Rosmari Statelova

* Excerpt from the monograph Anthropology of Ethno-Pop Music, 2003, which is now under publication by Prosveta Publishing House.

KEY WORDS: musical anthropology, ethno-psychoanalysis, bulgarian musical culture, Balkan ethno-pop, pop-folk-hit, vulgar narrative


Already in my paper on Folk Music - the Essence of the Phenomenon and Its Definition (Statelova 1999), and in my study Experienced in Bulgaria: Rock, Pop, Folk 1990 – 1994 (Statelova 1995) I included in the scientific apparatus literature, which usually does not belong to bibliographies of scientific works, newspaper articles and articles of popular magazines, texts from radio and television broadcasts, and private oral statements. I will do the same now because of the topical nature of the phenomenon examined, which belongs to the subjects frequently discussed and written about, but in a brief and by-the-way manner. The inclusion is also methodologically determined: if I investigate the anthropologically negative discourse of ethno-pop music in Bulgaria, the text spaces of the press also become an area of investigation. My newspaper area in this case is first of all Kultura newspaper (partly Literaturen Vestnik newspaper and Sega newspaper), which I do not consider mass media, but rather regard it as an “intellectuals’ club” in the form of a weekly edition. (The reason for saying this is the assumption that Kultura newspaper is read and written by the same people, who communicate with each other by means of articles.)

What I am interested in within the space of the sophisticated journalism, seen as a field of talking about culture as quality of life in Bulgaria, is more specifically the talking about transition as something that happened to the country causing severe damages. In the mid-90-ies the vision of the people discussing the subject was still relatively relaxed: the Bulgarian society “has been roped in on poverty”1.  The description makes use of several degrees: increase (of morbidity), decrease (of employment), etc. But after so many years of transition the degrees gradually vanish substituted by pictures of declassifying, degrading and perishing. This does not happen like during revolutions and wars, in blood and violence, but speaking with the sociologist K. Kolev : “ A total of 65% has bought neither shoes nor clothes for the last two years. 54 % has not travelled between towns and villages. 20 % has not bought even a soap.”2  But the neatly formulated conclusions gradually give way as stylistics to the erotic influence of the lurid expressiveness  of the ethic-aesthetic “metaphors of tragedy, collapse, dismemberment, decay” (Dimitar Kamburov). In 2002 the Open Society Foundation financed the Society Condition study of Alpha Research sociological agency, whose results have been twice published in Kultura newspaper. According to the sociologist Zhivko Georgiev “A total of 76 % of the people have been both objectively and subjectively declassified, which has resulted in a social degradation… Their value vault loses its content, and so does their psychological resource for adequate reacting and coping.” Ivan Krastev comes to the pessimistic conclusion that “the elite does not need the people, who have fallen into a state of total exclusion and inertia.” There is an “absolute economisation of mass consciousness”, because of which “the new time” does not have a positive hero and does not produce positive attitudes in society. Vladislav Todorov adopts another type of metaphors, the one of the biological-physical decay. He refers to the fact that “a total of 60 % of the interviewed persons (i.e. 1975 persons of the adult population in the country – R. St.) do not have a child under the age of 18 in their families”, and on the other hand, a great number of children are abandoned despite them having parents living together. The moving forces in social consciousness are the fear of the future  and the nostalgia for the past. People have rights but the access to them costs an unimaginable amount of money. If they protest, it is not to change something, but preventing being deprived of something. Politicians “en bloc” are considered evil, the same way the Roma are; the trust in the institutions is extremely limited; the idea of success is regarded as unmoral, and the present condition of society is accepted not as a final, but as an unnatural one.3  The only constructive things are formulating local survival strategies and strong regionalising of society.

