’90 was more modal, rhythmically complex and thoroughly analysed and re-arranged, and in that sense the ’91 CD was more ambitious than the LP they could have released in ’85. Retrospectively, Wouter Swets used the 1980s to complete a transition from the Balkan folk musician he was in the 1960s—the man shown on the photo above—to the modal musician he would become in the 1990s. In 1995, he changed the name of Čalgija into Ensemble Al Farabi, producing one last album that explores the relationship between Turkish and Gregorian hymns.

Anyway, after the success of their first album, Čalgija fans had to wait until 1991 for a successor, and in the meantime they were denied an album that I personally find just as impressive as their great debut LP. This is why we decided to release it in its entirety, despite the overlap with Music from the Balkans and Anatolia #2. We also decided to complement the album with live tracks from roughly the same period, which represent the ensemble in its heyday.

Farmsound Studio (Michiel van der Meulen, 2019)

Wil Hesen listening to the 38-year old ‘mystery tapes’ at Farmsound Studio, Heelsum, The Netherlands (04/2019). Photo: Michiel van der Meulen.

Unforgotten the uneasy roots of Čalgija’s music

The notes below are partly based on Wouter Swets’ notes to Music from the Balkans and Anatolia #2. One of the things that struck me when I first read these, at around the age of 22, is that Swets was very critical of his peers: first of certain Greek musicologists to whom he refers as poorly trained and xenophobic (see his original notes to Aide mor’ milia), then of a Serbian one who delivered a poor analysis of a poorly performed Macedonian song (see the original notes to ‘Dali znaeš pomniš li’), of Turkish ones for their inability to analyse songs from Balkan Turks correctly (see the original notes to ‘Köşküm var’), as well as of just about every ensemble from which he used source material. I decided to discard such comments for two reasons. First, they concern either largely forgotten scientific disputes among musicologists that have passed away since, or recordings that will have been forgotten if they were as bad as Swets considered them to be—and if not, maintain a relevance to people I do not want to judge or offend. But more importantly, I prefer to let music speak for itself. I think that the works of Wouter Swets stand on their own, there is no need to highlight their value by rejecting the work of others.

Beyond the idiosyncrasy, there is a more fundamental aspect to Swets’ criticism that deserves attention without being tainted by scientific pettiness. Why did the analysis of the music from the Balkans, Anatolia and peripheral regions result in such controversy? One problem that clearly shines through Swets’ notes is displacement. A Macedonian song in a Turkish form. Songs of stateless Vlachs. A dance danced in Greece, Albania and Macedonia whose title refers, in each language, to a town that is now Albanian but used to be inhabited by all of these people. Bulgarian songs originating in Macedonia. Turkish songs originating outside present-day Turkey. Armenian songs aspiring to be non-oriental for obvious reasons. Songs that bear witness of a joint past that people have chosen to forget.

Wouter Swets was harsh on colleagues who clearly had difficulties in incorporating an uneasy past in their analyses at that time, let alone reconciling themselves to it. In doing so, Swets was—quite authentically—a Dutch Calvinist, adhering to a straightforwardness and directness that is quite incompatible with Eastern values and manners. But this uneasy past gave me a second reason to name this album Unforgotten; a better one than the mere fact that its recordings were forgotten and then recovered. Music doesn’t lie, let it tell its own tale about its origins.

Michiel van der Meulen

Bunnik, Netherlands
May 2019 / January 2022 (updated track notes, addition of lyrics and translations)

Bulgarian refugees (unknown photographer, 1912)

Bulgarian muslims emigrating to the shrinking Ottoman Emprire (1912). Anonymous photographer.

Track notes

Musicians are indicated with their initials. WS: Wouter Swets (kanun, accordion, tăpan) / JH: Jan Hofmeijer (clarinet, santur, tanbur) / RS: Roel Sluis (vocals, sopranino recorder, kaval) / TH: Tjarko ten Have (santur, bağlama saz, kaval, gajda, tăpan) / FL: Frank Leenhouts (oud, laouto, tambura, divan saz) / RR: Roelof Rosendal (darbuka, def, tăpan) / ML: Monique Lansdorp (violin, gădulka) / RB: Remco Busink (tambura) / CO: Crispijn Oomes (gădulka) / TM: Thijs de Melker (tambura).

