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51 f Choral Tributes


The multinational London Bulgarian Choir, led by Dessislava Stefanova, celebrated their 10th anniversary by touring the old country. Tanya Jackson joined them.


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motive and primal-sounding, Bulgarian voices seem to cry out through the ages and have influ- enced western musicians such as George Harrison and Kate Bush


since the first commercial collections became available in the seventies.


4-5 August: Sofia. A 50-person tour is no mean feat to organise, and a huge amount of work even when shared out among the participants. That’s why the London Bulgarian Choir and their guests couldn’t stop grinning at each other at dinner on that first evening in Sofia. They’re a close-knit group, full of love and enthusiasm for what they sing and for each other, warts and all. After months and months of complicated long-distance negotiations, the experience had finally begun, with pizza, local beer and a late- night party at soprano Slaveia’s holiday flat in the city.


Unfortunately however, day two began with a 6am start for eight members of the choir, who were to appear on local breakfast television. The stylishly turned out male and female presenters stood


beaming at their nervous English, Polish and French guests, all wearing the tradi- tional costume of Bulgaria. There was a brief interview with each singer, then the choir had their first performance of the tour. Luckily the camera shied away from the floor, where a borrowed pair of black stockings just about camouflaged Hamp- shire-born Steve’s grubby Birkenstocks among the line of smart black shoes.


Two hours later, the choir were being filmed again, this time at the Presidency in Sofia. The Ambassador for Bulgaria in Lon- don was there, along with a national TV news crew. After a press conference, the group sang a couple of songs in the build- ing and in the ruins of the ancient sunken church outside. It seemed a fun start to the trip, but little did anyone know how famous this footage was to make them in the course of the next ten days. And hap- pily, Steve now had his shoes.


5-8 August: Koprivshtitsa. Mention ‘Koprivshtitsa’ to a Bulgarian and the reac- tion will be misty eyes and a swelling of the chest. The April Uprising, which even- tually freed Bulgaria from 500 years of


Ottoman rule, first began 130 years ago in those hills, in the Sredna Gora mountain range. It is now home to the National Fes- tival of Bulgarian Folklore.


Our coach travelled through moun- tainous countryside to get there, during which time the choir practised their songs along with spontaneous har- monised outbursts of Down In The River To Pray and The Wombles theme tune. Just before we reached Koprivshtitsa, we stopped off at the local train station to make a special pick-up.


Last year, the LBC were awarded a grant by the BBC Performing Arts Fund to have six new songs written especially for them by celebrated Bulgarian composer Kiril Todorov, who was attending the festi- val to do some work with the choir. The group piled on to a platform to greet him with one of his songs, and as Kiril’s train came in, launched into Chompilcheto, a multilayered ‘wap-shoowap’ song about a chattering bird. Kiril grinned his thanks, and we set off to spend three days immersed in undiluted folklore.


Top row: Sights of Koprivshtitsa Festival – goat gaida player (pic Catherine Dauvergne-Newman), musicians of all ages make the pilgrimage up the mountain to perform, young musicians with statutory cummerbunds, women singers. Bottom: a London Bulgarian Flash Choir hit Bansko.


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