But let’s stop for a while. My main category generating the idea of the ethno-pop music as produced by a cultural matrix (Merriam 1964: VII) is the experiencing of reality: its living, its experiencing  and the further echo of the two. According to psychoanalysis, and more specifically to the method of the contemporary ethno-psychoanalysis, e.g. the one of Andreas Benz, who treats the problem of surviving (das Überleben) as a main scientific, practical and strategic issue for the people living in times of immense and multidimensional changes, the cultures work out special protecting mechanism for resisting and overcoming those processes disturbing the balance. According to Benz the mechanism inherent in the European culture manifests itself in organised forms of covering, making obscure and softening the substance of human reality, human nature and inclination to aggression and conflict generating – forms on all society levels (Benz 1997:11). I would quote here a formulation of Georgi Kapriev: “The West-European mankind does not have a valid language to express its extremes. That is why it is tabooing them.”4  The problem is (through the psycho- and ethno-analysis) to get into the troubling reality – like in an initiation process – discussing it. The cultural matrix  (after Meriam), where I see the present place of the Bulgarian ethno-pop music, is a matrix of public conversation, a poly-, dia- or monologue, currently taking place on different levels, in different forms and under the sign of various ways of thinking, worldviews, figurative parameters of imagination. All conversations say one and the same: what happens with the people right now. The talking discourses are realised parallelly to each other, they differ in style, but they have the common theme of confusion over the life today. In this way both Kultura newspaper and the ethno-pop activities (in their pure aspect) appear to me as modifications of a giant couch, where the speakers are talking – in a conflicting manner – being both analysts and patients. The intellectuals from Kultura newspaper speak with disgust. The others – “the common people” – we will talk about them later on. Now, we talk about those, who hold their pens / type on their PC keyboards, those, who feel themselves catalysed through such editions like Kultura newspaper, so that they express their attitude towards today’s Bulgaria with its rich and poor by means of the skilled language culture, those, who obey the law and those, who violate it, with the Bulgarians, Turks and Roma.

“Today, the regular Roma, Bulgarians and Turks are fried in the same socially red-hot class pan”, Rumen Leonidov says angrily  referring to the anti-Semitic publications. The number of our declassified countrymen, who have already reached the bottom, with respect to their everyday-life and being, has met the critical maximum. Their negative energy also seeks a way out. The Poet desires “drastic law repression” in order that “everything can start from the beginning”. Because “most of the today’s healthy and supposedly normal Bulgarians watch indifferently how the meaning of their lives melts away meaninglessly.” The guilty? “The political riff-raff, that leads us to this ordinary fascism”.5

One of the most stinging and original authors of Kultura, the architect Pavel Popov, on the occasion of the defeat of our national team at the 2001 football world cup  called the “we” a “immature, lazy, labile, sly, sentimentally self-pitying rabble, that hates talent and success  above all in the world.”6 The painter Andrej Lekarski living in Paris, but having also a studio in Sofia, says to Kultura: “…my studio was robbed out, two and a half tons of sculptures were stolen. All of it (product of many years of labour – R. St.) was melted in only one night to be sold as kilograms of metal…”7 The text illustrates the above conclusion of the empty value vault and the total economisation of consciousness. The desperate words of Kultura newspaper are also accomplished by the voice of Starshel (a satiric weekly – translator’s note) with its leader significantly called The Jolly Catastrophe. Cases of disgrace and ruin of young and old are figuratively described, the only proper reaction towards which according to the author is the “total chalga and belly dance”. Because of the fact that the first (the life in Bulgaria) is equal to the second (the chalga with belly dance). 8 (translators’ note: “chalga” is a term with negative connotations for a music genre established after 1989 in Bulgaria on the analogy of the Serbian and Turkish ethno-pop songs.)

In this way the pop-folk /”chalga”/ hit becomes a symbol of the ruin of all and everything. In a quite provoking article – an interview of Momchil Titsin with the avant-guards Boris Serginov and Svilen Stefanov – it is directly stated that: “In Bulgaria life copies the chalga, life is so banal and cynical that the way we talk about it (in the non-conventional action To Be Kicking Culture by Momchil Titsin and Svilen Stefanov) turns out to be mild and well-mannered despite the obscene words in the texts… We are decent people, and we are already fed up with the nation-wide brutalization.”9       
There are fears occurring that the comparison between “life” and “art” is about to result only in chalga. The Bulgarian blues songs about beer, for example, “maintain the rhythm of the digestion tract of the individual”, - Svilen Stefanov says -  “This is a kind of a plebeian feast of the lower body part, of the belly and the genitals. Exactly this becomes popular in Bulgaria, I would call it hippie-like table music.”10 How elegant, in my view, the same thing is expressed by Bachtin when in his book about Rabelais’ works he talks about “those body parts, where this thing is either open to the outer world or cuts into it …: a wide open mouth, the genitals, the breasts, the phallus, the fat belly, the nose…” (Bachtin 1978:40-41).

