Friday, January 1, 2016

Chalga: Love it, but I need concerts at 8:30 or 10:00pm, not 1:30 or 2:00 am.

Chalga:  2015 is a lot different than 2000-2003, or even 2008

Happy New Year Everyone!!!   May 2016 bring you lots of joy and happiness.

Chalga can be a dirty word here in Bulgaria, and it is difficult for most foreigners to understand why.  By writing this blog, I am sure to tick off some Bulgarians who despise chalga, but oh well. Cry me a river.  Chalga is here, been here, and here to stay.  Deal with it.  I deal with crazy maniacs in fancy cars and 20 year cars trying to kill me on the road(some of them I am sure are my students' drivers) and Kanye West, so the cultured Bulgarians can deal with chalga music.

When one mentions they like chalga music, it creates such a commotion, especially when a foreigner says it.  Some Bulgarians are not as cultured if you like chalga, and somehow that is a bad thing.  I totally disagree.  Chalga was a democratic form of music the people wanted after communism.  There is a talk show host, Slavi Triffinov, who has a regular following, sings duets with chalga singers, and had a concert with over 70,000 people in September in the pouring rain, where every song sounded exactly the same.

This blog attempts to give people a window into what chalga actually is, and see how it has changed with time, if it has at all.   

What is Chalga?  Is Chalga part of the culture in Bulgaria?

According to the Wikipedias, chalga music is pop music with some sexually or inappropriate lyrics.  The songs usually originate somewhere in the Middle East, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, or Serbia, and are then copied by different artists into that language.  In Sofia, one can escape chalga music scene, whereas in small towns the only type of music played is chalga.  It's chalga or nothing.  So when I was a volunteer in Balchik, I adapted to my environment, and embraced chalga for what it was.  This was music the people wanted, so one had to pay attention to it to understand the culture better. 

Chalga was not fully part of the Bulgarian music scene much until after the fall of Communism in 1989, as Todor Zhivkov strongly felt the music was inferior to the Bulgarian traditional folk music (See anti-chalga peeps, I bet you didn't realize you had something you agreed with Todor Zhivkov on).  Some people reject chalga because they do not want to be reminded there is a Roma or Turkish/Middle Eastern influence in this country.  They're proud Bulgarians who talk about '500 years of Turkish Slavery'(which I could write a entire blog about how many times I heard this as a Peace Corps volunteer).  

Despite what some people think, chalga is part of the culture here in Bulgaria, whether one likes it or not.  There is a devoted following to the singers, and they can easily fill concert halls with their concerts.  Yeah, some people are like Todor Zhivkov, and refuse to be there when chalga is played. Some are indifferent to it, while some love and embrace chalga.

I fall into the last category, and embrace chalga.  Why?  Because I was taught to appreciate all music genres at Eastman when I played trumpet.  You just can't live in a bubble and like one genre of music is the advice my trumpet teachers told me.  Before then, I was just a fan of country and some rock music.  I learned there is great music in every genre, and that those people who limit themselves to a few genres are missing out on some wonderful musicians.  As a result, I'm the person up for any type of concert, Nutcracker with the Moscow ballet, J-Lo, ACDC, Kamelia, Elton John, Madonna, Garbage, Placebo, the Cranberries, 10,000 Maniacs, Simple Minds, Macy Gray, Tori Amos, and more.

George, who isn't really Bulgarian, appreciates chalga.  For his students, he made them study chalga and pop videos to see which singer had the most chalga elements.  The students studied all the videos and found that Britney Spears actually scored the highest points for her 'Work Bitch' video for the pop star who had the most chalga like elements.  For those people who detest chalga, I find it hysterical when they all jump up and dance to Byala Rosa.  This is a chalga song by Slavka Kachkeva, who is a one hit wonder on the chalga scene.  It has become a staple for Bulgarian folk songs, but it's truly a chalga songs.  Expat work peeps, you have heard this song danced to by lots of Bulgarians at our Christmas parties.  


What are the stereotypes of chalga musicians?

