Bulgarian Singing

Tzvetanka Varimezova

We are so excited to welcome Tzvetanka Varimezova back to Balkanalia this year!

Tzvetanka was born in Pazardzhik in Bulgarian Thrace, and started singing and playing accordion at age 9. She went on to master tambura and piano, and studied folk music at Kotel High School for Folk Music and received a B.A. degree in choral conducting and folk instrument pedagogy from the Academy of Music and Dance in Plovdiv.

During the 1980s she directed the choir of a regional professional ensemble of folk song and dance in the town of Pazardzhik. During the 1990s she was a soloist and assistant choral director of a number of professional women’s choirs in Sofia, including the Bulgarian National Ensemble of Folk Song and Dance, founded by Filip Koutev.

She performed with Ensemble Trakiya for five years and conducted the Pazardzhik Ensemble choir for seven. In 1993 she began working with two Bulgarian-style choirs in Denmark, and also sang with Cosmic Voices from Bulgaria and Les Grands Voix Bulgares.

In addition, she has been working with choirs from around the world, including Denmark, France, Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Canada, Spain, and numerous choirs in the United States. She has many solo recordings to her name and is well known for her brilliant, high-pitched tone quality and her interpretations of the highly ornamented songs from her native Pazardzhik region, as well as from all the folk regions of Bulgaria.

Tzvetanka has received numerous recognitions, including in 2017 the “Voice of the Year” award and in 2018 the “Award for Lifetime Contribution to Bulgarian Folk Music” (both from the Annual Folk Music Awards in Bulgaria); the Honorary Badge of the Head of State from the President of Bulgaria for her significant contribution for the popularization of Bulgarian culture; and in 2021 the award from Ministry of Foreign Affairs for her significant contribution for the popularization of Bulgarian culture in the United State of America.

Macedonian Singing

Dragi Spasovski

Dragi learned to sing from his mother, whose sweet voice was the backdrop to his boyhood in Skopje. Her repertoire seemed limitless and her love of singing infused his life. Beginning in 1969 he recorded around 150 traditional, city and čalgija songs with Radio Skopje.

Dragi was a member of the Orce Nikolov Folk Dance Ensemble for many years, and in the early 70s he lived in Seattle and was a member of Koleda Folk Ensemble. In 2002 he returned to Seattle, where he has been a guest vocalist with Balkan Cabaret. He is active in a variety of musical venues, including Songs & Stories, New Land Choir and Cyril and Methodius Day.

In 1966, encouraged by his mother, Rajna Spasovska, who was already recording for the Macedonian National Radio, he made his first attempt at professional singing. He had a trial recording with Radio Skopje’s Izvoren Orkestar. At the first rehearsal with the orchestra, his life was totally changed. Here’s how he tells the story:

“The guys were rehearsing Čučuk and in a corner I was dancing for my own pleasure. At some point Pece Atanasovski saw me dancing and asked me, ‘Who do you dance with?,’ meaning, ‘Which dancing group do you belong to?’ That same evening he took me to a rehearsal with the Orce Nikolov group, and from then on my life was not the same. I danced and sang with the group many years. It was with them that I had my first chance to see and explore the rest of the world, to see places and meet people of different cultures.”

On one tour with the group, Dragi met some Americans, singers and dancers of the Koleda group from Seattle. In 1970 he joined them in Seattle and lived there six years.

In 1976 he went to Skopje and recorded intensively with all three radio orchestras. Singing became a very important part of his life. This was the period when he did most of his radio recordings, eventually completing over 100 songs for the National Radio of Macedonia.

Due to family reasons, Dragi had to retire from the folk music scene at the peak of his career. He did not resume singing professionally until he returned to Seattle for good in 2002. Since that time he has performed with many bands, including Dragi Mitev, Goran Alački, Stefče Stojkovski, David Bilides, Balkan Cabaret, and various other musicians associated with the EEFC. In 2007 Dragi completed a 3-CD and book project produced by Izvor Music, working with Goran Alački, Stefče Stojkovski and David Bilides. He currrently is working on a series of podcasts with David Bilides.

Most of the songs Dragi has recorded he learned from his mother, “songs which were inside of me since I was a child, songs which I shared with myself and others when I was happy and when I was sad. The song was, is, and will be a description of me, a picture of my soul.” The general editor of the Folk Department of Radio Skopje, in one of the programs featuring Dragi, said, “Dragi Spasovski did not find singing a main source of his existence, rather for him it was a cultural exchange.” To which Dragi adds, “Singing is the voice of my soul.”

Balkan Romani Singing

Carol Silverman

Carol Silverman has been involved with Balkan music and culture for over forty years as a researcher, teacher, performer, and activist. An award-winning Professor Emerita of cultural anthropology and folklore at the University of Oregon, she focuses on the relationship between music/dance, politics, ritual, gender, and human rights among Balkan Roma in diaspora. Her 2012 book Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora (Oxford), won the book prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology, and her 2021 book Balkanology (Bloomsbury) traces the politics and artistry of Bulgarian wedding musicians. Carol serves on the Board of Directors of Voice of Roma and is curator for Balkan music for the digital RomArchive.eu. As a vocalist and teacher of Balkan music, she toured internationally with the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble for over ten years and performed on several albums with the ensemble.

Balkan Romani songs offer a wealth of modes, melodies and meters. We will focus on style, vocal production, pronunciation, ornamentation, and phrasing, plus cultural context of the songs and performer biographies. Students will learn by ear, although Carol will distribute some notation. All levels are welcome.