When I was in Bulgaria, learning their exquisite songs, I would fill my eyes and mind with the rich colours and patterns of the regional costumes, and I would feel both attracted and dissociated. How could a chujdenka (foreigner) even imagine wearing garments so full of story and nuance, so full of regional roots and affiliation. So, I let it be for them.

Then one day, a woman asked to meet me for coffee. To give me her baba’s saya (grandmother’s costume). Say again?

I sat across the little table, listening to the family stories and their wider political implications, feeling that the simple paper bag lying there, between our cups, held some kind of bomb or treasure, like a home-fire, like a message from another place, like a leaping and joining of hands between generations, cultures and languages.

This costume had been made by hand, for a life time of wearing, and for generations to come. Now it was leaving the family fold to follow the thread of song…. A chujdenka had come, with her passions and admirations, with her devoted study and shortcomings, and had started to carry old song in a new way. The costume came into the picture like armour, like a blessing, like a cheeky, irreverent door into the yes-ness of transmission. See it for yourself!

Stanislavka Barbutska (1915-1997). Here at the age of 30, and mother of three, pictured with her husband, parents and siblings, wearing the saya (costume) that she made with wool from her own sheep, and cotton from her own yards. Raised in Egalnitsa, a small village 35km North-East of Kyustendil, Stanislavka was the 2nd of 4 children to survive – born to Kostadinka and Simeon.

In this picture (1945), Simeon, her father, has just had his factory nationalised, and communism will begin to separate people from their gardens, and songs from daily life. The greatest choirs on earth will be created – with singers from all around the country – and will make Bulgarian Folk Song famous around the world, but at a cost. Many will lose touch with the practice of song in their own lives, in sedyanki (working bees) and harvest, and it will be relegated to the stage for, albeit stunning, demonstration by professional ensembles. Photo courtesy of Slavka Kukova.

Stanislavka wanted her granddaughter to be free from the power of men, and encouraged her to become a lawyer. Still, the memory of fertile summers in the countryside were strong for a child otherwise raised in the town of Plovdiv.

Slavka gifted me her grandmother’s saya in 2016, after discovering the music of my trio Acapollinations and feeling it that was something novel, yet honouring of the energy and lineage of Bulgarian Folk Song.

It was 6 years before I found an appropriate occasion to perform wearing it. Here singing the slow song “Gyuro Dobwr Yunak” from Trakiya (taught to me by Svetla Stanilova in Plovdiv) at “The 2nd United Concert of Bulgarian Folk Groups of Australia & New Zealand” in Melbourne, 2022. Photo by Radost Ratcheva.
The traditional technique of swrma – the fine, golden embroidery on the shoulders – is a lost art, and modern replicas pale in comparison. The strength and energy of this costume is testament to its slow, hand-made nature and integrated function – where songs were literally sewn into the costume, over the long winter sedyanki (working bees). Photo by Radost Ratcheva.

It is an honour to take care of this saya, currently in Aotearoa/NZ – so far from its land of origin, but hopefully close to its original intent – that of reverence and the celebration of life’s beauty through collective dances and vibrant song.

A L’Aube _ Music Video

Life has it that we dropped into Arthur’s Pass (South Island of Aotearoa/NZ) for 10 days recently. We, meaning my partner, my son and I. The big guy was training on the Coast to Coast course – a daily adventure into stunning mountains and rivers. This left the little one and I some time to explore. Thanks to a visiting grandmother, some outings became veritably zen, solo windows, where the silence grew around me like a cloak and revealed many colours. I’d like to share with you some images of the process of shooting the music video for “A L’Aube” – the title track of my new EP. I had some nebulous visions forming somewhere in the wings of my mind, but these images actually found their form in the land at foot, at hand, at heart. Working only with found materials and letting chance be the guide, it is my delight to share with you… (see below for full video and link to the music)


30 April – Tonight I had a conversation, with a man I’ve never met.  Him a stone, and I a bird.  Pierre.  Tui.  We stood upside down from each other, on either side of the planet.  Wood was the language in common.  The resonance of it.  The way it carries music.  The calm it harbours.  The way it is both permeable and protective…

Apparently we spoke for his (beautiful!) blog piece @ La Maison Jaune concerning the release of my new record with Beating Drum.  But in truth, we spoke for the life altering properties of listening.  For the way strangers can meet in intimacy, through art.  For the alchemic wonder of surrendering our lives to the riddle of colour, shape and frequency, where ideas echo our impermanence, and in doing so, confirm our belonging, to the great wheel.