Well, there are a lot of stereotypes about chalga singers.  Some could be true for some of them, but these are stereotypes.  In writing this blog, I will use the word alleged numerous times.  Allegedly is enough for me to write this issue of the blog, so here are some of the alleged stereotypes of chalga singers:
  1. All of them have had some type of 'dental work' (plastic surgery) done, usually in the upper chest area.  Usually, the husband has paid for the 'dental work'.
  2. A lot of the chalga singers have 'businessmen' husbands who are either much older than them, or much larger in size than them.
  3. They can't really sing or dance, but are just pretty faces.
  4. They are vampires because all their concerts start at 1:30 or 2:00 am.  
  5. Some have husbands who are 'legitimate businessmen' with ties to the mafia and/or organized crime.  At the time, these men were the only people rich enough to afford such concerts, so it became a natural connection for these two groups of people to hook up. 
  6. You need to have a rich 'friend' to have you produce and promote the videos.
  7.  Their songs are all about sex, and provocative.
  8. The skimpier the outfit, the better.  
  9. If you're a male chalga singer, you're probably gay or 'bisexual', unless you're over 40, fat, and bald.
  10. You need a lot of expensive things in your videos to show how much wealth you have.  The bigger the better.  This fits the Bulgarian cultural mantra right now, in that some Bulgarians try to show off how much wealth they have.  

What is Chalga Like in 2015 compared to 2000?

There is a big difference between videos from 2000, 2003, 2008, or even 2012 compared to 2015.  Pop stars like J-Lo and Britney may be wearing a cool dress in their video, but sometimes the Bulgarian chalga stars wore the dress first.  It is as if chalga musicians told themselves, let's get a bit classier.  

A few of the well established singers now are part of the juries on shows such as Bulgarian Music Idol(American Idol), or The Voice or X Factor(cannot remember the name).  Below is a sampling of what the chalga videos by singers now and then, with commentary by me.  There are some that I missed, like Emanuela, Ivana, and Gloria, but there are so many to chose from, that one could write numerous blogs on chalga singers.  You're going to need some time to watch all of these videos, so take your time on this blog, as this one is a labor of love.  


Malina is one of my favorites, and I love her more than Gloria, so I will start with her.  Hard to believe this, but Malina is 47!!!!!  She's aged well, and probably has had a little bit of 'dental work' (aka plastic surgery).  She joined the chalga scene at a later age, which is highly unusual and they start out young.  Originally a dancer, she started to sing chalga in her 30s.  Just because she is older, this does not stop her from being provocative.   

Kaji mi da ili ne/Tell Me Yes or No:  

From what Matt calls the 'Golden Age of Chalga', Malina is all about America in this video, and even DJ Jerry is sporting a Dallas Cowboys jersey.  The setting for this video is low cost, but high cost at the time in 2001.  There weren't many private pools around, so this was a big deal.  DJ Jerry's attempt to create the perfect woman is Malina, who pretty much tells him no.  And wouldn't you?  The blue hair is appalling.  


The title of the video says it all, as this song is obviously about passion.  For those who don't know Bulgarian, you can figure out the rest.  This was made before 2007, and I would say around 2006.  In that time, it looks like Malina has had some 'enhancements' done to her upper chest area, and given an increase in the wardrobe budget.  However, Malina kept her 'dental work' classy and doesn't get breasts too big, but big enough.

Showing off the body is a prerequisite to any video or concert during this time, and will make ISIS fighters get rid of their goats if they watch this video.  With this video, has Malina doing a live concert, which was shown on BTV.  From the video at the 1:50 mark, you can see Malina gives Shakira a run for her money from the drum and hip shaking solo.  From the reaction from the crowd, it's obvious this song is popular, too.  

Pri Teb Mi E Sartseto/My Heart is with You:

This video is from 2015, and the budget for the video is a lot more.  Designer clothes, shot in Portugal, this video is the standard of chalga in 2015.  Classier and elegant, the songs still talk about love, but she's has more clothes on now, and not as provocative at 2006.  Malina no longer needs to do any Shakira impressions. The all white outfit shows off her figure, but there is a lot less skin shown.  This video being shot in Portugal is a nice new trend of Bulgarians travelling about the world, and it's not uncommon for chalga video stations to play a song with places people can visit throughout Europe.   


