Now, this is really something completely different. Something we probably haven’t covered here yet and you most likely haven’t come across so far. This is neither dark folk nor neo folk, nothing related to a Northern tradition, this is pretty much traditional folk – traditional folk from the Balkans. While an effort has been made to include modern elements and to experiment a bit, perhaps in order to reach a wider audience, it is not so much as to give you any doubts about how to classify this. The choir dresses in traditional Bulgarian costumes for their shows, and the shows take place in concert halls or places far too well-lit for the average lover of underground music. However, I suggest you give this a listen anyway, precisely because you normally wouldn’t. You cannot call yourself a music aficionado and ignore a musical tradition. Also, so far, this is the only folk ensemble that features Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance.
The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices are an all-female choir dating back to the early 1950s. Once state funded and pushed as representatives of Bulgaria’s cultural heritage it gained admirers far outside its own country and region. Among the choir’s admirers were for example George Harrison, Frank Zappa, The Grateful Dead and, of course, Lisa Gerrard. In 1988, a rerelease of their first album even won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording. But right after that what was once the Eastern Block ceased to exist, governments changed, funding disappeared and the choir members had to find other jobs to support themselves. That’s why BooCheMish is the choir’s first album in two decades.
The choir’s music has been described as “the marriage of the avant-garde and the Middle Ages.” The conductor Dora Hristova says it is “a natural, piercing sound for the outdoors to carry across the fields or from hilltop to hilltop.” Instruments are used minimally. Most of the time you have multi-layer a capella arrangements. You can imagine it like this: different parts of the choir create the background music to which the main vocalist sings. On four tracks (Pora Sotunda, Unison, Shandai Ya and Mani Yanni) Lisa Gerrard, once a fan, now a part-time member, takes over that role.
Bulgaria, being a country in the Balkans, shares the region’s troubled history. The conflicting influences of the Slavs, the West and the Ottomans can be found in much of the region’s art, but they are maybe most evident in its traditional music. The album is consequently named after a flower that grows between solid rocks or in its cracks. Some of the albums tracks are fully original pieces, others are based on folklore songs and dances with original material added.
There are similar ensembles in every country of the Balkans, not necessarily all-female though. While their music sounds similar, every country has their own traditions and songs, and no other ensemble from the region has managed to attracted that much attention so far or to win over a world-famous vocalist like Lisa Gerrard.
My favourite track by far and the masterpiece of the album is Pora Sotunda, the second track. You absolutely need to give this a listen. If you don’t get goose bumps, there’s something wrong with you. Pora Sotunda is also the only track for which there is a video on YouTube. In black and white, it shows the last journey of an old man through a harsh, dry and rocky landscape who, as his last action, frees an imprisoned bird of prey.
There is no other track on the album that matches the otherworldly beauty of Pora Sotunda. But there is an audible pattern of melancholic or meditative tracks being followed by more rhythmic ones. Representative tracks would be Manni Yanni and Rano Ranila.
Music of rare beauty and harmony. For fans of Lisa Gerrard, Dead Can Dance, Kate Bush, Bjork, ambient and world music as well as those who enjoy folkloric vocals, choirs and opera.