All material is traditional, and has been analysed and arranged by Wouter Swets.

[1] Cheimariotikos | Χειμαριώτικος

Instrumentation: clarinet (JH), violin (ML), sopranino recorder (RS), accordion (WS), santur (TH), laouto (FL), def (RR). Meter: 7/8 (3 + 2 + 2), kalamatiano. Mode: predominantly a folkloristic, tempered form of makam Nikriz.

Wouter Swets became interested in music from the Balkans and Anatolia in the 1950s because he discovered in it a liveliness that had become lost in the West. In a newspaper interview he gave in 1963 Swets argued that “even though musical notation came with certain specific advantages, it primarily resulted in a tragic mortification. Musicians are visibly bored while performing concerts, and so are their audiences because this mortification has destroyed the music’s experience.” Swets transcribed the music he studied meticulously, but he preferred his musicians to not use his scores onstage. He wanted his music to be performed freely, with energy and excitement, lushly and heterophonically embellished. Čalgija’s rendering of this well-known Greek dance tune from Chimarra (Χειμάρρα, now Himarë, Albania) is a clear example of that: a studio recording with a live feeling.

[2] Krivo horo | Криво хоро

Instrumentation: clarinet (JH), violin (ML), kaval (RS), accordion (WS), tambura (FL), tăpan (TH). Meter: 22/16 (2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2) + (2 + 3 + 2 + 2). Mode: elementary folkloristic forms of makams Hüseynî, Hicâz and Karcığar in equal temperament.

This folk dance from Northern Thrace (Bulgaria) begins and ends with an instrumental version of the Thracian folk song ‘Djado si Djalba Deleše’ (Дядо си Дялба Делеше). The two phrases prior to the recurrence of that melody at the end of the piece were composed by Wouter Swets in Thracian style.

[3] Dali znaeš pomniš li | Дали знаеш помниш ли

Instrumentation: voice (RS), clarinet (JH, violin (ML), accordion (WS), bağlama saz (TH), oud (FL). Meter: 5/4 (2 + 3). Mode: tempered folkloristic form of makam Kürdîli Hicâzkâr.

Lazaropole (Лазарополе), where this song comes from, used to be a poor Macedonian mountain village that many young men would leave shortly after their wedding to earn money elsewhere. Melodies they had learned during lengthy stays faraway would be integrated in the local folkloristic repertoire on their return home, where they would gradually lose their original characteristics. This particular love song is most likely based on or inspired by a şarkı (secular vocal form in Turkish art music) in makam Kürdîli Hicâzkâr. Wouter Swets restored the melodic progression (seyir) of this makam accordingly, and added a ritornello (aranağme). This song is one of my favorite Čalgija tracks. I recorded a more Eastern version in 2019 (Kairos Collective – Európe, Toumilou #3, EAN 714835 130574), with Čalgija’s original singer Roel Sluis as a guest musician.


Дали знаеш помниш ли, аман аман
кога бевме малечки, аман?

Во гул бавче седевме, аман аман
под гул црвен трендафил, аман

Трендафил ни капеше, аман аман
на нас двата пагаше, аман

Ние двата беревме, аман аман
лицето си мазевме, аман


Dali znaeš pomniš li, aman aman
koga bevme malečki, aman?

Vo gul bavče sedevme, aman aman
pod gul crven trendafil, aman

Trendafil ni kapeše, aman aman
na nas dvata pagaše, aman

Nie dvata berevme, aman aman
liceto si mazevme, aman


Do you remember
when we were young?

We sat in the rose garden
under a rosebush

The rosebush dripped
on the both of us

We caught the drops
and rubbed our faces with them

[4] Baş bar

Instrumentation: gajda (TH), clarinet (JH), tăpan (WS). Mode: mainly folkloristic forms of makams Hüseynî and Gülizâr. Meter: 9/8 (2 + 2 + 2 + 3), evfer.

