Finding the core of alternative sound in Bulgarian folklore music (Fifth Simposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe, SWU “Neofit Rilski”, Blagoevgrad, 2-8 May 2016+post reflections)

Finding the core of alternative sound in Bulgarian folklore music (Fifth Simposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe, SWU “Neofit Rilski”, Blagoevgrad, 2-8 May 2016+post reflections)

by Gergana Rayzhekova

The current research and conclusions are based upon findings and long-term anthropological observations as well as in-depth interviews with musicians and other professionals in the music industry and is connected to the dissertation with a working title “Characteristic specificities of Bulgarian alternative music in music clubs” in Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria.


One of the answers that the research is going to provide is to the question: Where do we find Bulgarian alternative music today?

To shed light on the context where alternative music grows in Bulgaria it is necessary to introduce the science of suggestology and its pedagogical branch named Suggestopedia. In “Suggestopedia- desuggestive training. Communicative method on the level of the hidden reserves of the human mind” its founder Georgi Lozanov shows how people get influenced (suggested) subconsciously by certain psychological factors. These are first of all the factor of prestige, which can also be found mentioned by Bourdieu as “symbolic capital” which can also mutate into “symbolic violence”. Prestige is basically the power of one’s invisible suggested by the community authority which can influence major processes in an individual or group of people by simple acts of support whether spoken words, help, contribution or vice versa by suggesting failure and resulting in one. Other suggestive factors that are found not only in music but as a whole are paraconsciousness and peripheral perceptions. This relates to the way our brain processes information which is connected to taking into account all visual stimuli whether consciously or subconsciously introduced to us. Another suggestive factor that influences people is infantilisation or the way in which by gamifications can transform difficult tasks or messages into simple ones. Other terms connected to the psychological suggestive factors are also “concentrative pseudorelaxation”, “multiple personality”, Hawthorne effect, placebo effect and “Pygmalion in the classroom”. Based on his findings Lozanov comprises 7 laws of Suggestopedia which used in accordance can enhance suggestion and result in super fast learning. The laws are succinctly are 1) Love 2) Freedom 3) The certainty that something extraordinary is happening 4) The more information, the more, the faster, the faster 5) Whole as introduced from the part, part in the whole, the whole through the part 6) The Golden proportion 7) Classic art and aesthetics. All these psychological factors are more or less used in daily life and especially in the Bulgarian club scene which is why the club scene has started dominating the alternative music scene in Bulgaria and clubs dictate the rules nd bands rely on them rather than vice versa.


The situation with alternative music in Bulgaria post 1989 is connected to the change of several generations of musicians after the political changes. The harsh methods towards stopping cultural influences from the west formed major discrepancies resulting in a generation gap between musicians, an older generation unwilling and unable to pass their knowledge to the young ones, and a young generation disinterested in anything belonging to that particular period of time. During the communist regime the alternative brothers were largely prosecuted and punished which resulted in ‘exagerrated otherness’ that strengthened the community even more (Thornton, 1997: 200). After the communist regime fell these ‘identity projects’ continued in the club experience (Rief, 2009: 132) where another types of “emotional community” were born as groups of people who present themselves and feel together (Appadurai 1990). What however crumbled the music scene after freedom of expression was given to these emotional communities was the 3 exit escapes that many musicians took advantage of:

  • Physical emigration using tours, projects, foreign management, production etc.
  • Virtual emigration through the power of imagination i.e. bands imagining themselves in a different context by actively participating in tribute nights, cover nights, Seattle nights
  • Identity emigration that is done with the choice of English language when naming bands, clubs and bars, as a choice of songwriting language, which can be interpreted as another way of emigrating from the audience itself. (Rayzhekova 2015)

