Caval - the Romanian 5 hole pipe

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Caval musican

development chart

regional map
Romanian Cavals:
a) common b) Dobrogea

In Romanian the caval most often refers to the long flute with five finger holes in groups of two and three with a simple block mouthpiece. It gives a soft and sad tone playing a distinctive scale with the first overblow producing E, and the second A:

It is found in Oltenia, Muntenia and south Moldavia. An old style of playing where the player growls whilst playing continues in remote areas and amongst the Hungarian Csango minorities in Moldavia.

The term caval is also used for end blown chromatic pipes similar to the Balkan varieties. This "Dobrogean" caval is completely open at each end, made in three wooden parts, with eight finger holes in the middle section and four breathing holes in the lower section. It is found in Dobrogea and Muntenia and is very similar to the typical Bulgarian kaval. I also have a single piece thin walled caval  with 7 finger holes plus thumb hole probably from Dobrogea.

The term caval (or kaval ) probably originated from the Arabic root "q-w-l" meaning "to speak." A modern word derived from this root is "qawwal" which can mean an itinerant musician and singer.

In Turkey kaval refers generally to flutes with specific names for the different pipes. Some kavals are end blown and others have blocks. Some end blown kavals look much like Albanian and Sarakatsani kavals.

In the rest of the Balkans, the kaval is a chromatic end blown flute. The Bulgarian kaval is made in three wooden parts (see Dobrogean caval ) and is found mainly in Thrace. Bulgarian kaval are played by placing the middle joints of all but the small finger of the right hand over the finger holes in the fashion of a bagpipe. It is thought that this instrument was brought to Bulgaria during the period of Ottoman Turkish rule.

A one piece instrument with a narrower bore than the Bulgarian type is found amongst the shepherds in Albania, Macedonia and rarely in Bulgaria  These are made as pairs to be played together by two musicians and are also known as dzamares (derived from the Arabic "zamara," meaning to blow or play) by Albanians and the Greeks, and chifte kavali (from Turkish for "double" ) by the Bulgarians. These kavals or dzamares are associated mainly with Albanians and Sarakatsani (Karakachani) semi-nomadic shepherds with a geographic nucleus in the mountain ranges extending from Kosovo (Shar range) through Western Macedonia and into Greece (the Pindus).

The paired kaval is also played by the Turkish Yürüks and the Slavic Miyaks. Yürüks of western Anatolia settled in the Skopje region at the end of the 14th century and were employed as soldiers, and later moved to the mountains north of Skopje. Miyaks inhabited villages along the river Radica, which runs parallel and close to the current Macedonian - Albanian border.

Paired kavals have been found in Bulgaria in the Rhodopes above Kavalla and in the Pirin Range and may have once been more common. These are not commonly found in Albania, Turkey, or among Sarakatsani in Bulgaria. This century the kaval has been associate with Slavic-Macedonian music, however, the instruments are actually still made by Albanians.

Many have suggested that these various long pipes known as kavals, cavals or dzamares were introduced by the Turkish during the period of Turkish occupation. However it is interesting to note that, with the exception of the Bulgarian kaval, the instrument exists mostly in the mountain areas populated by pastoral peoples, who were possibly remnants of the early Balkan peoples who lived in the area before the Turks, Slavs and even the Greeks.


Alexandru, T (1980), Romanian folk music, Musical publishing house, Bucharest


© Eliznik2005, First issue 2002, Last updated Mar-07