Folk dance melody from Erzurum, East Anatolia. The gajda was used to approximate the sound of the zurna (shawm) that is traditionally used to play this piece.

[5] Razložko kalajdžijsko horo | Разложко калайджийско хоро

Instrumentation: gajda (TH), kaval (RS), gădulka (ML), santur (JH), kanun (WS), tambura (FL), darbuka (RR). Meter: 5/8 (2 + 3), slow pajduško. Mode: to some extent a tempered form of makam Muhayyer.

A tinkers’ dance from Razlog (Разлог), Pirin-Macedonia, southwestern Bulgaria. In the nineteenth century, Macedonian craftsmen and merchants were organised in guilds. These would have their own dances incorporating characteristic movements from their particular trade. On this particular gajda, from North Macedonia, one hears the normal chanter together with a drone pipe in F sharp. This unusual combination was invented by Čalgija and is a quintessential part of their signature sound.

[6] Acem kızı

Instrumentation: voice (RS), kanun (WS), bağlama saz (TH), divan saz, (FL) clarinet (JH), def (RR), darbuka (RR). Meter: 15/8 (2 + 3 + 3) + (2 + 2 + 3). Mode: folkloristic form of makam Acem-Kürdî.

The characteristic meter of this beautiful song from Kırşehir, Central Anatolia, appears mostly in the provinces of Sivas and Adana.


Çırpınıp da Şanova’ya çıkınca
Eğlen Şanova’da kal Acem kızı
Uğrun uğrun kaş altından bakınca
Can telef ediyor, gül Acem kızı

Seni seven oğlan neylesin malı
Yumdukça gözünden döker mercanı
Burnu fındık, ağzı kahve fincanı
Şeker mi şerbet mi bal Acem kızı


When you struggle your way up to Şanova
Enjoy your stay in Şanova, Persian girl
When you glance from under your eyebrows
My life withers, rose-like Persian girl

The boy who loves you has no need for wealth
Pearls drop when he closes his eyes
Nose like hazelnut, mouth like a coffee cup
Is it sugar, sherbet or honey, Persian girl?

[7] To aidhoni | Το αηδόνι

Instrumentation: clarinet (JH), sopranino recorder (RS), violin (ML), accordion (WS), santur (TH), laouto (FL), def (RR). Meter: 21/16 (2 + 3) + (3 + 2 + 2) + (2 + 3 + 2 + 2). Scale: predominantly pentatonic la.

West Thessaly (northern Greece), from where this Vlach sygkathistos folk dance originates, belongs partly to the pentatonic musical zone of which South Albania and Epirus form the centre. Swets’ arrangement consists of the addition of a ritornello by which he wanted to create a contrasting effect.

[8] Naz bar

Instrumentation: kaval (RS), violin (ML), accordion (WS), oud (FL), tăpan (RR). Meter: 10/16 (3 + 2 + 2 + 3), çurçuna. Mode: muğam Hümayun, with a modulation to muğam Bayatı-Şiraz on the 4th degree. Composer: A. Alexandrian.

In this recording one can hear two melodies composed in urban folk style for the traditional dance Naz bar (a flirtation dance), which Čalgija combined into an A-B-A form. Armenian folk music belongs stylistically to the same family as the folk music of East Anatolia, Azerbaijan, and West Iran—regions where Armenians lived or still live. The Transcaucasian muğam Bayatı-Şiraz much resembles the Turkish makam Nihâvend.

[9] Alexandra | Αλεξάντρα

Instrumentation: voice (RS), clarinet (JH), violin (ML), kaval (TH), accordion (WS), laouto (FL), def (RR). Meter: 18/16 (3 + 2 + 2) + (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2). Scale: predominantly pentatonic sol.