The English-Bulgarian language paradigm can be explained in this way: as John Locke argues words tend to ‘enchant’ people, suggest ideas and distance people from the truth about objects. In Saussure’s paradigm the use of English is the signifier i.e. the symbol, the form of expression. What English began to signify was the concept of otherness, of freedom. Thus English flooded the music scene which resulted in a prevailance of bands with English names. In the alternative scene active bands now are smallman, LaText, Apeman, Popara, Voyvoda, Macrophone, Musicoholics, Bears and Hunters, Urban Grey, Soundprophet, Der Hunds, No More Many More, Jin Monic, Comasummer, Nick Chongi, Balkansky, DozenFrogs, Urban Grey, Black Swells, Affection, Panic Station, D*Vine, Drynch, Jeremy?, Overgame, Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs, Hayes & Y, P.I.F. (Pioneers In Fashion), Babyface Clan, Oratnitza, Panickan Whyasker, Pyromania, Slang, Awake, Gravity Co, Wickeda. This trend spread also in the metal, metalcore, hardcore and neo-metal scene where bands have the following names: 40 Days Later, Alien Industry, Sepuko 6, Vendetta, Last Hope, Them Frequencies, Odd Crew, 8m/s, JFT, K.O.R.A., Downer Kill, Formless Reality, Booze Brothers, Skirt, Fyeld, O.H., PIRAHNA and others.


The English is not spoken by many Bulgarians so it can be viewed as the “stranger” in the music scene. If we quote Simmel ‘The stranger makes his appearance as a trader’ and ‘a trader is required only for goods produced outside the group’ (Simmel, 1971: 144). It suggests ‘both nearness and remoteness simultaneously’ (Simmel, 1971: 147). And what is more important “a love such as this has never existed before” and it includes ‘many possibilities of similarities’ (Simmel, 1971: 148) which takes us back to the first law of Suggestopedia which is unconditional, maybe in a way “strange love” to put it in Depeche Mode terms. What strengthens even more this extreme sway in mimicking the English music scene is the sexually explicit feminine pop-folk Bulgarian-sung scene which can be contradicted only with its extreme of masculine Western models entering the country through MTV and other media and by rudely imitating them. The example of imitation, doing covers and singing in English has produced a situation where other options of musical experience are almost absent and this ‘creates the intuitive sense of correctness and plausibility’. When we connect these psychological experiences with other suggestive factors such as multipersonality, prestige, peripheral perceptions, the Hawthorne and placebo effect (Rayzhekova 2015) we have a serious club suggestion where covers dominating a concert are interpreted as something quite acceptable and even obligatory. As Lozanov continues ‘it is the soil where suggestion grows’ (Lozanov, 2005: 54) and thus the cover value continues to spread and remain strong in the Bulgarian alternative scene.


As a beam of light there are 3 Bulgarian bands that refuse to grow in the imitation suggestive soil and are gaining popularity. These are the bands smallman, Oratnitza and Voyvoda. Although quite different in styles, ethno elements, forms of expression, visual aid and expressive attributes the three bands are simultaneous in their non-conformism attitude as far as following their own rules and not conforming to the club suggestion and club monopoly on the Bulgarian music scene. The band name Oratnitza “refers to a ritual cleansing by fire” and the style as the band explains is “Bulgarian folklore, Aboriginal motifs (didgeridoo), dub step, drum’n’bass and orthodox chanting.” The band has also coined the term “folktron” as a particle in space, which has the element of folk in it and that is an important part of their music. The band “smallman” declares its style as “alternative ambient metal band strongly impacted by the Balkans folklore” and that the core of the band lays in implementing the mysticism of the Bulgarian bagpipe into aggressive, slow and deep-sounding guitar and bass line.” Last but not least is the band Voyvoda that translates into revolutionary. Largely different from the previous bands its style is experimental Coldpunk/Post wave band from Sofia” which is “adding notes to Risto Silyano’s footsteps since 2007”. The way Voyvoda differs from the above mentioned bands smallman and Oratnitza is that Voyvoda uses folklore motifs not in their music but in their videos by using archaic recordings, also implementing monologues in old Bulgarian or lyrics and references to historical figures, places, forgotten traditions, names and revolutionaries. So in this sense their folklore usage is again more suggestive and implicit.