No one pushes the envelope more than Aziz.  Aziz is a pop icon, and truly a unique person who has indirectly and directly helped moved Bulgarians out of the conservative cultural shell from communism.  He is a gay Roma chalga singer who likes to cross dress, wear lots of make up, dye his hair different colors, but keep the beard while wearing the women's clothing.  Conchita Wurst  has nothing on Aziz, who could out sing that diva anytime, anyplace.  At first, Aziz was shunned as a joke, but he voice, money, and music made him a force in chalga music.  Any singer after 2003 did a duet with Aziz to give them a legit status.  Always controversial and pushing the boundaries, Aziz is a personal favorite of mine for what he did just to get people talking.

Napipai Go/Touch it

One of Aziz's first videos, there is a small glimpse of what the man could accomplish.  He pushes the envelope to be ambiguous gay, dying his hair blond, but keeping the beard black.  He has ladies dancing around him, but the rest of the video is low budget, and the fake flames are just awesome looking at them 14 years later.  There were questions on whether Aziz was really gay during this time.  Some people believed it and didn't think it was a big deal, some people giggled about it, and some people were shocked to hear there might be a gay chalga singer.  


There are lots of videos of Aziz pushing the envelope with gay themed videos, but Hop in 2011 takes the cake.  As you can see, he gives the Russians who hate gays a fantastic response to his previous videos.  Why, it's a Russian gay sauna theme that goes overboard, but has over 11 million hits on Youtube.  The communist hammer and sickle are prominent, the is the 'Red Hair' phase of Aziz, much like Pablo Picasso.  Just in case you didn't know Bulgarian, Aziz throws in the words lover and fucker to make sure you know what this video is about.

St. Tropez:

Done in 2012, this is also part of the Aziz 'Red Hair phase', but the text of the song is very mild.  Aziz is only singing about going to St. Tropez and the beach.   Instead, his voice and outfits are the highlights of this video, which has over 13 million hits on Youtube.  The red wig with the British flag shirt, and the studded ear muffs are probably my favorites of this video.


In this video from 2015, Aziz has sold out and gone mainstream.  Gone are all the dresses, dyed hair, and provocative statements.  Now, you see Aziz just being Aziz wearing regular clothes, but this video this has 12 million hits, proving going mainstream didn't hurt Mr. Aziz.  Allegedly, Aziz deposed of all the controversies and clothes because he has a child now, and doesn't want his child see him dressed up like that.  I give you that Aziz, but how are you going to explain Hop and so many other videos to the kid?


Fiki is the son of Toni Staroro, and don't let the beard fool you for what his age actually is.  Fiki is about 20 years old on a good day, and he's probably one of the few straight chalga singers under 25 on the scene.  Most straight chalga singers need to be over 30, and not that great looking, but not Fiki.  Because he's straight, young, and good looking, Fiki is a hot commodity on the chalga scene.  His videos are much different than what a lot of male singers put out though.  

The two videos for your viewing are Gore Dolo and Dzale.  For the Gore Dolo song, it is classy with Fiki in a tuxedo and features Preslava, a pop icon, but it is hysterical at the same time.  Pretty much, he's telling the woman she's beautiful and scandolous, but he asks the woman can she cook half way decent and is she can clean.  If so, then she can have him.  

The Dzhale video has Fiki pretty much taking over the Paradise Mall during the middle of the night, and looks nothing like a chalga video.  It's a catchy song to make the young girls fall in love with him. He's had about 5-6 songs come out the past 18 months, and there's no slowing down for this one.  As the only truly straight, cute, good looking guy under 30, Fiki is going to have a lot of business in the years to come.  

Fiki featuring Preslava:  Gore/Dolo

Fiki:  Dzhale


She started out innocent, but probably one of the most provocative female singers out there.  Kamelia sticks out for many reasons, mostly because she is one of the few female singers who didn't marry a 'businessman' who was 20-30 years older than she was.  In fact, she does the opposite and is more of a cougar by dating a younger man.  She has appeared in the Bulgarian version of Playboy at least three times, and isn't afraid to use her body and voice to push sexual boundaries in her video.  In a country where it's not uncommon for 55-60 year old successful men to have 20-25 year old girlfriend and wives, I applaud her for doing the unconventional.  

