Damian Mac Con Uladh

Don’t counterfeit the tune! (Μη παραχαράσσετε την μελωδία!)

In Greece, Uncategorized on 15 February 2019 at 12:16 pm

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In January, a video went viral in Greece of an Orthodox priest and his fellow passengers on a bus singing a song containing the words “Don’t counterfeit history, Macedonia is one.”

The bus was on its way to one of the demonstrations against the Prespa deal, which revolved the long-stranding Macedonia naming dispute by renaming the Republic of Macedonia as the Republic of North Macedonia.

The clip, put to a captivating dance mix and footage of people dancing by Greek satire site Luben, proved an internet hit (clocking up almost two million views in less than a month), both among supporters of the agreement, who saw it as ridiculing its opponents, and, ironically, by opponents of the deal, who found it a catchy way to express their stance against it.

The “Don’t counterfeit history” (“Μην παραχαράσσετε την Ιστορία”) tune had been doing the rounds in the run-up to the demonstrations against the Prespa deal. One version, uploaded on 13 January and accompanied by truly gaudy graphics, attributes the “lyrics/music” to a Marigo Mpouri, who claims she wrote it as a teenager “30 years ago” in a church-run camping facility outside the village of Proti, in the northern Greek prefecture of Florina.

However, in recent days, some Greek sites have cast doubt on the melody’s “Greek” character, claiming that the tune is, in fact, Slavic in origin, which would be highly ironic considering its recent Greek use against what is seen as Slavic appropriation of Greek history.

Unfortunately, this “Slavic” version now doing the rounds, which was uploaded to YouTube in 2013, fails to mention the name of the performer or the title of the song, whose “Slavic” character is somewhat undermined by the unmistakable sound of a didgeridoo in the track, among others.

[Update: On Twitter, @xoriskanape points out that the above song is by Russian group Reelroad (more on them here) and is entitled Венгерская (Vengerskaja, literally “Hungarian”), from the group’s first album (2001). On its website, Reelroad states (my working of a Google translation):

In fact, the origin of this melody it is not known for certain; one option is that it is native to Ukraine but in our performance it is more similar to the Breton.

They also say that Spiritual Seasons and US group Caliban do a version. So, that at least identifies the creator of the “Slavic Folk Music” in the other video.]

Back to the “Slavic Folk Music” video: Deep down in the comments, which are overwhelmingly positive towards this “Slavic” song, there are some clues as to the melody’s origins, though. In 2017, one commenter wrote: “Sorry, but that is an Irish dance. I don’t exactly know its name in English, but in Russian it is called Кастарват. Google it.”

Irish? A rabbit hole beckoned and down I went, losing a few hours of work in the hunt for “Kastarvat” videos. The earliest video on YouTube with that word in its title dates from 22 October 2010. This song is played by a Ukrainian band called Дзень (which Google tells me means “Zen”), who identify it as a “Hungarian dance”, adding even more confusion.

Another clue, this time pointing to a Breton origin, surfaced in a clip from 2011 showing people dancing to Кастарват. The video’s description says the music is from a song called “Fransozig” by Breton band Tri Yann.

And, indeed, a 2007 performance by Tri Yann of the song (the video has over a million hits) does sound remarkably familiar to the “Slavic” tune that has been popularised by Ukrainian and Russian “folk” bands and the Greek “Macedonian” song that rails against Slavic historical and cultural appropriation.

Other Kastarvat videos – the song seems to be quite popular among “Celtic” folk bands in Russia and Ukraine – provide the original name of the song as Kost ar c’hoat, which French Wikipedia says is a “Breton dance”.

So there we have it: a traditional Breton song, often mistaken as Irish (pan-Celticism), which was picked up by eastern European “trad” bands only to become “Slavic” in the ears of many pan-Slavists and, most recently, by Greeks, to denounce Slavic appropriation of Greek history, becoming a new panhellenic anthem in the process.

How ironic that it ends up as the tune to a song containing the words “Don’t counterfeit”.

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