What is common among those 3 bands is that they all have their names in English, use traditional instruments, motifs, references, folklore. They have distinct logos, fan base and have no covers. Since they have escaped the pressure of the club scene and as a consequence of that they have more shows and performances abroad than in Bulgaria. Since they are all successful in the music scenes they inhabit abroad they are little by little invited into the club scene of Bulgaria and thus demonstrate the alternative of the alternative or to say in another way an alternative music without any effort to imitate the western alternative scene and no glorification of the cover and actually no tolerance at all and where the core has been found in traditional music and folklore making it a full circle back to the roots of Bulgarian authentic sound.


Настоящата научна статия е публикувана в Бюлетин 134 на Международния Комитет за Традиционна Музика към ЮНЕСКО, обобщаващ изводите след петия симпозиум на ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe в югозападен университет “Неофит Рилски”, Благоевград от 2-8 май 2016 г. 



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Locke, J. The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, (London: Rivington, 1824 12th ed.). Vol. 2. Retrieved 24.08.2015.

Lozanov, G. (2005). Suggestopedia – desuggestive teaching. Communicative method on the level of the hidden reserves of the human mind, Vienna.

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Rayzhekova, G. (2015, July 24). Clubs as contemporary media in Bulgaria. Rhetoric and Media, 

Rayzhekova, G. (2015). Linguistic and Semiotic Features of Music Clubs and Band Names in Bulgaria After 1989. US-China Foreign Language, Vol. 13, No 11, 761-771.

Rief, S. (2009). Club Cultures: Boundaries, Identities and Otherness. New York and Abingdon: Routledge, 132.

Simmel, G. (1971). On Individuality and Social Forms, Selected Writings Edited and with Introduction by Donald N. Levine. University of Chicago Press. Ghicago and London, pp. 143-149.

Statelova, R. (2011). During the years. Folklorization and identity, Musical practices in the serbs: yesterday and today. Sofia: Institute for art research.

Thornton, S. (1997). The Social Logic of Subcultural Capital, The Subcultures Reader. London & New York: Routledge, 200.

В Бюлетин 133 на Международния Комитет за Традиционна Музика към ЮНЕСКО присъства словото-рекапитулация на симпозиума. Словото може да прочетете тук: или в следващите редове:


Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe
by Gergana Rayzhekova and Vesna Karin

The 5th Symposium of the ICTM Study Group on Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe was organized by the ICTM National Committee for Bulgaria and the Faculty of Arts of the South-West University (SWU) “Neofit Rilski”, held from 2 to 8 May 2016 at the University Centre “Bachinovo” in Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria. The local organization committee, led by Ivanka Vlaeva, Ventsislav Dimov, and Lozanka Peycheva, truly contributed to making this a colourful and dynamic meeting both in working sessions and accompanying events. The programme committee (Carol Silverman, Iva Niemčić, Belma Kurtişoğlu, Ventsislav Dimov, Ardian Ahmedaja, and Selena Rakočević, Chair) arranged the papers into 15 sessions including two panels. In total, 39 papers were presented. These were centred around three main themes: (1) Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe in Post-1989 (14 presentations); (2) Representations of Music and Dance in Audiovisual Ethnographies in Southeastern Europe (9 presentations); and (3) Interpretations of Music and Dance in Myth and Ritual in the Music and Dance of Southeastern Europe (16 presentations). The business meeting of the Study Group was held on 5 May during which the book with proceedings of the 4th Symposium (edited by Liz Mellish, Nick Green, and Mirjana Zakić) was promoted. The organizers set plans for the preparation of the proceedings of this meeting, and discussed possible locations and dates for the next Study Group meeting in 2018. Reports were made on the activities of two Sub‐ Study Groups on Military Connection and Čoček & Çiftetelli. Elections were held for the position of Chair and Vice Chair and Velika Stoykova Serafimovska and Öcal Özbilgin were re-elected to these positions. Gergana Rayzhekova and Vesna Karin address below the events of this intensive and fruitful meeting. They are two young Study Group members who were invited by the Programme Committee to reflect after the closing of the symposium.

