Bulgarian Folk Singer from the 1930s - 1940s
They call the 1920s the “crazy years” – the years of jazz and love, beyond the memories of war and death and not yet jaded by the Great Depression and the next war. The Bulgarian “crazy years” came a decade later. The mid-1930s brought jazz from the West, and new fashionable dances (the tango and foxtrot), which were popularized on the radio and record players even in the most remote areas. The world music companies – Pathe, Columbia, His Masters Voice, Odeon, Parlophone – had already recorded Bulgarian singers and their repertoire. During that time, the Bulgarian music industry marked its beginning with a few local companies (Simonavia, Lifa, Arfa, Balkan, Mikrofon, Zenit), with the appearance of music stores, factories for records and record players. The people who had just started to “urbanize” had the means to purchase phonograph records and had time for entertainment. The expectation was that early Bulgarian folk music on the radio would stay close to tradition, be familiar to the ear, but also to be fashionable and cosmopolitan. At this time, the largest part of the Bulgarian music industry was allotted to folk and “schlager” music (city songs). The relationship between these two branches was not one of contrast and conflict, but rather of mutual cohesion. Schlager singers like Albert Pinkas and Asparuh Leshnikov included in their repertoire popular folk songs; folk singers Boris Mashalov and Atanaska Todorova performed not only old village songs, but also new foreign songs. The Western music fashion started to “Bulgarianize.” Early Bulgarian music (both broadcast and recorded) generated a new music idiom which lives to this day – the local ethnopop music (which is perhaps more Balkan, than strictly Bulgarian).
Ivanka Georgieva was one of the first stars of Bulgarian ethnopop music. At the end of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s, she recorded more than 200 songs for the Bulgarian music companies Orpheus-Simonavia, Arfa, London Record, Balkan and Patria. Most of her songs became well-known favorites among the city and village audiences. Her repertoire included old village songs (Braino le, Byala Maria, Kitchitse Buina Loboda), Macedonian village and city songs (Bog da ubie, Chakam Te Yanko), songs of the Renaissance (Tezhko Vino Daite to lyrics by Botev), songs from the city fair folklore (Zaplakala E Arestantska Maika, Padaneto na Odrin), newly written schlager songs about love and entertainment (V moita bedna staia, Studentki Sme Nie, Hey Drugari), and patriotic songs about the wars and the liberation of Macedonia and Dobrudzha (Gordei Se Maiko Bulgario, Barabana Bie Za Dobrudzha, Tam E Moita Rodina). She also included songs of the minorities (Dai Mi Chicho is Roma, Nanurka is Pomak, Lud Gidia is Vlach and Klezmer style). Ivanka Georgieva was one of the most well-known singers of hybrid music, combining Western dance forms with Balkan city traditions into new genres, such as “folk tango,” “folk foxtrot,” “folk waltz,” “oriental foxtrot,” and “oriental rap” (Cherno more, Az Simptia Si Imam, Zaboliaha Me Ochite, Krasna Deva, Aishe). It is not widely known that Ivanka Georgieva is the woman who first recorded some of the most popular Bulgarian songs today: Rayna Knyaginya (Koi Ushi Bairaka), Otvori Mi Byalo Lenche, Dremka Mi se Dreme, and others.
The album Koi Ushi Bairaka includes 16 of the most characteristic songs by Ivanka Georgieva. Our resources were the recordings preserved by her descendents and private collections. The spirit of time is not only captured in the pops and clicks of the old records, but also in the emotional performance by the singer. Her voice is a warm alto, but at times it sounds like lament. The weeping fiddle of Kostika and the gliding harmonies of Georgi Parashkevov-Mechkaria, who was the singer’s husband, evoke pain and sweetness. The solos of the popular clarinetists Ramadan and Gosho Lolov, who often accompanied the singer, are emotional and wild. This is extremely passionate music which often sounds very old-school, but is at the same time so human and emotional. Similar to the flamenco divas of Spain and the jazz singers of America, our Ivanka Georgieva possesses the duende – the emotion and deep expression – so rarely encountered nowadays.
Who was Ivanka Georgieva? How did it happen that we forgot her characteristic voice and songs? She was born Ivanka Dinolova in Vidin [Northwest Bulgaria] in 1903, of Vlach decent. She married the accordion and stand-up bass player Georgi Stanev, nicknamed Mechkaria (the Bear Wrestler, since he was a big guy and when he was young he was rumored to have wrestled a bear), with whom she spent her whole life, both on and off the stage. Her actual married name was Parashkevova, but she became known on records and booklets as Georgieva, “Georgi’s wife.” In 1928 she moved to Sofia. In the 1930s and 1940s, Ivanka and Georgi worked together in the Kostika Band, entertaining people at village celebrations, city fairs and music programs at popular clubs in Sofia, as well as the seaside. They traveled to Romania and Serbia. During that time, she released hundreds of records produced by the major music companies. The recordings took place in Prague, Leipzig and Vienna. After September 9, 1944 she suddenly disappeared and her songs were no longer aired on the radio; the state record company no longer endorsed her. Perhaps this was because she was not strictly a village singer and she brought with her some of the “lower” class flavor of Western and Balkan Oriental popular music.
Today Ivanka Georgieva is once more with us. Her voice is revived and reborn, thanks to meetings with her descendents, specialists, music collectors and mostly her grandson, Krasimir Parashkevov. With her voice and her songs, we are bringing back to life something that was forgotten, lost, unfinished. As living people, we owe a lot to the memory of those who preceded us. Performers like Ivanka Georgieva, who were cast aside for historical, aesthetic, political or other reasons. Some of our Bulgarian music, which was labeled unimportant by today’s culture, is still part of our lives and our history through large collections of old phonograph records.
Dr. Ventsislav Dimov, Senior Fellow, Institute for the Arts, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
Translated from Bulgarian by: Tzvety Weiner
Edited by: Margaret Loomis & Larry Weiner