20 May – Oh, what happens when you let the music lead!  I confess I started playing the guitar when my heart broke.  It was a physical consolation.  And a revelation.  I started writing from a new silence.  The one that came after.  After my Bulgarian Folklore studies in Plovdiv – where I soaked in odd-meters, crumbled beneath the beauty of the timbre (vocal that is) and was securely wrapped in ornaments.  I wrote armfuls of songs into that silence, and a handful made it through.  To a recording…

In following the incandescent (or is it indecent!) “why not” protocol, I hunted out the sound engineer, who, in the world, had captured my favourite female vocal recording – Rokia Traore’s Tchamantché.  Yep, internet.  I found him, and his microphones.  Patrick Jauneaud.  We agreed.  And so, tucked away in resonant mountains in the south of France, some delicate, ardourful songs were stitched to light.

I wanted to do it all alone, you know, and with just one voice and one small guitar.  To . render . complete . justice . to . the . silence.  Patrick suggested that this was ambitious – that artists usually do such a thing in their masterful age!  He coaxed me into playing around with a few layers.  Relaxing the rules a little, I allowed myself to some sing harmonies on the record.  And.  Patrick passed the tunes onto someone I’d never met – but had admired the music of – Piers Faccini.

Piers heard something of  himself in this music.  And his delve into my online presence confirmed our common love for quiet spaces.  He offered to collaborate on a record.  We took an EP worth of my songs and let his expert ears/hands influence their body.

I was scared.  Scared of not being strong enough in my vision.  Scared of failing in my new found independence, by letting another artist alter my babies.  Temperaments shuffled.  We braved it for the love of music, for loyalty to the unknown, and to let the colours in.  Because none of it belongs to us anyway.  And they were beautiful.

The way I see it, Piers bought the village, dancing, to my hermits cave.

These arrangements feature layers of tender instrumentation, including slide guitar, harmonica, voice, piano, gembri and an evocative selection of percussion.  Much of it was played by Piers himself, with spirited interventions by Malik Ziad and Tunji Beier.

Stills taken from FOLLOW.  Underwater capture by Monty Bevins, thank you!

The tune I’ve made a film for first, travels for 6 minutes of 11/16 time, looping around our hearts, the globe and back.  With footage from Bulgaria, France and Aotearoa/NZ – this is a song for the first smile, for the last sigh, and for all the gratitude in between.


The RECORD from which this song is takeN, TUi MAMAKi “Hear My Voice” (Beating DRum RECORDS 2018), is available in limited edition vinyl – with artwork by Piers Faccini – and/or download HERE





This one… what is in a raw capture?

Sometimes, in the middle of the night, when a storm strikes, we don’t sleep but we play. And the audio captured there has all the traits of befriending chance: the swells of wind rocking the hut like a small boat, the lashings of rain on the corrugated iron mingling with the breath, the proximity of the fingers that blur the lines, the turning, the hisses and the crackles of a voice telling a story… once. This is what I wanted to share with you! Not the studio control, not the pristine malleability of elements, but an actual living moment = a moment I loved and the imperfect traces of which, are perfect.

We made a moving image to expand on this capture. The women I worked with brought their eye, their imagination, their emotional response to the sound, to the one day we had together, to the gear we borrowed and to the spirit of improvisation-collaboration we claimed as our own… It is my genuine pleasure to share with you “Between Storms”.

It speaks to the slice of silence between great changes, departures, transitions. To the sanctuary of intimacy – which for a moment feels like a kind of eternity. To the solitude we choose, like a position on the edge of the world, on the edge of ourselves, on the edge of each other… it is a tender piece of attention to our transience and mortality.


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
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
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

луничките ти са звезди
на бели равни ливади
на чаршафа

там се срещат сънищата ни
и между тях се движи душата
на зората…

Let me sleep between you and the snow
Let me fly in your hands, to see
That your freckles are constellations
On the pale, even fields of the linen
There meet our dreams
And between them moves
The soul of the dawn…

*Thank you Iliana Tabor for helping me with my first ever Bulgarian language lyrics!


“Between Storms” composed & performed by TUi MAMAKi.
Audio captured on a ZoomHn4 on a stormy night in a hut…
Moving image directed by Meg Perrott & Margaret Gordon.

Direction of Photography – Meg Perrot
Editing – Margaret Gordon
Costume – Rochelle Beaty

Still from “Between Storms”




I started out as a visual artist.  Or was that simply being a child?

I grew up in a remote, wonderfully isolated valley, without streetlights or tar-seal, or television.  The endless wonders of a blank page were akin to the endless aural spaces one could interact with: to sing-talk with the birds or the ocean, to build huts and stories in the bush, or to draw boundless imaginings in colour, on the kitchen floor or table.  Long intimate conversations unfolded between me and perhaps, pure potential.  It was thanks to kind and creative teachers that dance, song and art were valued in the curriculum.  The focus sharpened when I met Mr Harris at Tikipunga High School and embarked on a painting, sculpture and photography odyssey, and never looked back… not until I reached Elam Art School that is, where I found myself longing for happenings. I wanted to see things in motion!  If there had been a Performance Art Department there at the time, I might have stayed, but the roads called me out of school – into the world of fire-dancing, street-performance, theatre and ultimately, song.