Reflections by Gergana Rayzhekova

The working sessions of the symposium were introduced and concluded by masquerade games presented by Lozanka Peycheva Anna Maria Bólya, drawing a circle like in Bulgarian embroidery, where a special theme is woven throughout, a theme that permeates myths, stories, rituals, subverts and inverts views, supporting other rituals to coexist. The embroidery was present on all printed materials to be our guide at the symposium and to bind us together. The ICTM embroidery can be expressed by playing on words mixing English and Bulgarian: I See Ti (and) Me, which literary means in English “I See You and Me”.

The opening
The ceremony began with official addresses from the Rector and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts of SWU “Neofit Rilski”, followed by greetings from the Study Group Chair and the Chair of the ICTM National Committee for Bulgaria, and a concert of traditional Bulgarian music under the supervision of the master folklore singer Binka Dobreva.
The symposium
Throughout the six days of the Symposium there were 39 presentations divided in panels. The conference moved in dichotomies: science and party, presenters and audience, food for thought and food for the body, sitting and walking, and what was happening
on the symposium stage and what was happening at the parties.

Behind the scenes and beyond

The context of social dancing/dancing in social contexts within the theme “Music and Dance in Southeastern Europe in Post-1989” was presented by 15 scholars. Among them a few should be singled out: Elsie Ivanchich Dunin’s overview of the Ederlezi celebration of the Romani population in Skopje; Carol Silverman’s overview of the religious and the not-so-religious Macedonian Muslim Romani families in New York City; and Daniela Nyberg’s explorations on specific body behaviour. The theme “Representations of Music and Dance in Audiovisual Ethnographies in Southeastern Europe” raised questions, such as Öcal Özbilgin’s deliberation as to whether we need methods to record or not record music and dance performances, and to know when to switch the camera with our own faces or feet, respectively. We, as
the eye of the camera, have the responsibility to remove fruitless meanings that have grown as the moss of misunderstandings or too convenient truths. The layers are removed by interviews and observations. Another challenge is overcoming the limits of our perception. The problems that ethnomusicology faces are, as Nick Green and I would argue, the paradox of the observer or that the eye of the observer always changes the equation. The question is, where you draw the line?

Presentations in the theme “Interpretations of Music and Dance in Myth and Ritual in the Music and Dance of Southeastern Europe” were heterogeneous and raised many questions: the rituals and the people performing them circle in a spiral in and out of the public, in and out of money, swaying to and fro, from modern to forgotten practices, and it is the eye of the ethnomusicologist whose responsibility is to always catch these shifts, although acting in a silent mode. As Velika Stojkova Serafimovska pointed out the rituals are living organisms growing, getting older, never getting younger, being trimmed and cut, neglected, commercialized, buried, resurrected, made into exclusive or inclusive practices.The night of Bulgarian Ethnomusicology The night of Bulgarian Ethnomusicology was a tribute to the first Bulgarian ethnomusicologist, Raina Katsarova, who devoted her life to gathering the ungatherable Bulgarian folklore heritage throughout the country. In her son’s eyes we saw the pride of a job well done. The tribute of the kaval player Tsviatko Blagoev was another diamond which came to light. A question was raised by his children, who asked all delegates to promote the knowledge gathered during the conference to a wider audience, to teach the audience how hard scientists and ethnomusicologists work (and party).

Choices must be made. The knowledge has been recorded for reference, emotion, and for any resurrection of a tradition to be able to happen. It is a constantly changing direction that is a curve, not a straight line. One choice is certainly made:

to continue with the research, fieldwork, ask people, interview, record,

dance, dance, dance,

sing sing, sing,

write, write, write.

Thankfully there are problems still to be solved.
Let the ritual, camera and pen be with you.