Greek folk dance melody from south Albania. This region—called Northern Epirus by the Greeks—harbours a Greek minority. It was only after World War II that a part of this minority fled to Greek South Epirus, while most of the Albanian minority of Greek South Epirus left for Albania. It is therefore not surprising that the folk music of South Albania and Greek Epirus are strongly related. Nowadays, the folk dance Alexandria is usually played in a 5/4 meter in Greece, but this rendering is based on a recording from North Epirus in 18/16 meter. On the face of it there seems to be a big difference between 5/4 and 18/16 meters, but if one considers the 5/4 as 20/16, subdivided as (4 + 2 + 2) + (4 + 4 + 2 + 2), the 18/16 pattern (3 + 2 + 2) + (4 + 3 + 2 + 2) makes for only a slight difference, which reflects the way the dancers feel the rhythm.


Ωρέ τι στέκεις μαραμένη Αλεξάνδρα
αχ τι στέκεις κλ(ι)αμένη;

Ωρέ μην είσ’ απ’ τον αέρα Αλεξάνδρα;
Αχ μην είσ’ απ’ τη δροσά;
Αχ ζαλίζομαι όταν σε συλλογίζομαι

Ωρέ δεν είμ’ απ’ τον αέρα
Αχ δεν είμ’ απ’ τη απ’ τη δροσά

Ωρέ μόν’ είμ’ από τ’ εσένα βρε λεβέντη
Αχ που είσαι στην ξενιτιά;
Αχ ζαλίζομαι όταν σε συλλογίζομαι


Oré ti stékeis maraméni Alexándra
ach ti stékeis kl(i)améni?

Οré min eís’ ap’ ton aéra Alexándra?
Ach min eís’ ap’ ti drosá?
Ach zalízomai ótan se syllogízomai

Οré den eím’ ap’ ton aéra
Ach den eím’ ap’ ti drosá

Οré món’ eím’ apó t’ eséna vre levénti
Ach pou eísai stin xenitiá;
Ach zalízomai ótan se syllogízomai


Why are you withering, Alexandra,
ah, why are you crying?

Are you not staying out of the wind, Alexandra?
Ah, are you not staying out of the cold?
Ah, I get dizzy when I think of you

I am not out in the wind
Ah, I am not out in the cold

It’s just that I am away from you, my man
Ah, where are you abroad?
Ah, I get dizzy when I think of you

¹ Interjections and repetitions of words and syllables have been left out.

[10] Tronkata | Тронката

Instrumentation: kaval (RS), clarinet (JH), violin (ML), accordion (WS), tambura (FL), bağlama saz (TH), tăpan (RR). Meter: 2/4 (2 triplets), pravo. Mode: Folkloristic forms of makams Kürdî, Rast and Hüseynî in equal temperament.

After World War I, Bulgaria had to cede Western Thrace to the Entente, which passed the region on to Greece. A (non-compulsory) population exchange followed between Greece and Bulgaria, one of several that occurred in the aftermath of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, when monoethnic nation states were built from polyethnic Ottoman regions. This pravo dance migrated north along with the Bulgarians that once lived in what would become Greek Western Thrace.

[11] Ispaiče | Испайче

Instrumentation: gajda (TH), kaval (RS), accordion (WS), santur (JH), tambura (FL), tăpan (RR). Meter: From 14/16 (4 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 3) via 13/16 (3 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 3) and 12/16 (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3) to 11/16 (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2). Mode: predominantly a folkloristic tempered form of makam Hicâz, and in the conclusion of makam Karcığar.

A folk dance from Petrič (Петрич), Pirin-Macedonia (Bulgaria), brought there from Kumanovo (Куманово), Vardar-Macedonia (North Macedonia). The piece gains speed in two ways. Other than increasing the tempo, metrical shortening can be heard, which is achieved by diminishing the number of beats per meter from 14 to 11.

[12] Köşküm var

Instrumentation: voice (RS), violin (ML), kaval (TH), santur (JH), kanun (WS), tanbur (JH), tăpan (RR). Meter: 11/4 (3 + 4 + 4). Mode: makam Hüseynî.

As the Ottoman Empire grew, Turkish populations established themselves in Europa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. And as the empire subsequently shrank and fell, many Turks migrated out of lost territory, moving to what they considered their Anatolian protective motherland, along with Greek, Albanian, Slavic and Circassian Muslims, fleeing harassment, persecution, war or outright ethnic cleansing. This migration took place from the late 18th century, peaked in the late 19th to early 20th centuries and actually persists today, having involved an estimated number of 10 million people so far, from whom between a quarter and one third of the population of modern Turkey are descendants.

