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The Gypsy Pearl of Bulgarian Pop-folk, Sofi Marinova, will represent us at Eurovision 2012

My favorite time of the year is coming closer! It’s time for Eurovision 2012, the pan-European music contest! It has been such a roller coaster for Bulgaria in the past six years!

We were on the way to greatness in 2007 with Elitsa and Stoyan Yankoulov (with were fifth woohoo!); then in 2008 I was sort of positive about Deep Zone coming up with their very catchy “DJ Take Me Away”; I had to close my eyes in 2009; in 2010 I put all my fate with my all-time-favorite Miro, and then in 2011 I was hoping that the European voters with find Poli Genova at least cute, but now…   now, I’m simply desperate by our choice of representative.

Bulgaria’s 2012 Eurovision contestant is Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”. Don’t get me wrong, Sofi Marinova has an amazing voice and her songs become instant hits, but I think that this one is simply not one of them. Plus, her singing and image are… how can I put it… too Bulgarian for the average European taste (remember, the whole of Europe will vote for their favorite singers in the contest). But Sofi Marinova was elected during Eurovision’s national level finals on Feb 29th. She competed against 12 other Bulgarian singers and earned her title via a combination of jury and viewers’ text message votes. As you can tell, we Bulgarians love our gypsy chalga rhythms.

Sofi Marinova, also called “the gypsy pearl” or “the gypsy nightingale”, is a Bulgarian pop-folk singer of gypsy (Roma) background. She has a phenomenal 5-octave vocal range and is one of our top chalga singers. In her personal life, she is notorious for giving a son to her husband, then divorcing him, and getting with this ex-husband’s other son… but she’s cool otherwise 🙂

Instead of showing you her Eurovision song, I’ll show you my favorite duet of Sofi and Ustata . Of course, it’s a typical chalga video with very intelligent lyrics:

I don’t think she will reach the finals, but I’ll be crossing fingers anyways! Eurovision 2012 will take place on May 22, 24, and 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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More on Eurovision and Chalga:

Eurovision 2011: Poli Genova Urges Young Bulgarians to Stay

Bulgaria’s Heart Breaker Miro Will Compete in Eurovision 2010

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop Folk


The name is "Crazy Cock" in English but "Wild Rooster" in Bulgarian! There we go, Bulgarians and Americans in a Bulgarian restaurant in London!

This Friday, my two cousins, two of my friends from high-school in Sofia, four of my American girlfriends, and I went to a Bulgarian restaurant in London!

For a long time, I had wanted to give my American friends a true Bulgarian experience – of course I talk to them about my country all the time, but I really wanted them to create their own impression of our culture and traditions.  So I looked up a Bulgarian restaurant in London, The Crazy Cock (click on this link to read my friend’s review on Yelp).

The thing that worried me about this restaurant were the online reviews: every single one of them was negative! They were all by Bulgarians who were complaining about how overpriced the food was, how scandalous the waitresses looked, how bad the pop-folk music was, and so on. Still, this was my only chance to present my friends with an objective image of Bulgaria.

The interior of the restaurant shows the exterior of a traditional house.

The restaurant actually looked great! It was decorated like the outside of a traditional house from the Bulgarian Enlightenment era:  the walls were covered in river stones and had colorful balconies like in the town of Melnik. On one of the walls, they  had a – I must admit – quite ostentatious picture of St. Cyril and Methodius, but at least it gave me a reason to talk about the canonized brothers who created the Cyrillic alphabet (read my previous article to learn more)!

The food was also very good! We, the Bulgarians got excited and ordered all sorts of delicacies for our American guests: for appetizers, we got shopska salad, snezhanka (yoghurt, cucumbers, garlic, dill, and walnuts), liutenitza, assorted lukanka (dried pork and beef meze) and cheese, very tender cow’s tongue in oil, and chicken liver with veggies. The girls even tried rakia (40% alcohol that Bulgarians use for drinking as well as disinfection), but they didn’t like it too much.

My friend is very excited about Bulgarian cuisine and is taking pictures for her food blog: http://sushiandwine.tumblr.com/

For the main course, we ordered chicken and vegetables on a hot clay plate (sach) and guyveche, which consists of cheese, tomatoes, peppers, egg, and sausage prepared in a clay pot. Us the Bulgarians joked around that many of our typical meals were not on the menu because they UK had banned such imports: pig’s ears, intestines, brain, hearts, etc.

The entertainment was as classy as it gets! At first, we watched pop-folk (chalga) videos on the TV.  The Americans quickly caught the pattern: blonde or brunette chalga singers with fake lips and breasts and promiscuous stage behavior. Around 9:00pm, a live band of Bulgarian Roma started playing old Bulgarian ballads and folk songs. I gave my good friend Connie a quick lesson in our dance moves, and she promised to join me and my cousin for a Bulgarian dance class at our embassy next Thursday (that should make a great blog post!)

We had a great time at the Crazy Cock! The waitresses were sexy and weren’t in a hurry to serve us. The owner of the place didn’t really come to greet us although we were the first and the only guests for the first two hours. He was also the band’s drummer and the restaurant’s loudest customer. But other than that, our party was merry, the conversations were flowing, and the dinner lasted almost four hours! Overall, it was a pretty authentic experience!

At the end, my friend asked me why most of the online reviews were negative. Well, I told her, you would expect that the only Bulgarian restaurant in London would try to present the country in the best possible light with Bulgarian-quality food and Western-quality service. Instead, this was a very typical Bulgarian place – with all its positive and negative connotations.

To my dear friends I can just say, thank you for embracing Bulgarian culture and cuisine! I hope you enjoyed it!

Next goal: make them try Bulgarian Dancing!!!

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You want to read more about my favorite Bulgarian food? Look at this!

Or read a very detailed account of our dinner (with a very lovely introduction for me), from the food expert-blogger Connie!


Greetings from London! My semester “further-abroad” has set off like fireworks (I’m an international student from Bulgaria at Boston University studying abroad in the UK)! For the next four months, I will share my views on the American and English culture from the perspective of a proud Eastern European.

In England, royalties are also celebrities.My semester “further-abroad” has set off like fireworks (I'm an international student from Bulgaria at Boston University studying abroad in the UK)! For the next four months, I will share my views on the American and English culture from the perspective of a proud Eastern European.

One of my first lectures in London brought up a very interesting issue: what are the factors that define the seemingly similar American and British society.

As stereotypical as it sounds, the American society is defined by race even nowadays. How so? Open any tourist guide for any major city in the States and you will find suggestions for the top restaurants in Little Italy (NYC)/North End (Boston), the cheapest deals in Chinatown, the best Irish pubs in Southie (Boston), or how to avoid the black part of town.  Read through a few blogs, and you will find quite a few negative comments about the influx of Chinese tech-gurus and the always illegal-and-low-skilled Mexican immigrants.  It’s no surprise that the prospect of having a black president evoked even more heated debates among Americans than the prospect of having a woman president, although other countries in the world have had female presidents or presidents from the non-dominant race long before the States. Electing Obama was not as controversial to the rest of the world as it was to the American society, which finally felt itself ready to overcome its deeply rooted racial reservations.

What is more controversial to Americans, a woman president or a black president?

Race, on the other hand, has never been a segregating factor in the UK simply because historically, the British Empire extended to India, Australia, the Middle East, South Africa, the Caribbean, and North America.  Different races and cultures simply had to learn to coexist. Class was what defined the British society. Probably the only country in the world where social hierarchy is more important than that in Great Britain, is India.  To understand this social structure, simply take a tour of London: compare Chelsea and Kensington, whose mere architecture reminds us of the aristocratic past of that part of town, with the Docklands, which were the main source of wealth for the middle class of merchants; take a boat trip to the Greenwich Observatory to get a sense of the English scholars and intelligence strata;  visit London’s exquisite cathedrals and churches to understand the importance of the clergy for the English nation. Today, the structure of the Parliament, the function of the Queen, and the aristocratic titles are remnants of the social segregation that the British claim to have left in the past.

Vasil Boshkov is probably the richest Bulgarian, with estimated wealth of about $1.5 billion. He owns businesses in the fields of roads infrastructure, tourism, gambling, and insurance. He was the owner of one of the two best Bulgarian football teams.

Neither race nor class are issues in the modern Bulgarian society. This is probably because we don’t have any other races besides the occasional black foreign soccer player, who usually becomes a celebrity for the girls in Sofia’s clubs. We also dethroned our royal family a long time ago, with the arrival of the Communist government in 1946 (which is too bad because our royalties were actually part of a very powerful European royal dynasty, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha).  I think that what truly defines the Bulgarian society is money.

The face of Bulgaria’s modern society was shaped after the fall of the Communist regime in 1898. This is when former members of the Party were able to receive portions of the no-longer- national enterprises and thus became successful businessmen.  Those who had connections appropriated various ventures and took control over entire industries. Notably, the insurance business became a synonym of the mafia. Today, these people are filthy rich. They are some of the richest people in Europe and are very well connected with their Russian mafioso counterparts and ironically, with the democratic government.  They have a culture of their own,  that of the porn-like chalga culture and the thick-necked businessmen, and comprise a separate social strata.

But then, there is of course the rest of society: the open-minded and ambitious young Bulgarians who make up one of the most vibrant and interesting European peoples.


For anyone who is even slightly observant to cultural trends, it is obvious that one of predominant themes in American cinema, TV, music, and commercials is violence. There is blood, blades, or bullets in almost every American blockbuster and computer game. Violence is simply part of the pop culture and no one seems to find it overly shocking any more.

Chalga-hip-hop singer Ustata in a commercial for Nestle ice-cream. Surely many little boys and girls will eat ice-cream this summer.

Sex, on the other hand, is taboo, and eroticism is an ancient art that exists only in Europe. Sex connotations are censored on TV, and movies with nude scenes often receive more strict parental guidelines (the sign that tells you if the movie is suitable for 12-year olds or 16-year olds, etc.) than those with killings. Lately, it seems that pop culture is becoming even more puritanical, like in the Twilight series where Bella and Edward will consume their love only after their marriage, or in Dear John where Savannah and John kiss and hug, but she still waits for him for more than a year to return from the war.

I don’t understand why Americans try to conceal sex so hard and still display so much brutality and bloodshed. Doesn’t it seem contradictory and maybe hypocritical? Probably the origin of the media sex-eclipse is the religiousness of many powerful American Christian denominations and sects. The saturation of guns and violence in pop culture reflects USA’s constant fighting and wars somewhere in the world, which have become part of the Americans’ daily lives just like action movies.

I go to college in the States, and I can tell you that someone’s attempt to keep youths pure from the sin of sex is absolutely in vain. Violence, unfortunately, seems to be engrained too deeply in politicians’ minds.

The commercial for mastika Peshtera with chalga singer Maria contains the lines "They are so big and juicy," which refers to the watermelons to go with your drink.

In Bulgaria, sex comes before violence. Sexual images inundate our pop scene, fashion, TV, magazines, and billboards. The young generation’s pop idols, the chalga stars, are platinum-blonde supermodels with silicone boobs and lips. One can mute their music videos and watch them as near-porn movies.  Girls age 7 to 37 love and imitate the chalga stars. Our TV commercial slogans go: “With licking comes the appetite” (for Nestle ice-cream), “Erases the memories” (for vodka Flirt), and “It’s the season of the watermelons” (for mastika Peshtera liqueur). Our young women like to carry themselves as provocative and sexy, which has brought fame to Bulgaria, and especially our sea resorts as destinations for alcohol and sex tourism.

Despite the abundance of sexual imagery, Bulgaria is not a sexual inferno really. Young people are liberal in their views, but there is no baby boom or STD epidemics (with the notable exception of the Roma people whose numbers are going up while the average age when their women give birth for the first time is in the early teens; but Roma culture is different from ours).

So this is what I’m confused about: How can it be that something so terrible as violence has been turned into a cult in America, while something so natural as sex has been stigmatized as taboo?! Simultaneously, how can it be that a country that greatly values traditional family relations, where homosexuality and abortion are still sensitive topics can have such a vulgar and sexual pop culture?!


I witnessed a disturbing sight in nightclub Aura in the Atlantis in the Bahamas: a newly-rich young guy climbed up on the dancer’s podium, while his guy-friends were cheering from their VIP table, and started throwing dollar bills in the air over the dance floor. The guys had several thick wads of money and threw at least 400 on above the dancing people. It seemed like this wasn’t such an unusual practice in this club because the dancer simply squatted and started picking the dollars and stuffing them in her high boots. The whole club was excited to get their hands on some cash, but no one seemed to be as shocked as I was.

Actually I should be used to seeing this. I have often seen people throw napkins in pop-folk/chalga clubs in Sofia before. One can buy these packs of napkins from the club and throw them in the air while dancing.  The presumption is that one is filthy rich and carelessly throws money around. I’ve always found the gesture a stupid pose, but in fact, it is much worse than that.  

Why is wasting money such a source of arrogant pride and sick delight for a certain class of people all over the world? Why do we engage in such a pompous and egotistical gesture? What does is look like in the eyes of the observers and how does it “enrich” the ones doing it?


Versai Club, Sofia

BBC featured Bulgarian pop folk music, chalga, in its Close-Up series: Bulgaria’s special brand of folk music.

I’m surprised to hear the inconsiderate and disrespectful language of the journalist, who seems to be mocking this popular cultural phenomenon in my homecountry. I wouldn’t necessarily argue that her facts are inaccurate, but in the context of the Bulgarian reality, they are more innocent than what she describes.

What is more, chalga and modern Balkan music as a whole (because this type of music is typical not only for Bulgaria, but also for Greece and Serbia) do not deserve such a belittling attitude, especially from someone who is not familiar with our mentality and culture.

In the video, the journalist pays a visit to Sofia’s Versai club (obviously on a weekday night judging by the number of people) and interviews chalga singer Elena. Take a look and feel free to give your feedback!

Watch the BBC video

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