The film production suffers the most from this “mutra’s aesthetics” (translator’s note: “mutra” refers to the social status of an individual, who after being in wrestling or body building has become a wealthy representative of a semi-illegal grouping). As an example hereto can serve the fiercely written texts by the Kultura film editor Genoveva Dimitrova. She masters a beautiful figurative language and is keen on criticising our reality, which according to her is repulsive so that it “can drive you mad, can make you immigrate or just throw up”. But obviously, the author is much more angry about the films staring at this reality and duplicating it. “The Bulgarian silver screen reality is filled with the smell of cheap brandy – so that it can make you sick of stink, ugliness, nonsense… The invention of the film authors ends up in registration. Vulgar narrative…”11 So, it is a double disgust – a disgust both for reality and for art, which has stepped down too close to the everyday course of life. Another article depicts again our “mean reality” and the “mutras, primates and blondes”12, and a third material repeats it again – so that we gradually work out the formulation of the “mutra’s wave in the Bulgarian film”.13 In a conversation with the play-writer Vladimir Ganov (living in Canada since 1985 – R. St.) Dimitrova defines also the “chalga aesthetics”, in which our film production got stuck together with its “getting stuck in the sump of reality”. The two talking partners agree that “only choosing mutras as your characters, will not suffice your film to become a piece of art”. A moral message is lacking in such cases, the films are “empirical, too external, and are situated in a kind of a pre-aesthetics.”14

The vulgar narrative duplicating Bulgarian reality of the mid-90-ies till the present day manifests itself consciously  in the “mobile telephone novels” by the writer Hristo Kalchev (I refer to the trilogy Neron the Wolf, Caligula the Wild and The Messalina Cyclus, all three of them published in 1995 and met with great interest by the public.) According to the literary critic Simona Yankova “the reader meets the same stories he reads about every day in the newspaper criminal briefs and in the yellow press.” The genre “mobile telephone novel”15 is a mass culture product and is not defined as such via negationis. The author does not define his works as literature, but as a chronicle of time. Hristo Kalchev: “… somebody should have the courage to tell them (the people – R. St.) what was going on in this country…” I have called my works  ‘vulgar novels’, i.e. vulgar circumstances, vulgar language, vulgar action, vulgar prognoses. Everything there is vulgar. And I do not know…, if someday a critic will put those books together to call them “novels.”16

After 7 years the critique still denies to accept such a literature even as a mass literature calling it “realism and dirty grey”: “The writer assures you – Milena Kirova writes – that in this society, among the people you are living with, everything is dirty, corrupt and disgusting, that the real colour of life is mud-grey…”Philosophy” and aesthetics of the cesspool… When reading, you want to flee from yourself.”17

It is, as if there is no art sphere, which has not been affected by the explosion of the vulgar lower body part and by the perceived as repulsive closeness between the course of life and the art . The mild sorrow of Leon Daniel that “when the way of watching suffers, the theatre will also suffer”18, and the astonishment of the electronic music composer Vladimir Dzhambazov,  that feelings expressed in music become articles of trade19, are enriched mutually in lights and shades by the paroxysm of fury of another composer – Dragomir Yosifov, who protests against the intellectual top of the world of music being the ethno music of the Balkan Horses type (Balkan Horses is a transnational Balkan ethno-jazz project with changing performers), and against the official musical attitude defining “shyly-
vulgarly” the 7/8 measure as the “sign of the Bulgarian”.20 Everything becomes cheaper, everything degrades – “ the criminals become main characters of the newspaper story” (Georgi Lozanov)21, the television, when performing well, works for “making the public stupider”22, and, when performing poorly, gets down to the “very slime”. For example, a broadcast of this kind is The Whole King’s Army, Bulgarian National Television, which is the butt of Ave Ivanova’s attacks “it is the bottom”. She concludes: “It collects and sublimates all frustrations of the culture whirling in “this country”. Undisturbed, in slippers and worn out training suit, with misty smell of last night’s drunk and intercourse in the corner, this feacal culture radiates scenes, small and big screens. It sucks up, it sucks in, it wants to overcome you…”23 The following question arises naturally: If the “high” art and journalism are like this, so what can be the today chalga in Bulgaria like?