This migration brought music to modern Turkey that had developed outside its territory for many centuries. In that category, this beautiful song belongs to the Rumeli türküleri repertoire, i.e., music of Balkan Turks. It bears witness to a strong influence of Turkish art music, which Swets emphasised by making a fuller use of the typical modulations of makam Hüseynî than heard in common renditions of the song.


Köşküm var deryaya karşı
Durmaz akar gözüm yaşı
Sevdadır her işin başı

Var gönül var git seyreyle aman
Gel bana söyle

Elmayı nazik soyarlar
Çini tabağa koyarlar
Güzeli candan severler

Var gönlüm var git seyreyle
Aman aman gel bana söyle


I have a mansion by the sea
My tears don’t stop pouring
Everything begins with love

Move on, my heart, and look around
Come and tell me

They gently peel the apple
Put it on a porcelain plate
Love the beauty from the heart

Move on, my heart, and look around.
Ah, ah, come and tell me

[13] Beratçe | Μπεράτι | Беранче

Musicians: clarinet (JH), violin (ML), kaval (RS), accordion (WS), laouto (FL), def (RR). Meter: 31/16 (3 + 2 + 2) + (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 3) + (3 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2) via 30/16 (3 + 2 + 2) + (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2) + (3 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2) to 29/16 (3 + 2 + 2) + (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2) + (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2). Scale: predominantly pentatonic sol.

This majestic dance exists, with variations, in Northern Epirus in southern Albania, in southern Epirus in northwestern Greece and in western North Macedonia. The above meter description, which shows metrical shortening as described in the notes to Ispaiče [11], clearly illustrates Wouter Swets’ precision in capturing what basically are subtle trends in the duration of key steps in the dance pattern. This occurs in an intimate interaction between dancers and musicians in a tradition that is transmitted orally, and in which actually counting beats per meter doesn’t play any role whatsoever.

Swets was one of the few musicologists in this genre who was this precise and analytical when transcribing music. Scores produced in the region, if any, are quite often written in sort of a musical shorthand as a mnemonic for people who are already familiar with the music. Berat, nicknamed ‘the city of thousand windows’ is featured in the artwork of this album.

[14] Nevenstinsko oro | Невестинско оро | Live recording, 1983

Instrumentation: solo gajda (RR). Meter: 7/8 (3 + 2 + 2), lesnoto. Mode: elementary folkloristic form of makam Uşşak.

Amplification has made musicians almost completely independent of the setting of their performances. Soft instruments like the tanbur and the ney can now easily be played for hundreds of people. Even so, the instrumentation of folk music often still reflects past limitations that have long been overcome. This bride’s dance is played by a solo gajda (Macedonian bagpipe), one of those outdoor instruments par excellence, used at noisy weddings and other parties, or even to wage war. The piece, a Macedonian wedding dance, begins a-metrically, and develops slowly towards a ‘dragging’ 7/8.

[15] Kırım’dan gelirim | Live recording, 1983

Instrumentation: voice (RS), clarinet (JH), kanun (WS), bağlama saz (TH), divan saz (FL), def (RR). Meter: 7/8 (3 + 2 + 2), devr-i hîndî. Mode: makam Gerdâniye.

Just as Köşküm var [12], this is a song from Ottoman Turks living outside of the later Republic of Turkey. The still popular song describes how Sinan from Crimea proudly responded to a call to arms to fight the Austrians during one of the frequent conflicts between the neighbouring Ottoman and Habsburg empires.