Ogun Momiche:  

One of her first big hits, ogun momiche means the Fire Girl.  In this video, Kamelia is much younger, has no dental work done, and only has one outfit.  The video is low budget and done is some night club, or possibly on some set.  As you can see, the budget allows for some smoke a one male dancer who can't quite dance in sync with Kamelia.  Standard fare for the 1999/2000 era.


You don't need to know Bulgarian to know what this song is all about.  The song is pretty much talking about having sex, and is extremely provocative, which is what Kamelia is known for.  From about 2008/2009, this video won Music Video of the Year.  Now, you have to realize she's got a disadvantage because Kamelia does not have a rich benefactor sponsoring her videos, which most of the female stars have.  There are a lot of differences since 1999/2000.  There are been a lot of dental work done, as the pasties are probably the size of her original breasts.  Instead of one outfit, there are multiple provocative outfits, most of which I'm certain women would say are highly functional.  No way.  In fact, there is a lot If anyone can figure out why the first few seconds has a Holy Bible, I'm all ears.



Made in 2015, Kamelia keeps it real and bucks the trend with the video.  She is provocative as ever with the wardrobe choices, whips, and other SM things going on in the apartment with the male model in this video.  Definitely unique.  While other singers have gone mainstream, Kamelia is keeping it 100.  This video is also equal opportunity, as there is a hot guy in the video too.  Kamelia is all about having cute men in her videos.  

Preslava Novata ti:

This video has been around since about 2008/2009.  Preslava is one of the new chalga icons, and is a judge on one of the music talent shows.  For Peace Corps peeps, she entered the chalga scene well after we left in 2003.

True fact, I walked by Preslava without knowing who she was in Plovdiv and George yelled at me for not know her.  Oh, the song.  Novata ti is a very catchy song about her ex-boyfriend wishing she had her instead of his current girlfriend.  And pretty much, she tells him to 'suck it' and wishes to kill the new girlfriend.  No, she's not jealous one bit in this song. 

Kati:  Na Yrok/The Lesson

In 2000, there was room for a chalga singer like Kati, someone who couldn't sing.  Kati filled this niche in chalga.  Could she sing?  No.  Could she dance?  Sort of.  What was her allure to have people watch her?  I don't quite know.  Were her videos big budget?  No way.  On the contrary, there is one video of her in a park on a bicycle.  

Na Yrok is probably one of the best of the Kati era, and she didn't last much after she sang her ballad and people found out she indeed had a terrible voice.  She has 1-2 hits, and disappeared completely from the music scene.  We saw her once a few years back at the Mall of Sofia, and Owen got her autograph.  She had not changed much, so here's hoping she got her sugar daddy to take care of her.  

Milko Kalaydzhiev:

Kude Si Batko

If you're a feminist, you're probably not going to like Milko.  Milko is 64 now, and a legend in chalga.  He's made a career and raised three kids off of making this music.  This song isn't exactly empowering the female identity.  This is a time travel video, where Milko is a caveman, living in the 16th century, and then present day.  In each case, there are five women around him who need a home, and he's saying it's not easy to be a man with all the beautiful women all around him.  So, he just takes all of them so they're not homeless.  At one point in the video, he has five girls locked in a cage singing to him "Kude si Batko?  Kude si batko?  Da te peem sladko, sladko"  (Where are you big brother? 2x  So we can sing sweetly to you).  

In terms of the cost of this video, it's a bigger budget for Bulgaria in 2001.  There's a caveman scene, traditional outfits, a large birdcage, and a disco scene.  There's a lot of costume changes, the girls can dance somewhat, and much different than Kamelia's disco song.  

