Galina Durmushliyska,
The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria
(ARC, 2002)

This is the second solo album from Bulgaria's most celebrated female vocalist of the moment, Galina Durmushliyska. Born in 1959 in the Black Sea region of Dobrudzha, Galina has been a professional singer since 1979. First performing for more than 10 years with the State Ensemble Dobrudzha, she then founded Trio Dobrudzhanka, acted as lead singer of Kalima Vocal Group and soprano in the Bulgarian Vocal Trio.

Galina specializes in folk songs from her native Dobrudzha region, located on the Bulgarian-Romanian border. Most she learned as a child from her grandmother and aunt. Occasionally she also covers music from the northern Turnovo region and Bessarabia, an area now located in the Ukraine and the Republic Moldova, but with a substantial Bulgarian population.

Since 2000, Galina has been living in the Netherlands, where both of her solo albums have been produced. There she has also worked with the Kusmet ensemble and the Slavuj choir, respected interpreters of Slavic music. In addition, Galina has cooperated in a project of Rineke Marwitz, who leads the Project Koor Bulgaarse Vrouwenstemmen (Project Choir Bulgarian Female Voices). Apart from being a choir director, Marwitz is also a trained multi-instrumentalist, playing among others the kaval or Bulgarian shepherd's flute, and duduk, a reed instrument from Armenia.

On The Enchanting Voice of Bulgaria, Galina performs with the Bulgarian National Radio Orchestra. Most of the album's arrangements have been written by well-known Bulgarian composers and musicians, like accordionist Kosta Kolev, Petur Krumov and Theodosii Spassov. On a number of the CD's tracks Spassov himself accompanies Galina on the kaval.

Bulgaria is a Balkan country bordering on Romania in the north, Serbia in the west, Greece and Turkey in the south, while the country's east looks out over the Black Sea. Like so many of its neighbors the geographical location and turbulent history have exposed this country to multiple cultural influences. The Bulgarian nation traces its ethnic roots back to indigenous Thracians, proto-Bulgars of Central-Asian origin, and finally Slav migrants, who entered the region in the early centuries of the Christian era. In the 7th century the Bulgarians succeeded in shaking off Byzantine tutelage, allowing the development of a distinct Slavic-Bulgarian culture, which nevertheless remained firmly rooted in the Orthodox-Christian tradition. Between 1396 and 1878 Bulgaria was formally part of the Turkish Ottoman Empire, but ever since the 16th century it started to reassert its Slavic identity under the influence of an increasingly powerful Russia. During the 18th and 19th centuries Bulgaria was in many instances the stage of vicious Russo-Turkish wars. Only in the early 20th century would Bulgaria finally emerge again as an independent political entity. Against such a backdrop it is not surprising that, in addition to its distinctly Balkan overtones, Bulgarian music betrays traces of Orthodox, Turkish and Russian influences.

The recordings on this CD, however, are first and foremost a celebration of the vocal excellence of Galina Durmushliyska. Her crystal-like voice has a timbre that is at the same time delicate and warm, uniquely qualified for carrying the often melancholic melodies that characterize the traditional folk songs of her northeastern Bulgaria. Tracks 1 and 5 especially have a sadness that is of a touching beauty. Do not expect any sweeping epics; the focus is on the microcosmos of traditional rural life, which lends itself more for lyrical poetry. The theme of most songs is pastoral in character, closely connected with village life. Ten of the album's 18 tracks are based on songs from Kardam and Vedrina, two villages in Dobrudzha. Transmitted via Galina's own relatives but rearranged by present-day Bulgarian composers, they evoke images of fields, pastures and forests, laboring peasants, wandering shepherds and village feasts with its courting and dances. In particular the five songs, which Galina sings only accompanied by the kaval, exude a timeless purity and simplicity.

Such associations might tempt one to romanticize the daily life of Bulgaria's common folk. Closer inspection of the lyrics shows, however, that underneath this seeming idyll, life could be harsh and full of tribulations: consolation is derived from descriptions of landscapes, the skies, weather and reliance on family solidarity. A prime example is the lamentation "Godini, godini, usilni godini (Years, Years, Oh Hard Years)." No more than three or four couplets long, the songs' verse lines are generally also short and simple in wording, but of a highly poetical quality. By putting these succinct phrasings to captivating music, the bards who composed these songs were able to simultaneously create an imagery and sound that transformed into an enduring mood in the Bulgarian psyche, which was then transmitted from one generation to another. Galina's sensitive interpretation has now carried Bulgarian folk music across cultural divides as well.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 7 December 2002