Little Cloud of White (Oblache le byalo)

02.10.2012 § 2 Comments

Little Cloud of White

Tell me, tell me, little cloud of white
Where you’ve come from, where you’ll fly tonight?
Past my father’s house did you not hurry
Did you hear a mother’s whispered worry

“Oh I wonder how my boy is faring
Foreign bread with strangers he is sharing”
Fly and tell her, little cloud of white
That you saw me fit and well tonight.

Hurry, bring her from me fondest greetings
It’s been so long, but the end is nearing
Soon my village rooftops I’ll behold
And my mother in my arms enfold.

I’m starting the post with a translation of “Oblache le byalo”, a lovely Bulgarian song because I think it’s the most important part of this post. Written by celebrated Bulgarian children’s author Ran Bosilek while he was working in Belgium and pining for home, since the early 20th century this song has been the unofficial anthem of Bulgarian immigrants everywhere. And a lot of us are immigrants: displaced by political or economic factors, some 2 million Bulgarians (more than 20%) live outside the country.

Every Bulgarian child knows this song, or ought to, and it hits at the core of some crucial Bulgarian values – the importance of one’s roots, family (especially parental ties), and the sense of disconnectedness that only recent technology advances have made strides towards bridging.

Having interacted with many Bulgarian immigrants, I realize how difficult it is sometimes to maintain that link to Bulgaria and to impart it on your children. Bulgarian communities abroad tend to be active, but small, and keeping up language skills and links to the homeland where many immigrants have families is not easy, and is often costly.

Instead of these difficulties, I’d like to optimistically focus on three interesting examples of this song, each of which tells a compelling and different story.

38 Years in Exile

Sylvie Vartan, a household name in France and one of the golden girls of the Ye-Ye movement in the 60’s and 70’s, was born in the village of Iskretz, Sofia province, on August 15, 1944. Her mother was Hungarian and her father was French-Bulgarian, attached to the French diplomatic mission in the capital. Months after her birth, her family’s home was nationalized and they moved to Sofia. In December of 1952, they fled the Communist regime and established themselves in Paris. Sylvie became a celebrated singer and toured France and Italy for decades, playing sold-out concerts. Her records can be found in vinyl shops as far as Canada.

In all those years, Sylvie, who left Bulgaria at the age of 8, had never been able to return owing to the political situation back in Bulgaria. After the fall of Communism in 1989, she planned a return concert in Sofia. On October 6, 1990, just shy of 38 years after leaving the country, she addressed the packed Concert Hall 1 of the National Palace of Culture in flawless Bulgarian, holding back tears of joy that she was back on Bulgarian soil. Then she opened with this song.

Over the course of the evening, she also sang one of her French album-titular chançons from the 70’s called “La Maritza”, named after the Maritza river that runs through Southern Bulgaria.

“Maritza is my river, as the Seine is yours
But now no one but my dad remembers it.
Of my first ten years nothing’s left
Than this poor little doll
No more than a small refrain
…”

Against the backdrop of a surge of emigration through the suddenly open Bulgarian borders, watching the return of a successful, Western singer who felt she was Bulgarian at heart was an extraordinary, uplifting experience.

Fighting Emigration

As the 90’s brought economic hardship, surging inflation and further emigration, recording artists such as Kanaleto and Doni & Monchil took a decidedly patriotic tone in their songs. Kanaleto with a series of modern arrangements of Revival-era songs, among them this one:

Where do you lie, faithful love for our people
Where do you gleam, spark of patriotism?
O grow to feed a mighty flame
And stoke a blazing fire today
In our young people’s beating hearts
to roam the woods and take up arms.
In our young people’s beating hearts
to roam the woods and take up arms.

And burn, and burn within us, great devotion
To stand up proud against a fateful ocean
To take up this one mighty call
Across the mountains proud and tall

“O young and old, up on your feet
And arm yourselves for freedom”
“O young and old, up on your feet
And arm yourselves for freedom”

To raise the flag of freedom o’er Bulgaria
And bearing crosses look up to our Saviour
“O Jesus Christ, creator dear
Look downward from the heavens clear
Upon our heavy suffering
And patience all-enduring
Upon our heavy suffering
And patience all-enduring”

And when we reach our peaceful end
We’ll raise our voices jubilant
“Live free, o brave Bulgarians,
By God’s will liberated”
“Live free, o brave Bulgarians,
By God’s will liberated”

Doni & Momchil in turn recorded a version of “Oblache le byalo” in 1996.

Foreign Talent

The Bulgarian language has been in decline in recent years owing to negative population growth and emigration. This is why I’ve always found it really exciting when a foreigner takes an interest in Bulgarian and starts learning it. Examples include my dear e-friend from italkyoutalklanguages, a Brazilian by the name of Dante whom I met this summer, and this American of Filipino origin, Rafael Agilar, who introduced himself and sang a moving rendition of the song in Bulgarian, which was for him a recent second language:

Pre-song Translation

> How old are you?

> I’m 25

> Where are you from?

> I’m from California. San Francisco, but born in the Philippines.

> How come you’re in Bulgaria?

> I’m a volunteer for the Peace Corps.

> How long have you been in Bulgaria?

> I’ve been here for 2 years.

> Only two years? And you speak Bulgarian like that?

> … (smiles)

> And what do you do with the Peace Corps?

> I’m a teacher here, in a small city by Serbia, Vidinsko.

> Are you alone in Bulgaria? Where is your family?

> They are in California.

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