Vechno S Men Budi:

This video is from 2015, and Milko really hasn't changed his tune on women.  He's older, but can still get videos made.  This video is low budget though, and cost little.  The mehana he is using has no one in it except for the band, his girl he's trying to woo, plus a few extras at times.  The wine might have been put back in the bottle after shooting.  The video is shot in the autumn, obviously no one is at the pool and there are tons of leaves in it, which doesn't stop Milko and the band from using it as a background scene.  The gross part is one of the pools has brown water in it, and Milko's standing in front of it as if it's no big deal.  The band might be in the video for free publicity to know they exist for future gigs.  The girl's outfit doesn't cost much, she is at least 30 years younger than Milko, and all he's allowed to do is give her a hug.  He's still coming out with a video every now and then(not so easy for an older man in chalga) and had a New Year's concert in Zlatograd, so you got to give him credit for trying to keep it 100 at 64 and making a living.

Maria Koldea E:  

This is the singer who has a child at our school, and recently did this video with her daughter.  It's cute, and they both look really sweet wearing Dior, Versace, or whatever the latest fashion designers are, except for H & M.  Gary Foster, I think you should play background for them in their next video with your guitar.  

Desi Slava:  

Normally, Desislava is one word, but I have separated the name on purpose.  During one interview, the reporter asked Desi Slava why there was break in her name, and she replied that one breast was named Desi, and the other was Slava.  Therefore, it's Desi Slava people. 

Desi Slava is probably one of the chalga singers with the best voices.  She can actually sing, and sang tranditional folk music with her town before becoming a chalga singer. Desi Slava is also a very complicated figure in chalga, for the following reasons:

1.  She can really sing folk music.
2.  She had a not so great relationship with a Bulgarian living in the U.S., who allegedly was part of the Bulgarian restaurant in Chicago.  They were on and off, had a kid, married for a year, and allegedly he wasn't the nicest person.  
3.  There is a period where Desi Slava rejects chalga music and considers herself a pop singer from about 2007-2013/2014.  She refuses to acknowledge her chalga background, and experiments with lots of music styles.  It seems to be a weird period of time, as none of the pop stars acknowledge she's a pop star, and there's no real money in Bulgarian pop or rock music.  She creates her own T.V. station to promote new artists, but sells it to be more invested in music.  You wonder where she got the money for the T.V. station, and so do I.  
4.  Unfortunately, none of those music styles pay off, so Desi Slava goes back to being a chalga singer in about 2013/2014 very quietly to make money.  Why?  Becuase there's money in chalga music, not in being a Bulgarian pop singer.  The chalga public embrace her, but there's an asterik now to her name in anything after 2013 in chalga after she rejected chalga.
5.  Allegedly, Kamelia and Desi Slava cannot stand each other, due to alleged time they spent together in Scandanavia.  Let's just say they know too much about each other from their time in the 90s in Scandanavia.  

Beli Noshti/White Nights:  

A chalga song that is more a mainstream pop hit now, and it talks about waiting for love, without being provocative.  This is a great song, and definitely highlights the fact she can sing.  In her videos, Desi Slava doesn't wear crazy provocative outfits showing her moneymakers, but instead keeps it classly.  There is no dental work, and her hair is her natural color.  This is probably one of my favorite songs to listen to from any genre of music.   

Za Vinagi/Forever:

This song is from Desi Slava's time in the U.S., and showcases her relationship with her fiance/husband, which obviously did not last forever, unlike what the song states.  This video is more what you could do if you spliced a whole bunch of home videos into a music video with a woman wearing a cat inspired leopard print.  Obviously, someone thought this would be a great idea for a video, which I am sure Desi Slava isn't really enjoying years later.  Great song, not so great home video reminders for her.  Someone is research and development probably should have counseled her team to do a different version of this video. 

Desi Slava Folk Singer:

In 2008, this is the official break where she decides to delve into other music genres to see how popular she can be.  There is an unofficial Spanish album, which doesn't do so well.  There are lots of appearances to prove she is not a chalga singer, such as this one on NOVA TV.  Yes, the girl can really sing and proves she's no Madonna or Kati, but will anyone want to see her do anything but chalga?  Answer, no.  