Kırım’dan gelirim gelirim
Adım da Sinan’dır hey hey aman aman
Adım da Sinan’dır hey

Kılıncımın suyu yar suyu
Kandır da dumandır hey
Hey kandır da dumandır hey

Kırım’dan gelirim gelirim
Atım da araptır hey hey aman aman
Atım da araptır hey

Gizlenme Nemçe rû Nemçe rû
Halinde haraptır hey
Hey halinde haraptır hey

Gizlenme Nemçe rû Nemçe rû
Meydan da burdadır hey
Hey meydan da burdadır hey


I come from Crimea,
My name is Sinan hey hey ah ah
My name is Sinan hey

The sap of my sword is the sap of my love
Even though blood and smoke surround me hey
Hey even though blood and smoke surround me hey

I come from Crimea
My horse is from Arabia hey hey ah ah
My horse is from Arabia hey

Show your faces Austrians
Your empire is destroyed hey
Hey your empire is destroyed hey

Show your faces Austrians
Here is the battlefield hey
Hey here is the battlefield hey

Čalgija (Remco Busink, 1977/78)

Čalgija around 1978. Front row (LR): Remco Busink (who left the group in 1978), Wouter Swets, Thijs de Melker, Jan Hofmeijer; back row (LR): Roel Sluis, Tjarko ten Have, Crispijn Oomes, Roelof Rosendal. Photo: Remco Busink.

[16] Mădro horo | Мъдро хоро | Live recording, 1978 (mono)

Musicians: gajda (JH, TH), kaval (RS), gădulka (CO), accordion (WS), tambura (RB, TM), tăpan (RR). Meter: 7/8 (3 + 2 + 2), răčenica. Mode: mainly folkloristic tempered forms of makams Hicâz and Kürdî.

This dance from the town of Kotel (Котел) in Central Bulgaria was danced by shepherds’ wives when their men returned from winter herding grounds further to the east. In order to not arouse the shepherds too much after months of abstention, the dance is slow, which is unusual for a răčenica.

[17] Schoon lief | Live recording, 1983

Musicians: voice (RS, JH), gajda (TH), clarinet (JH), sopranino recorder (RS), accordion (WL), oud (RR), tambura (FL). Meter: 18/8 (3 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2). Scale: Aeolian.

On the album Sabâ Kâr-ı Nâtık, İlâhîler, Gregorian Hymns by Ensemble Al Farabi (the successor of Čalgija), Wouter Swets explored the relationships between Islamic and Christian chant. He employed his reconstruction abilities to arrive at versions of Gregorian hymns that should resemble early Christian music. For that purpose he interpreted the hymns microtonally and metrically. Gregorian hymns are currently chanted in a free-flowing form with no fixed meter. Given the structure of the text, Swets hypothesised that they actually had complex metric structures supporting prosody just like the ilâhîler, their Islamic counterparts. In previous years, he occasionally arranged Dutch folk songs in alternative meters in order to improve the flow and prosody. This romantic 16th-century Dutch May song—a genre that celebrates spring, when nature and love revive—is a nice example, in which one can also hear Swets indulging in harmony.

When comparing the lyrics of Schoon lief with those of all other songs on this album, you’ll observe a striking difference in text length. While Dutch songs typically put a syllable on each note, Greek and Turkish songs have words and exclamations such as ‘aman’ (meaning something like ‘ah’) spread over extensive phrases. In this aspect, the prosody of the lyrics reflects the prosody of the language—Dutch is generally perceived as choppy rather than lyrical. Beyond the musical aesthetics, lyrics with fewer words are perhaps inevitably more poetic than wordy songs. Schoon lief is very romantic but its text is factual and descriptive, not leaving much room for interpretation. Greek and Turkish lyrics, and Eastern lyrics in general, are more implicit, relying on symbolism and archetypes that are sometimes hard to understand for Westerners. The aim is not to tell the listener a specific story, but to trigger feelings and images that could fit many stories in a universal and timeless way.