If we may treat the statements of the masters of cultural analysis and the rhetoric, presently introduced here as respondents, in the way of a possible psycho-gram of the trauma resulting from what happens now with the Bulgarian society, we could assume the following interpretation of the “disgust with the chalga” in the aspect of theorising. When saying that “life in Bulgaria duplicates the chalga”, the authors on the couch of the hypothetical ethno-psycho-analytical session conduct a  t r a n s f e r  in a psycho-analytical sense: the object of their aversion (“the reality, which is so unbearable that makes you throw up”) is so bad that it resembles the worst – the pop-folk-hit made by chalga stars like Kondjo or Azis. But when analysed, the “psycho-gram” sounds rather like this: the ethno-pop-hit is bad, because it depicts the state of affairs one-to-one, without the disgust of the intelligentsia, but “with the sentiment of the losers” (Ivan Krastev)24. Here we have a typical case of pars pro toto. Because, if the “mutra’s cinema” “registers” the repulsive reality, it does it with an additional dose of disgust splashed onto the screen. Compared to it, the infantile gay hit of the pop folk singer Asis is innocent in its shamelessness: it is the realia causing the disgust of the intellectuals. But as far as they are both the “patient with the trauma” and “the self-treating doctor”, the transfer does not stop with the aggressive criticism (“Repulsive chalga!”), but goes further to an insight, generating the above mentioned ambivalent attitude of the intellectuals towards the pop folk. The only nice character, for example, in the article of Vesselin Vesselinov About the Tomatoes and the Intellectuals (provoked by the discussion on the article of the political scientist Evgeni Daynov on the intellectual stratum of the Bulgarian postmodernists-deconstructivists in their role of explaining what is happening25), is called a bit roughly, but with a winking understanding: “the object is a vulgarian and listens to chalga”. The tomatoes he produces are no good, but at least he is not a hanger-on like so many intellectuals.26 When Mitko Novkov has to conclude that – in the interpretation of Slavi Trifonov’s Ku-Ku-Band (translator’s note: Slavi Trifonov is the host of a popular Bulgarian evening TV show)  - the pop folk “becomes a sign of the Bulgarian” and even in the “most representative Bulgarian music”27, he actually employs a procedure called by the psychoanalyst Benz emphasising the lesser evil to keep back the greater one. (Benz has in mind Freud’s emphasising of the significance of sexuality with the purpose of kindly keeping back the aggression standing behind the libido as mainly inherent in the human nature.) (Benz 1997:15) After the ambivalence of the vision about the “chalga both as shame and dignity”28, the next issue will concern its virtual role as sign of the “dominant culture in Bulgaria”29.