2015 Smeni Paralata si/Change Your Password: Chalga with a Twist

Now, Desi has returned to chalga, and all is forgiven.  She is on the big stage at the Payner anniversary concert, and making money again thanks to the chalga concerts.  This video has all the things a chalga video needs:  expensive car, dancers, cool outfits.  In this song, she keeps it classy, but throws in a few non-chalga elements into the song.  She may have to be a chalga singer to make money, but it doesn't mean that she won't add a few elements from other genres of music in her music. 

2012 Eurovision Scandal of Desi Slava vs. Sofi Marinova Debunked:

In 2012, Desi Slava attempted to participate in the 2012 Eurovision Contest in Azerbaijan, which leads to real controversy.  In the semi-final, her song is given first place by the jury and the audience.  However, in the final, Desi Slava is destroyed by Sofi Marinova, a gypsy chalga singer who can really sing too, possibly has a better voice, and has a loyal Roma following who voted for her to win the contest.  This ticked off the semi-final jury, because they couldn't believe Sofi Marinova beat Desi Slava, who they thought would easily cruise to victory in the final.  They claimed the vote was rigged, but NOT SO FAST.    

My opinion:  I think Desi's background dancers cost her the chance to go to Azerbaijan, and there's no loyal Roma following.  Both Sofi and Desi Slava are great singers, but could you honestly say the background dancers are going to vault Desi Slava to Eurovision greatness?  No way.  Was there probably some prejudice because Sofi was Roma?  Some, but who knows how much, because Desi is singing in English, while Sofi is singing mostly in Bulgarian.  It also helped Sofi has a devoted Roma following who voted for her in the final, saving their money.  

Which brings me to those dancers.  They're just wrong for the song, look completely comical on stage, don't fit the song, who knows what the hell they're doing there on stage wearing those red onesies, and is what cost Desi Slava the chance at the final and the chance to sing at Eurovision. The public spoke loud and clear, and Sofi Marinova was the person who they sent to the Eurovision finals.   

Sofi Marinova:  

I am glad she got to the final.  Totally deserved it, and robbed of a place in the Eurovision finals.  In Bulgaria, the people chose this song and she beat Desi Slava by over 3,000 votes in the final.  She is a great singer in her own right, but gets  a mark against her in chalga because she is Roma.  

Edin Jivot Ne Stigna/ One Life is Not Enough 2003:

Sofi was one of Aziz's singing with his music label, who could actually sing.  She gets held back sadly sometimes because she is Roma.  In this video, I think Aziz has more makeup on than her at the club they were singing in.  She is a staple of the Sunny music label.  Who knows what will happen to Sunny when she leaves.  

Eurovision Final 2012 Love Unlimited:  The Song which rightfully beat Desi Slava

Pretty much, it helped Sofi didn't have those dancers on stage, and she had a devoted following.  Too bad they couldn't vote for her in the Eurovision contest.  Bulgaria gets stabbed in the back by all its neighbors in the Eurovision voting.  Plus, it doesn't help that Bulgaria actually sends accomplished singers, and instead you need to send a cute 16-19 year old to sing a song in English to win the contest or place in the top 10.  

Conclusion with Tsvetelina Yaneva:

For straight men, they totally loved this blog, as all you need to do is turn off the sound and watch the video to see some beautiful women strut their stuff.  Who knows where chalga is headed in 2016 and beyond.  But one thing is true.  Chalga is here to stay, and is changing with the times.  Videos are getting made by the new generation of stars who should thank their elders for paving the way for them.  The last video is is from Tsvetalina Yaneva, whose fiance just happens to be Delyan Peevski.  

Who is Delyan Peevski? probably one of the most controversial MPs in parliament, who caused all the protests in 2013 when it was reported he was going to be in charge of the equivalent of the U.S. CIA and FBI.  His family has lots of shady business dealings, and it is rumored his family brought down a bank last year and caused a banking crisis.  

By watching the video, you would never know her fiance is about 100 kg more than her, and has ties to tons of shady business dealings around the country.  This article tells you a little bit about his actions in Bulgaria which have made him infamous.

Some things will never change in chalga, but  that's what makes it so entertaining.  My only wish is that they would have earlier concerts than 1:30 or 2:00 on a Wednesday night.   I would love to see them live singing, but the concert start times just aren't good for me working with my students.