Bulgaria 2008: The mixtape

A largish dose of musical tourism compiled from the CDs I bought in Bulgaria, plus web sources. I don't know about you, but I think this contains some real gems.

As an emblem for the compilation, it would be hard not to pick Bulgaria's brightest shining star, Azis. Somehow, this flamboyant and widely beloved performer and roma/gay rights activist manages to embody that perfect balance between the serious and the hedonistic that makes pop music brilliant.

1. Andrea & Costi - Samo Moi
2. Azis - Na Golo

The pop music of Bulgaria, as much as any in the Balkans, is torn between the cultures of east and west. The most popular genre itself has a dual identity, representing the strife towards the two extremes: it can be rendered as Eurovision-friendly "popfolk" or dangerously Romani/Turkish "chalga". And yet, as these two tracks illustrate, it's also always somehow both. Samo Moi may seem thoroughly westernised, with bits of reggaeton, house, R&B, hip-hop and ragga representing a far-off America, yet it has been thoroughly assimilated into a deeply balkanic structure. Na Golo may have set its sights east from the opening gong onwards, but it is just as much a modern DJ-driven track. It's also, very thoroughly, infused with the ideals of another genre: kyuchek.

3. Ramzi - Ramzi Ku4ek
It's got many spellings and it means many things. Kyuchek, kjochek, čoček, ku4ek, or most accurately кючек is, on the one hand, the easternmost outcropping of the Balkan Brass phenomenon. In the hands of various gypsy orchestras, it's a thoroughly modern hi-tech genre. Yet somehow, it's also the "Turkish" genre of Bulgaria, representing belly dance and Turkish-Bulgarian identity. Taken together with it's considerably less polished presentation compared to popfolk, it displays an astonishing variation of style elements and sub-genres. At this popular extreme, for instance, it is completely percussive.

4. Ork. Darik - Bim Bam
5. Orlin Pamukov - Daralej
6. Koka - Kokain Kiuchek
Most kyuchetsi, though, are instrumental. Here are three I've particularly taken a liking to, maybe 'cause I like the very strangled synth sound they all have in common and the deejay-like shouts of the last track.

7. Ork. Kitka - Bin Laden Kjochek
8. Dumi - Dzhet Bank Kredit
Vocal kyuchetsi tend to have an almost calypso-like topicality. Here are two that deal with current issues or personal topics. I intentionally left out the "crazy frog" kyuchek.

9. DJ Matry - Action Ku4ek (remix)
10. Sevced - Chokolada
11. Erik - 100 na 100
Of course, being two such similarly modern genres means pop-folk and kyuchek frequently mix. You get straightforward kyuchek remixes like DJ Matry's above. And you get the borderline cases: Sevced is a kyuchek artist (of Roma-Turkish origin) who has the production values and "Roma raggaton hip-hop" outlook rivalling any chalga. And Erik is marketed using the full popfolk slick machine yet can just as often sound very kyuchek. Or in this case manele - this is a cover of a Ionut Cercel song.

12. Raina & BO - Gulemi Dumi
13. Preslava - Novata Ti

Two of the biggest hits and two of the biggest stars of popfolk at the moment. It's interesting to note that almost all of the stars of the genre are, with the exception of some gay guys, women.

14. Teodora - Seks
15. Expose - Sexy Baby

And here is a potential explanation why: sex is a major topic and selling point of much of the genre. On the one hand, it's tempting to include these scantily-clad soft-porn women into the global league of leering, but there's a strength and self-confidence to a lot of the stars that's difficult to ignore.

16. Elena - Pyrvata Poslednata (DJ Cobricio 2008 Remix)
Bulgaria, believe it or not, also has an extremely strong house DJ culture, and you get plenty of popfolk remixes like this one. (Which 128 kbps doesn't do justice at all, couldn't find it at higher bitrates.) Deep Zone Project, this year's eurovision entrants, are also regular chalga remixers.

17. Erik - Nezakonno (DJ Peter Summer Tribal Remix)
18. Sofi Marinova & Ustata - Tolkova Silno (DJ M-Joy Reggaeton Remix)
The affection in the Balkans for reggaeton and Caribbean music in general apparently still surprises people. Well, as this compilation should make explicitly clear, the affinity seemingly goes beyond even the rhythmic similarities to kyuchek track 18 emphasizes. Besides these two remixes there are traces of something Caribbean in tracks 1, 8, 9 and 10 at least.

19. Ustata - Pusto No Ludo I Mlado
Marking the mixtape's transition from popfolk to hip-hop is Ustata, with a foot in both camps. This track is doubly interesting because it penetrates into the deeply problematic area of national styles and authenticity. Bulgarian nationalists hate chalga, passionately, because it's "Unbulgarian" (read: Roma and Turkish). Yet here Ustata is using the full set up of the wholesome traditional Bulgarian folk style, including a gaida and a female choir. Is he reaching out, mocking, or just picking up good sounds and not giving a fuck?

20. Misho Shamara - Tanzi Mrasni
21. Gamena ft. One Way - Rojden Den
22. Upsurt - 3 v 1
23. Ulichna Bolka - Razklati Gi
Finally, a smaller selection of Bulgarian hip-hop, which is generally strong in an international way. Misho Shamara, the strong man of Varna hip-hop, raps regularly in English, makes tracks featuring US artists and does A Milli remixes. Gamena, part of his stable, here features a German rapper. Upsurt are borderline comedy hip-hop, here in "discussion" with a journalist. Finally, my favourites are probably Ulichna Bolka, out of Burgas, whose record I bought on a whim. I know they're trying real hard to be hard and not pop-folk but don't tell me I'm hallucinating when I nevertheless hear kyuchek-like sensibilities deep in this...





Gavin said...

Thanks for this!

Birdseed said...

Actually, I'm a bit jealous of your Armenia trip - they had an Armenian cable channel on the hotel television and some of those videos/tracks kicked all Chalga's ass. That martial arts video in particular was ridiculously impressive at full res.

Anonymous said...