Category Archives for "Culture"

Oct 19

Bulgarian Folk Music (part 2)

By Darina | Bulgarian Folklore , Culture

This is the second part of our article about Bulgarian Folk Music, written by the professional Bulgarian music therapist Darina Titkova. To see the the first part click here.

Many Bulgarian classical composers imbed the spirit of the traditional Bulgarian music into their vocal and instrumental pieces using folk melodies and rhythms from our traditional heritage. From the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman rule until today, numerous opera and symphonic compositions have been created in Bulgaria as well as a multitude of solo instrumental and vocal pieces. One of the most emblematic and beloved classical work is “Vardar Rhapsody”, named after the Bulgarian river with the same name – Vardar (Вардар)- and composed by the famous Bulgarian composer Pancho Vladigerov

Traditional Bulgarian music is loved all over the world. It is often present in movie scores and in the video game industry. For example, the Bulgarian song “Malka moma” (Малка мома) is included in the British hit movie Hummingbird (2013).

The song is written and performed by the Bulgarian singer of traditional songs Neli Andreeva, in collaboration with the composer Georgi Genov. It got over 1 million views on youtube in the first year and became so popular it soon drew the attention of the Japanese national TV. The television crew made a 2-hour documentary about Neli Andreeva, Georgi Genov and the song. According to them, “Malka moma” had become a very popular song in Japan.

This is not the first time Japan demonstrates interest in traditional Bulgarian music. In fact, Bulgarian choirs are often welcomed in Japan performing traditional folk repertoire. Several documentaries have been shot about the Bulgarian traditional music through the years. One of the most famous Bulgarian traditional choirs, the Cosmic voices of Bulgaria, has even performed in the Japanese composer Yoko Kanno’s debut studio album Song to Fly (1998). The song is called “Atomic bird”, author of the lyrics is Gabriela Robin. This piece is really interesting because it contains no original Bulgarian melody or even a single word in Bulgarian. The lyrics are made of random syllables with no meaning. Still it resonates with the spirit of Bulgarian traditions and captures the feeling of traditional Bulgarian music.

It seems that the Japanese are really fond of Bulgarian music which actually sounds similar to their own vocal traditions. Another Japanese composer, Kenji Kawai, who scored the famous science fiction anime Ghost in the Shell in 1995, made a beautiful mixture of an ancient Japanese wedding song and a Bulgarian harmony in his opening theme “Making of a Cyborg”. Although Japanese folk singers perform this stunning piece, their voices carry the Bulgarian traditions.

There’s some news for the video game fans too. Another famous Bulgarian choir ensemble, “The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices” has recorded pieces for the soundtrack of the survival horror video game Alone in the dark in 2008.

Actually, iTunes offers the whole album of 22 tracks featuring the Bulgarian female choir.

A Bulgarian song is also included in the album of the Norwegian composer Thomas J. Bergersen. The name of the song is “Rada” and the album is called “Illusions”, released in 2011.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this little concert of Bulgarian music (and its influence around the world). I will be happy to see your comments below. And last, just for fun, here’s a humorous song about young Bulgarian girl who doesn’t have an appropriate formal clothes to wear on the festive horo-dance.

Feb 05

Bulgarian Horo Dancing

By Darina | Bulgarian Folklore , Culture

The Bulgarian horo dance is a line dance with asymmetrical rhythm and complex repetitive step patterns. It is an integral part of the Bulgarian culture. We have danced horo for hundreds of years, it has been a part of our feasts, celebrations and even our mundane everyday moments. But in recent years, for the majority of people, the horo has become an older dance, reserved for weddings and national holidays.
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Aug 29

Bulgarian Chocolate

By Darina Rossier | Cuisine , Culture , History

Recently I found an interesting old advertisement of Bulgarian chocolate. It is from the blog Stara Sofia, which is devoted to the history of the Bulgarian capital, specifically after the liberation and before the communist regime. Here is the history nugget for today:

Here is what the advertisement says:

The only factory in Bulgaria for cocoa, chocolate and all kinds of candies


Recommends its produce, by the Governmental Laboratory and found – pure – natural and unlike the falsified European ones. The latest medical science states: “The chocolate is required for recovery of the health which is upset by one reason or another, because it contains all needed elements for renewing of the blood, if up to 200 grams are used daily.”

Prices are most advantageous, available for everyone.

Selling in big and small quantities. If desired it can be sent to the countryside too.

Isn’t that an amusing advertisement? According to the science from 1904 you can eat up to 200 grams of chocolate a day and it will only benefit your health. But this, of course, is only for the good Bulgarian chocolates, not the false European ones.

This peculiar ad inspired me to learn more about the time period and the chocolate. And I decided to share it with you.

