A pinch of tradition: weaving Bulgarian folklore music in a fusion with other styles.
Competition to perform at these places is not made easier by programming and marketing practices that do not favour innovative musical styles or unknown and young talent.
"This is one of the advantages of a project like Fusion Academy; it opens up opportunities for bands that otherwise do not have too many chances to play," says Victor Lilov, manager of two of the bands who are to participate in the Sofia Fusion Rally on February 9 2010.
The two bands, Flamboura and Silver Beat Collective, represent different approaches to the fusion of Bulgarian traditional folklore music with other styles.
"The traditional audiences for rock and jazz music consider folklore something for the village. Those Bulgarian musicians who have worked or studied abroad, understand that using influences from Bulgarian folklore is a way to set themselves apart, to deal with competition at an international level," he says.
Abroad, originality is appreciated and weaving Bulgarian folk music influences into other styles of music is one way of achieving that.
The Sofia Fusion Rally is part of the Fusion Embassy project and is a competition in which five shortlisted bands are to perform two songs each: one original composition and an interpretation of the Bulgarian folk song Lele Svashka.
A professional jury, combined with an audience vote, will select the winner of the competition.
"In the end it is not that important who is going to win the competition, what is important is that they can measure each other's strengths and see where they stand. This is good for the band's motivation," Lilov says.
From Boys to Beats
Silver Beats Collective started in 2005 as Silver Boys Band. After a change in the band's lineup two years later, the musical style of the group focussed more on mixing elements of Bulgarian folk music with jazz.
The band's founder Sylvester Mateev, who comes from a family of musicians, started out as a performing musician at the age of nine, playing drums at weddings with his parents.
"At some point I decided to make a 180 degree turn; I wanted to play my own music," Mateev says. After the band's initial phase and the change in lineup, the music of the group got more shape. "After a year of blood, sweat and tears, we decided we needed a manager," Mateev says. When Lilov got a phone call from Mateev with the request to take on the band's management, he was a bit surprised. "We normally don't work with musicians that young. Sylvester was 17 at the time," Lilov said
A first meeting and a demo recording convinced Lilov. "They had really well-developed compositions that showed original, good ideas," he says.
Silver Beats Collective in its current lineup consists of Silvester Mateev on kaval, Valeria Stoilkova, vocals, Ivaylo Dimitrov on tambura, Danail Stefanov on bass, Tony Piperov on piano, Emil Mateev on percussion and Dean Iliev on drums. Most of the group's members went through formal musical education, specialising either in jazz or folklore music.
In its short existence, the band has made a name for itself, both inside Bulgaria and abroad. As recently as November 2009, the band toured Palestine. "In Palestine we played more folk-style songs. There's a lot of interest in Bulgarian folklore because of the many Palestinians who have studied in Bulgaria and the mixed marriages between Palestinians and Bulgarians who now live there," Mateev says. "Besides, I've always been attracted by Oriental and Middle Eastern music, so it feels sort of logical to perform there and thankfully I am given the opportunity," he says.
Flamboura takes a slightly different approach to re-inventing Bulgarian folklore. The group's singer, Velichka Chausheva, is of Karakachan origin. The Karakachani, or Sarakatsani in Greek, is a group of shepherds who live and travel with their livestock in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece and Macedonia.
Traditional Karakachan folklore is more Greek or Oriental in sound than other forms of Bulgarian folklore.
Flamboura, in Karachani dialect or Sarakatsanika, is the word for the person who carries the banner at the head of a traditional horo. "Traditionally someone seriously strong to be able to dance and carry a heavy banner," Lilov says.
Flamboura, the band, has a more traditional sound to their music, which combines Karakachan folklore with jazz.
Originally, Karakachan folklore is performed acapella, without the use of musical instruments, though gradually that tradition has changed and musical accompaniment has been introduced. The songs, mostly tied to household and traditional life of the Karakachani, were traditionally performed for different reasons, depending on topic and occasion
"This is a part of Bulgarian folklore you won't hear often even in Sofia," Lilov says. So far, the group has performed in a few clubs in the capital, but more performances are expected in coming months, including Plovdiv and the Beglika festival in the summer.
Flamboura's lineup for the performance during the Sofia Fusion Rally consists of Veli Chaushev on guitar and tambura, Velichka Chausheva, vocals and piano, Apostol Georgiev on clarinet and gaida and Genadii Rashkov on percussion.
Flamboura and Silver Beats Collective are only two of the five bands to compete on February 9 in the Sofia Live Club.
One of the other bands to perform in the Sofia Fusion is Kargona.
The band describes its music as a combination of jazz, chanson francaise and Bulgarian folklore.
"The chanson francaise influence happened almost by accident," says Kargona's frontman Vladimir Minev. "We were working on the melodies for one of our songs and it started to sound more and more like a French chanson." In the end, the group called in the help of a befriended singer who spoke French and asked her to write the lyrics in French.
Kargona's lineup consists of Vladimir Minev on keyboards, Atanas Hadjiev on clarinet and saxophone, Lazar Benov on drums, mixing and mastering, Dobri Paliev on percussion, Dimitar Karamfilov on double bass and Zdravko Tonkov on guitar.
The remaining two bands are Merudia, which describes its music as a mix of reggae and dub music, and Oratnitza, with a mix of tribal, trance and folklore.