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Free Concert, Residency to Bring Balkan Wedding Music to Old Cabell Hall

The University of Virginia’s McIntire Department of Music will host a renowned Bulgarian saxophonist and band leader on Oct. 12.

Yuri Yunakov, a Romani – or gypsy – performer and pioneer of the Bulgarian “wedding music” style, will present a residency and a free concert with his five-piece band. In conjunction, University of Oregon anthropologist Carol Silverman will present a colloquium and will lead a lecture-demonstration with Yunakov and his ensemble.

The joint lecture-demonstration is at 10 a.m. in room B18 in Old Cabell Hall. Silverman’s colloquium address, “Global Gypsy: Romani Music, Representation and Appropriation,” will follow from 3:30 to 5 p.m. in Old Cabell Hall room 107. The concert will begin at 8 p.m. in the Old Cabell Hall auditorium.

The events are a chance to engage with a music form that isn’t often performed for Charlottesville audiences, said associate professor Joel E. Rubin, director of music performance in the College of Arts & Sciences.

“It’s quite possible that there’s never before been a concert of this type of music in Charlottesville,” Rubin said. “It’s certainly the first time there has been one at the University.”

Bulgarian wedding music – named after the celebrations at which it was frequently played – developed in Balkan countries in the ’70s as a combination of traditional Romani and Balkan music, and Western jazz influences. Because it evolved behind the Iron Curtain during Communist rule, Western audiences had a hard time accessing it during the Cold War, Rubin said.  

“There were Americans then who were interested in Balkan music,” he said. “In fact, at that time Carol Silverman was a young anthropologist who was interested in Balkan music and folk dancing. She and her husband spent a lot of time in Bulgaria and brought back bootleg tapes of these musicians.”  

After the fall of communism, Bulgarian wedding music was popularized through the world music scene, and several key performers – including Yunakov – immigrated to the U.S.

“There’s also a political dimension to this music,” Rubin said. “In the 20 years or so since the fall of communism, the Roma population of Eastern Europe has been the most oppressed and persecuted people in all of Europe.”

As a result, Romani music has played an important role in the forging of a transnational Romani identity in the post-Cold War era and is an important part of the cultural glue that holds together a population spread across several countries and nationalities, he said.

Since 1994, Yunakov has worked to popularize Balkan musical traditions in the U.S. through a busy touring schedule and several albums. In 2011, he won the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship Award, presented by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Silverman’s research investigates the relationships among culture, music, politics, ethnicity, ritual and gender. She’s an expert on Balkan and gypsy music, and her most recent book is “Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora” (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The residency was made possible by a grant from the U.Va. Council for the Arts, with supplemental sponsorship from the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies, Slavic Languages and Literatures, the American Studies Program, the Department of Anthropology and James Dunton’s gift to the McIntire Department of Music's Jazz Performance Program. It’s presented in cooperation with the Center for Traditional Music and Dance in New York. 

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