“Out of every 100 tracks, one is amazing,” says Mira Aroyo, who collects dozens of chalga compilations each time she visits Sofia in the hope of discovering
a rough diamond.
Mira is better known as a member of Ladytron, the dark electro-clash band that had us all dancing with the track “Seventeen” (and several more since). She is one of the band’s two sultry singers, standing front of stage, fixing the audience with an ice-cold stare. Her songs, sung in the Bulgarian language she was raised with, were the most dynamic and energetic during the concert B EAST attended in Berlin this May.
Mira’s Bulgarian roots are hidden behind the soft British accent she acquired after her family emigrated out of East Europe when she was ten years old, first to Israel then later to the UK. But her gorgeous dark features are a lasting reminder of her birthplace.
She returns to Bulgaria twice a year to visit relatives, to go skiing in the untouristed mountain ranges, and to retain a connection to the country, which is currently undergoing an unhealthy rapid redevelopment.
“Bulgaria is like Spain in the 70s,” she told B EAST, “Buildings are going up so fast but are not being finished properly. Older buildings are being left to waste. Beach resorts are built so badly that they destroy the beach. In the mountains, you have to walk through mud to get to your unfinished chalet.”
“You look around and see McDonalds and cheap tracksuits. That’s globalisation. Sofia is not my favourite city. It’s like East Berlin but less well maintained. The streets are quite dirty and poorly lit. There’s a lot of corruption.
I’m not painting a very nice picture of the country, but that’s just certain parts. The good part is the countryside and the people. The mountains, the small villages are just amazing. Plovdiv is beautiful, and so are many other smaller cities.
Mira retains a soft spot for Bulgarian cinema, which she hopes will be boosted by the recent influx of British and American film production. Drawn by the country’s beautiful landscape and cheap workforce, Bulgaria rivals Romania as the new eastern Hollywood hotspot. Her affection for Serbian film directors inspired her to start planning a Bulgarian film festival in London, but her work with Ladytron kept her from completing the project.
As for music, chalga remains the dominant force in popular culture. Mira hopes it will be refined to the point where it can one day be exported. When suggested that she should remix and release her favourite chalga tracks, she responded enthusiastically: “Yeah, it could be the next bit thing. Or the next small thing.”
If chalga ever does manage to breach Bulgaria’s borders, it wouldn’t be the first time the country’s music was heard abroad. Kate Bush already dipped into Bulgarian culture when she teamed up with Trio Bulgarka, three throat singers with a strong reputation in the world music scene, and Bulgarians are well represented in classical music, with performers in orchestras across the world.
And thanks to Mira, Bulgarian language is played in nightclubs around the world each time Ladytron gets an airing. She has sung ten tracks in Bulgarian across three albums, including their new record “Velocifero”, which was released in summer 2008.
Check out some of our favorite Chalga tracks here: