Welcome to another instalment of our possible artists series! Quick pit-stop: we’ve done Russia, Italy, Finland and France to date; and today I have the pleasure to guide you through the musical highlights of one of my absolute favourite countries: Bulgaria! Hold on tight, I’m warning you: there’s gonna be a whole lot of fangirling in the next few paragraphs!!
I’m gonna start with a very brief introduction to the concept of chalga. A musical and cultural movement in Bulgaria which emerged into popular culture following the dissolution of the USSR, “chalga” is the collective term given to Bulgarian pop-folk music; similar to Serbian “turbofolk”, Greek “laïko” and Romanian “manele”. It is essentially a fusion of dance and pop music with traditional Bulgarian folk; which often culminates in a dance track set to an Eastern rhythm, featuring heavy use of folk instruments like the gadulka, the kaval and the gaida. In recent times, the highly sexualised lyrics and music videos have caused the genre to come under fire from key figures in the country, who claim it is projecting a negative image of Bulgarian culture to the international world. However, the saving grace with all this though, is that chalga is sung in Bulgarian… so from a Eurovision point of view, any controversial lyrics would slip under the radar of the majority of international listeners.
If you know anything about my musical tastes, then you’ll know that chalga is right down my street! I would confidently stake a claim to being the UK’s biggest chalga fan currently in existence (!) so it goes without saying that I’d love to see the genre on the Eurovision stage. But there are soooo many to choose from. The thing with chalga is that the majority of artists are females, who perform under a single name and sing in the typical deep-throated Balkan style, so to an outsider they can sound pretty similar to one another. However, if I had to pick just one, both as a personal favourite and the most suitable for ESC, there’s one name who stands out a mile above the rest…
Ladies and gentlemen; meet Anelia:
I wouldn’t hesitate to say that the above song “Slojno Nevuzmojno” – featured on her 2011 album “Igri Za Naprednali” – is in my all-time top 5 songs ever released. I mean, I can even sing along to THAT chorus, with all those syllables, and still get it just about accurate… that kinda proves how much I’ve listened to it! As a piece of music, it typifies the chalga genre, and whilst ethno-pop is something of a Eurovision staple, I would attest that true pop-folk has never yet featured on the Eurovision stage.
A song like this, with this kind of instrumentation, sung in Bulgarian, by a woman who is a huge star in her homeland… I honestly think this is their best shot at getting into their second final. It could be said that the time for this genre has been and gone, with the more ethnic songs suffering ignominious failure in Malmö; however for Bulgaria, all they need is a final. They’ve only been there once, plus that was a heart-wrenching six years ago. A late draw in the semi-final and this is through.
I would seriously recommend listening to Anelia’s summer smash of 2012 “Iako Mi Deistvash” if you like what you hear so far. However, were she to accept an invitation to do Eurovision, I have a feeling she would commercialise her sound a little more, in the hope of achieving a more pan-European appeal. Panic ye not though, for I reckon this would come out something like “Az I Ti” from earlier this year:
It’s different, yes. And it’s *technically* not chalga. Gone are the swung rhythms and folkloric instruments; this is a piece of top-notch euphoric trance, with a crazy dubstep-inspired middle-8 thrown in for good measure. But it’s still fabulous. And it’s still Anelia. There is not a single thing in the world that would make me happier than seeing Anelia representing her country at Eurovision.
However, I am trying to be realistic. She is one hell of a big name in Bulgaria – this may make her less likely to take the risk of a Eurovision participation. On the other hand, an ESC failure wouldn’t compromise her local following in the slightest, and she would stand to gain international recognition and a potentially larger fanbase. Sofi Marinova classes as a marginal chalga star to a certain extent, and her latest single release has been reported on by a number of ESC fansites. This to me says that even if Anelia didn’t set the scoreboard alight, there is a potential for lasting international exposure, which any artist would leap at the opportunity to acquire.
There are a myriad of lesser-known chalga stars to choose from, however; and were I to be tasked with choosing another one, I would opt for Cvetelina Yaneva, with something like this: her 2010 masterpiece “Za Kontakti”
Okay, so HOW PERFECT IS THAT HOOK!? Cvetelina, alongside Anelia, is one of the chalga stars whose voice deviates from your average Balkan chesty contralto, and as a result, her musical offerings generally spark more interest due to their originality. I remember the first time I heard this particular song, it was one of those moments when the sheer power of the melody just makes you go all fuzzy inside – such a pathetic description, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Pure eargasm right there.
If this style sounds familiar, it’s probably harking back to “Zaleilah”… owing to the fact that the two songs are by the same composer, Romanian Costi Ionita, who is the mastermind behind many a chalga hit.
This in itself suggests that the chalga world is open to the idea; alongside the fact that a number of chalga singers have attempted to represent the country in the past – Kali in 2005, Preslava in 2008, Gergana in 2009 and most recently Desislava, who was the favourite to win in 2012 with “Love Is Alive“. Aaaaand (yes, there’s more!) controversial chalga “king” Azis was one of Mariana Popova’s backing singers in Athens in 2006. There’s precedent for chalga at Eurovision, now all BNT needs to do is take the final step and internally select one of them. What are they waiting for!? 😀
If you have the time, why not have a listen to these other Bulgarian artists which we would both recommend too!
Alisia – “Blizo Do Men”
Djena – “Koi Me Sabra S Tebe”
Yanica – “Nalivai I Me Napivai”
Dimana – “Ne Me E Strah”
Andrea – “Dokrai”
Preslava – “Ako Shte Da Boli”
Emilia – “Iskash Li”
Teodora – “Ako Vdigna”
Galena – “Chakam Si Dozata”
Michael Romano from Australia: I actually think Bulgaria could reach the final if they sent her… I think the ethnic folk influences mixed with dubstep and dance-pop is a combination that could appeal to voters in both east and west. It’s worth a shot and it might work out for them, provided the juries don’t spoil it, as in recent years it has been the juries that have been Bulgaria’s downfall rather than the televoters.
Gianni Romanus from Iceland: nice but Azis would be a better choice hehehehhe
Jade Carrig from United Kingdom: She is actually one of my favourite artists from Bulgaria, I don’t see any chalga stars being in the ESC apart from Azis but the music she does I think will appeal to the ESC audiences if Bulgaria do ever send her.
Svana Lístí Agnarsdottir from Iceland: After I heard the video, I had to listen to it again because I was so drawn into it! Of course she’s a great choice 😀
Azis does seem to be the main name that gets regurgitated every year in connection with Bulgaria, but the chalga scene really does have so much more to offer than him, and Anelia in particular seems to be a popular suggestion judging by these views. So, will somebody from BNT ever read this and make an attempt to get her on board? They’d certainly make my entire year worthwhile if they did.
But do you agree? Feel free to comment your thoughts below! 🙂