Schoon lief, hoe ligt gij hier en slaapt
in uwen eerste drome?
Wil opstaan en de mei ontvaân
hij staat hier al zo schone

‘k En zou voor gene mei opstaan
mijn vensterke niet ontsluiten
Plant uwe mei waar ‘t u gerei
plant uwe mei daarbuiten

Waar zou ‘k hem planten of waar doen?
‘t Is al op ‘s heren strate
De winternacht is koud en lang
hij zou zijn bloeien laten

Schoon lief, laat hij zijn bloeien staan
wij zullen hem begraven
op ‘t kerkhof bij den eglantier
zijn graf zal rozekens dragen

Schoon lief en om die rozekens
zal ‘t nachtegaaltje springen
En voor ons bei’ in elke mei
zijn schoonste liedekens zingen


Fair love, lying here sleeping
in your first dreams?
Would you wake and accept this May branch
[which tree is] standing here so beautifully

I wouldn’t rise for a May branch
wouldn’t open my window
You plant it wherever you like
plant it anywhere outside

Where would I plant it?
It’s tree already grows right here along the road
The winter nights are cold and long,
it would stop blossoming

Fair love, and should it stop blossoming
we’ll bury it
at the cemetery near the eglantine
its grave will bear roses

Fair love, and around those roses
the nightingale will hop
and sing for us every May
its most beautiful songs

[18] Damian-Vojvodovo horo | Дамян-Войводово хоро | Live recording, 1983

Musicians: clarinet (JH), sopranino recorder (RS), violin (ML), accordion (WS), tambura (FL), tăpan (RR). Meter: 18/8 (2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2 + 3 + 2 + 2). Scale: Aeolian, Locrian, Mixolydian.

The only other known recording of this piece is one by the famous Bulgarian accordionist Kosta Kolev, which originally appeared on the LP Народни хора (Narodni hora, Balkanton 5692, release date unknown, probably 1960s). This is almost certainly the version that Wouter Swets transcribed. Since the late 1950s he had been scavenging for all of the records released by Balkan and Turkish labels he could lay his hands on for repertoire and research. The sleeve and label of the album offer no information on the music beyond track titles. The song seems to have become forgotten in Bulgaria, but by a quirk of history it has been preserved on the setlist of a Dutch group: a case of un-forgetfulness that very much fits the present album.

I have no doubt that Wouter Swets would have considered this particular Balkanton recording an unfortunate and unjustifiable case of gentrification. He roughened up Kolev’s arrangement considerably, skipping the intro, discarding the orchestration, and cranking up both tempo and intensity.

[19] Proviknal si e Nikola | Провикнал си е Никола | Live recording, 1983

Musicians: voice (RS), accordion (WS). Meter: a-metric. Mode: makam Kürdîli Hicâzkâr.

While Wouter Swets dedicated much of his life to finding and restoring the modal roots of his repertoire, he was well-trained in harmonisation and developed his very own style in it. It is very easy to create cheesy versions of this beautiful Bulgarian song, but Swets’ accompaniment—which he had reportedly based on Georgian polyphony—really elevates the melody.


Провикнал си е Никола
провикнал си е Николчо
от врах, от Стара Планина
от Игликова поляна
Изкарвай, Гано, говеда
вашите, Гано, нашите

Вашите, Гано, нашите
чичови брези биволи
Ша ида да ги продавам
дано ти сaрце откупя
Изкарвай, Гано, говеда
чичови брези биволи

Гана Николу думаше либе
Никола, Николчо
сарце за пари не давам
сарце за сарце мењавам


Proviknal si e Nikola
proviknal si e Nikolčo
ot vrah, ot Stara Planina
ot Iglikova poljana
Izkarvaj, Gano, goveda
vašite, Gano, našite

Vašite, Gano, našite
čičovi brezi bivoli
Ša ida da gi prodavam
dano ti sarce otkupia
Izkarvaj, Gano, goveda
čičovi brezi bivoli

Gana Nikolu dumaše libe
Nikola, Nikolčo
sarce za pari ne davam
sarce za sarce menjavam


Nikola shouted out
Nikola shouted out
from the peaks of Stara planina
from the Iglikova fields
Gana, let out the cattle
your cattle, Gana, our cattle

Your cattle, Gana, our cattle
my uncle’s water buffalos
I will go to sell them
to try to buy your heart
Gana, let out the cattle
my uncle’s water buffalos

Gana told Nikola
Nikola, dear Nikola
I will not sell my herd for money
I will exchange it for your heart

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