1 P. Kabakchieva, ?. Zheljazkova, D. Minev. Vav vprjaga na bednostta. Kultura, br. 14, 7 apr. 1995, s. 5. (P. Kabakchieva, M. Zhelyaskova, D. Minev. Roped in on Poverty. Kultura, issue 14, April 7, 1995).
2 Andrej Rajchev. Srednata klasa predi deseti. (The Middle Class before the Tenth.) Sega, September 29, 2002.
3 Marin Bodakov. Sastojanieto na obshtestvoto. Kultura , br. 35, 4 ??t.2002, s.13; Dimiter Kamburov. Sastojanie na obshtestvoto i lipsvashtata figura v kilima. Kultura, br. 40, 8 noemv. 2002, 10-11.(The Condition of Society. Kultura, issue 35, October 4, 2002, page 13; Dimitar Kamburov. The Condition of Society and the Missing Figure on the Carpet. Kultura, issue 40, November 8, 2002, 10-11).
4 Georgi Kapriev. Pismo do Dimitar Gochev.Kultura, br. 43, 30 noemv. 2001, 7.A Letter to Dimitar Gochev. Kultura, issue 36, October 19, 2001, page 1.
5 Rumen Leonidov. Protiven do dokazvane na obratnoto. Kultura, issue 17, 26 April 2002, p. 5 (Rumen Leonidov. Disgusting till proved the opposite).
6 Pavel Popov. 6 oktomvri. Kultura , br. 36, 19 okt. 2001, s. 1. (October 6. Kultura, issue 36, October 19, 2001, p. 1).
7 Diana Popova. Izkustvoto da se vgrazhda motoziklet. Razgovor s Andrej Lekarski. Kultura, br. 38, 25 okt. 2002, s.12 (The Art to Build in a Motorcycle. Conversation with Andrej Lekarski, Kulura, issue 38, October 25, 2002, p.12 ).
8 Krastjo Krastev. Veselata katastrofa. Starshel, br. 2929, 31 maj 2002, 1-2 (The Jolly Catastrophe. Starshel, issue 2929, May 31, 2002, 1-2).
9 Ravnodushniat grob na lirizite. Razgovor na Momchil Titsin s Boris Serginov i Svilen Stefanov. Literaturen vestnik, 29.11-5.12.2002, s. 7 (The Indifferent Grave of the Lyricists. Conversation Momchil Titsin with Boris Serginov i Svilen Stefanov, Literaturen vestnik, November 29-December 5, 2002, p.7).
10 Ibiden.
11 Genoveva Dimitrova. Smrad i yarost. Kultura, br. 11, 15 mart 2002, s. 5 (Genoveva Dimitrova. Stink and Fury, Kultura, issue 11, March 15, 2002, p. 5).
12 Genoveva Dimitrova. Krehko stabilizirane. Kultura, br. 39, 1 noemv. 2002, s. 5 (Genoveva Dimitrova. Fragile Stabilising. Kultura, issue 39, November 1, 2002, p. 5).
13 Genoveva Dimitrova. No napolovina. Kultura, br. 45, 6 dek. 2002, s. 5 (Genoveva Dimitrova. But at the half. Kultura, issue 45, December 6, 2002, p. 5).
14 Genoveva Dimitrova. “Zaminavam sas svito sartse”. Razgovor s Vladimir Ganev. Kultura, br. 41, 15 noemv. 2002, s. 5 (Genoveva Dimitrova. “I leave with a Sinking Heart”. Conversation with Vladimir Ganev. Kultura, issue 41, November 15, 2002, p. 5).
15 The term “mobile telephone novel” belongs to Simona Yankova.
16 Simona Yankova. Mobifonni romani. Kultura, br. 51/52, 20 dek. 1996, 9-12 (Mbile Telephone Novels. Kultura, issue 51/52, December 20, 1996, 9-12).
17 Milena Kirova. Realisam v mrasnosivo. Kultura, br. 40, 8 noem. 2002, s. 2 (Realism in Dirty-grey, issue 40, November 8, 200, p. 2 ).
18 “To…za teatara smart njama”. Intervju s Leon Daniel. Kultura, br. 11, 23 mart 2001, 10-11 (“There…Is no Death for the Theatre”. Interview with Leon Daniel. Kultura, issue. 11, March 23, 2001, 10-11).
19 Vladimir Dzhambazov. Sartseto zadalzhava. Kultura, br. 11, 23 mart 2001, s. 7 (The Heart Obliges. Kultura, issue. 11, March 23, 2001, p. 7).
20 Dragomir Yosifov. 7/8 i shte si… Kultura, br. 37, 26 okt. 2001, s. 9 (7/8 and you will be… Kultura, issue 37, October 26, 2001, p. 9).
21 Marin Bodakov. Kritika na bitovia razkaz. Kultura, br. 44, 29 noem. 2002, s. 8 (Criticism of Every-day narrative. Kultura,  issue 44, November 29, 2002, p. 8).
22 Dimitar Kamburov. Televisiata: mezhdu vtelenoto tjalo v kanala i vtalenata v bitvi gledka. Kultura, br. 4, 1 fevr. 2002, 10-11 (Television: Between the incorporated body in the channel and the view incorporated in everyday routines. Kulture, issue 4, February 1, 2002, 10-11).
23 Ave Ivanova. Gadosti, bez koito mozhem. Kultura, br. 46, 13 dek. 2002, s. 5 (Vilenesses We Can Do Without. Kultura, issue 46, December 13, 2002, p. 5).
24 Marin Bodakov. Sastoyanie na obstestvoto. Kultura, br. 35, 4 okt. 2002, s. 9 (State of Society. Kultura, issue 35, October 4, 2002, p. 9)
25 Evgeni Daynov. Shto e intelektualets i kakvi gi varshi po nashite zemi. Kultura, br. 35, 12 okt. 2001, 6—7 (What Is an Intellectual and What Does He Do in Our Country. Kultura, issue 35, October 12, 2001, 6-7 ).
26 Vesselin Vesselinov. Za domatite i intelektualtsite. Kultura, br. 37, 26 okt. 2001, s. 7 (About the tomatoes and the Intellectuals. Kultura, issue 37, October 26, 2001, p. 7).
27 Mitko Novkov. Opravdanie na chalgata. Kultura, br. 4, 2 fevr. 2001, s. 3 (Justification of the Chalga. Kultura, issue 4, February 2, 2001, p. 3).
28  Ibiden.
29 Marin Bodakov. Ot mjastoto. Kultura, br. 39, 1 noemv. 2002, s. 2 (From the Spot. Kultura, issue 39, November 1, 2002, p. 2).


Bachtin, Michael. 1978. The Works of François Rabelais and the Folklore Culture of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Sofia, Nauka i izkustvo.

Statelova, Rosmari. 1995. Experienced in Bulgaria. Rock, Pop, Folk 1990-1994. Sofia, Riva.
Statelova, Rosmari. 1999. Studies on Pop Music. Varna: Faculty of Art, Culture and Mass Comunications, Varna University.

Benz, Andreas. 1997. Der Überlebenskünstler. Drei Inszenierungen zur Überwindung eines Traumas. Hamburg, Eurpäische Verlaganstalt.

Merriam, Alan P. 1964. The Anthropology of Music. Northwesern University Press.