Composed on the flights between Bulgaria and Aotearoa/NZ, my first ever bi-lingual (English/Bulgarian) tune – a musing on meetings, between cultures and generations, between souls and skins, and on the instrument of language. (Recorded spontaneously during a midnight storm, in a little hut, on a hill, somewhere in the South Pacific.)
How it came to be?
Kilometers above the clouds, in a great bird of steel, packed neatly in rows, with hundreds of other souls, it is easy to blur the sense of belonging – in terms of location, climate and fragrance that is – but we cannot escape our histories and our imaginings. The question of cultural identity begs for detail – these traditions, so rich, have been forged through repetition, through an age old distill, whereby exotic influence meets the ferment of isolation. We need the cross-pollination for energy, but we need the hermetic aspect for quality. Each in their own time? Is it a process we can guide?
In Bulgaria I have witnessed a divide between those who reject the said Folklore Music as a pure product of the communist era, as a distortion and appropriation of village song for the representation of the party, as a practice now stuck in time and no longer of any use to the Bulgaria that must catch up for lost (iron curtain) time… And then there are the others. Others, who rejoice in the vibrant, profound, nuanced and unparalleled prowess of the rhythms, the ornaments and the unique arrangements. Others, who delight in the lush colors and sacred patterns, through which they breathe the mojo of their ancestors. Others, who vow to guide a spirited, thriving art-form into a healthy future.
I came here because of it. This Folklore. And the most improbable spirits gather to it from all around the world, like moths to a light. Some of the most bewitching singers I have met in Bulgaria exude a devotion to spread this musical richness globally, naturally, and preferably, person to person. When they come to understand the work I am doing, they generally tell me they are thrilled that I am helping to share their culture. I do, however, fear my own ignorance and feel a duty to honor the quality of the work by continually seeking to deepen my understanding and my own practice. Ironically, it is through sharing it that parts of it get integrated or understood – through performing it with my vocal trio ACAPOLLiNATiONS, through teaching aspects of it in my World of Voice Workshops in NZ, and through composing and recording original works inspired by it, as I am doing for my upcoming album.
Some Westerners, blown away by the power of the traditional Bulgarian song (which has undeniably been forged through generations of passionate, war fraught, tough mountain people), and intrigued by the timbre and spirit that it solicits in my voice, have encouraged me to record some… to be able share it further than in my live gigs… I feel awkward about this. It doesn’t belong to me. But perhaps I belong to it. And so my whole perspective on cultural belonging begins to shift – as I feel words coming out first in Bulgarian (followed by the curious need to translate them back into English!), as I effortlessly shake my head to agree, as I hear new song ideas in 7 or 11 or 13, and as I write my first lyrics in this new ancient tongue… smalls steps on a long loving road.
The Bulgarians colleagues I have played my new tunes to, relate to them, tap along and feel reflected, yet are taken elsewhere. The feedback has been luminous. But the road is treacherous. Do we protect, preserve, guard the authentic forms? Do we share, morph, re-interpret and speak through them, with our own accent? Or is there a way to make a savvy, sacred blend of both schools?
An accent. We all have. But we only hear it when we’ve been away, when we meet another, different. And this is the beauty of our motion – to reach out to each other and be changed for it, but simultaneously to dig deep and slow and to pay our dues to the ancestors – for without their breath, we are nothing, and without our song, they are gone.
On so, on that great steel bird, between Bulgaria to Aotearoa, I watched ‘El Olivo’, the beautiful story of a 2000 year old olive tree and the wound that its sale creates in a Spanish family, and their soul journey to try to bring it home. All these musings interwove, and I heard something, kilometers above the clouds…
I let you in, just enough to feel the breath between us
I let you in, just enough to be known
Put me to sleep between the sheets of our ice and snow
I’m willing to meet between the words where the silence grows
Two thousand years, just enough to feel the breath between us
Two thousand years, just enough to be known
Put me to sleep between the roots and the earth around
I’m willing to meet upon the leaves where the light is found
дай ми да спя
между теб и снега
дай ми да летя
в ръцете ти, да видя
че, луничките ти са звезди
на бели равни ливади
на чаршафа …
там се срещат сънищата ни
и между тях се движи душата
на зората …