Chocolate making was Velizar Pehev’s chosen trade after being an officer in the Bulgarian army. After a confrontation with King Ferdinand he lost his job. Even though he thought the European chocolates “fake”, Velizar learned to be a chocolatier in France, where he worked for a year in a chocolate factory. He was careful to learn and had the habit of taking notes all the time, which made his coworkers suspicious. They thought he was a spy for another factory and reported him to the boss. Pehev explained that he wants to introduce chocolate in Bulgaria and his honesty put him in his mates’ good graces. When he returned, he took with him some of his coworkers, who helped him establish his business. But more about him later, let’s get back to chocolate.

At the beginning of the 20th century, chocolate was a novelty in Bulgaria. It was considered a luxury and a lot of spiritual leaders at the time were declaring it to be “disgusting” and “food of the Devil”. The people who were brave enough to try this temptation often had to ask the chocolate maker “How do I eat this, with the shiny paper or not?”.

In the book My home town Sofia, Rayna Kostentseva shares her childhood memories. One of them is the reaction of her family when her godmother gave her chocolate for the first time:

“What can this wonder be!” I was thinking and everyone around me kept guessing. I unfolded carefully one of the blocks, trying not to tear the picture on it.
“Ha! Black” I cried, extremely surprised.
“Little soaps” added my mother.
I decided to lick one to make sure they really were soaps. When my tongue touched the block, I felt bittersweet taste.
“This is for food, mama!” I called as if I have discovered America.
“It cannot be!” my mother protested. “Don’t eat, wait until I try it first so you don’t poison yourself.”
When she tried the “soap”, she immediately threw it and went to wash her mouth.
“This is cat’s poo, get it out of here!”
When my godmother first ate one of these black “soaps” and explained what they were, I started eating them devouringly. After this case, my mother never tried chocolate in her life again.

So, when Pehev was starting his business, it was a risky and difficult venture. Despite the mistrust of banks, lack of market, competition from imported products and problems with deliveries, Bulgarians liked the chocolate and Pehev’s business flourished. Velizar became the main producer of chocolate in Bulgaria, making 2/3 of all cocoa products in Bulgaria. In the 30s, the chocolate made by Pehev took the first place in the international fairs in Bern, Paris and Vienna.

Pehev expanded his production and opened a modern-day factory in Svoge in 1922. After Velizar’s death in 1927, his son took over the business. The communist regime forcefully took over all private businesses and the factory in Svoge was no exception. The government renamed the factory “Republica” and continued production of sugary foods. If you go to Bulgaria today, you can try the Republica (Република) bars which are still sold in every store.

After the communism, Kraft Foods bought the factory and started producing chocolate Svoge (Своге). Their famous advertisement with the catchphrase “Bulgarian (chocolate), from Svoge” implied quality Bulgarian chocolate. It is, however, made with a Swiss recipe, so the old tradition of over-patriotic company’s advertisements continues.

Despite the foreign recipe Svoge is considered a very Bulgarian chocolate and I advise you to try it on your next visit. If you have a sweet tooth try also Suha pasta Balkan (суха паста Балкан) which at a certain point was also produced in Pehev’s factory.

Aug 12

Bulgarian Folklore: Talasuhm

By Darina Rossier | Bulgarian Folklore , Culture

talasuhmIn Bulgarian folklore Talasuhm is an evil spirit which haunts and protects buildings, bridges and fountains. It can take the appearance of a dog or a cat or even other domestic animals.

There are two ways a talasuhm can come into existence. One is when a person or a person’s shadow are built into a bridge, fountain or a building.


The ancient Bulgarians believed that a big building needs a sacrefice in order to be completed. The builders used to either add soemthing living in the foundations or built someone’s shadow. The animal or person’s shadow was then measured, its measurement put in a box which was then build in the foundations of the building. It was believed that the man, woman or animal who’s shadow was built will die in 40 days and the shadow will be turned into a talasuhm – protecting the building forever.

There are many old stories about people who died after their shadow was build which indicates how strong this belief was. The following story is worthy of our Bulgarian Horrible Histories series apart from the lack of historic evidence.

Kadin Bridge

Kadin Bridge

Legend tells us that the building process of Kadin bridge (Kadin Most, Koprivshtitsa | Кадин мост, Копривщица) was very difficult because whatever the builders did during the day was carried away by the violent waters of Struma river. The builders decided that in order to finish their project a sacrifice has to be made – one of their wives. They agreed that the first of their wives who comes at morning to bring them food will be sacrificed. Struma, the wife of the master builder Manol came first that day. She was build in the foundation of the bridge. Thus the name of the bridge – Kadin comes from the old Turkish word for “wife”.

The other way a talasuhm is created is by burying a treasure. The spirit comes to life when a sacrifice is made over the place where the treasure is buried. On certain holidays (Christmas, Gergiovden, Eniovden) blue flame burns over the buried treasure showing its location. The loot can be taken then if flour or cinder are sprinkled over the place. At morning, according to the kind of footprints in the flour it will be known what kind of sacrifice is needed for the talasuhm to release the treasure – animal or human. If no sacrifice is given the treasure hunter must fight the talasuhm until dawn, when the spirit looses its power.

If you are interested in Bulgarian folklore, feel free to also check the article about the alluring Samodiva.