Still taken from RiUWAKA by TUi MAMAKi

These days I hardly put a pencil to the page, save for designing concert posters or occasional album artwork… but the SOUNDS I get to make are colours, and the words that come conjure images… and then there are the opportunities to collaborate:

When I met Shannon Aroha on Takaka Hill, at Luminate Festival 2017, we found ourselves brainstorming a collaboration just a few sentences into the conversation.  Let’s do something!  A few months later, equipped with a zero budget and a common love for improvisation, we found ourselves filming in the limpid lights of the Raglan area, where she is based.

The theme of clear water kind of hurts these days, given that intensive dairy farming in New Zealand has polluted so many of our rivers… (time to turn that around!!)  And so, potently, a song about clear water – as a reality and a metaphor – is the one to start with.  RiUWAKA (Riwaka) is a sacred place at the foot of Takaka Hill, that many visit for it’s healing waters – waters distilled by the crystal mountain labyrinth through which they pass, before springing back up at the resurgence.  Raglan, where we actually filmed, is on the other island.  A journey from Te Wai Pounamu to Te Ika a Maui is but a small hop, given the international fabric of this project:

The instrumentation is inspired by my love affair with Bulgarian Folklore rhythms, intricately irregular, but played on my Little Martin guitar, like a harp.  The story is one of reaching beyond the feeling of fracture in intimacy, through into the inevitable wholeness of surrender.  The vocal lines, though steeped in the ornaments of Bulgarian songs, are delivered like a delicate prayer.  My parts, on voice and guitar, were recorded in an old silk-worm incubator: a beautiful stone-floored, high-ceiling, luminous music studio, in the Cevennes mountains, in the south of France.  (How I found that place and the magical engineer, Patrick Jauneaud, within it, is another story for another time).  Add to that a serendipitous meeting with Australian percussionist Tunji Beier, on a festival stage.  Tunji here plays the Kanjira, a South Indian frame drum, with both subtlety and spirit.

With Shannon’s eye, and Andy’s flying captures, the visual flair this time is not mine.  Shannon’s musical sensitivity translated seamlessly and it was a joy to let her lead.  Somehow, playing a character in the moving image was an experience between dance and meditation:  attuning to the light, the bush, the water, to the dreams that turn our eyes into windows, where imaginings can impart tranquility, and somehow bridge our mortal separations.

I hope you will enjoy the viewing as much as we have the process!

Please share/embed the video freely, and do leave your impressions in the youtube comments + touch that thumbs up thing – it all helps to gather kin energy and to celebrate this piece of quiet, in a loud world.



KAMWA, the mythological name of the Kama River, brings together the elements of KAM (human or shaman) and WA (water). A privilege it was to be invited to sing at this multi-faceted, soul stirring, Ethno-Futurist festival, 40km out of Perm, in Russia…

Notes along the way:

20 hour journey from Sofia.  The world is my bedroom.  Startling ability developed – to be able to sleep upright and anywhere – even on the bumpy bus ride out to the festival site,  as a blood-red sun rises over the damp fields.  Gravel roads and a million wild flowers.  Log homes. I mean, whole trees.  A people living in the embrace of sleeping trees… and who tend to their windows.

Tents, sculptures and stages nest in the ample fields of Khokhlova Architectural Museum.  Art-full installations: a forest of bird houses, a grand piano made of willow, a giant boar and his piglets in perpetual trot, as tall as a man and made of driftwood.

Bejeweling the plateau, the 300 year old Church of Transfiguration.  I fell in love with this building.  The spirit of the wood captured me.  Or was it the scent engulfing my body.  Or was it the light shafts, so magnetic.  Or the silence of a naturally breathing protection.  Or the sound of the wind through the gaps – a faint allusion to the bright world outside…  Home, as if in a timeless ship, a loft, a womb – the skin of the wood worn smooth by human touch.  Grace energy is stored in this place.  I couldn’t tear myself away.  Hours.

These beaming grannies teach me how to say spasibo(a).  How far can my Bulgarian language carry me in Russia?  Some words in common.  But a lot not.  Good will and gestures do the rest.

Festival goers wade chest-high into the fields of flowers, and emerge crowned in colour.  Summer time praises.  We are amongst the earthly delights, while giant kites keep watch from above.

Break-though learning: Inna makes me cry with the raw and true spirit of her calling.  Luiza bewitches me with the refinement of her vocal ornaments.  I realize these are the two qualities I seek in my vocal practice.  I get the chance to try the blend out on stage, not once, but 5 times over the festival days.  How to craft but surrender.  How to be wild but reassuring.  How to lead but follow.  How to raise the dead and soothe the living?  How to serve the timeless laws of the water and the sun.  In song.  Ambitious.  Devotional.

A compliment that lands deep: “I really like your voice. It’s like the sound of whales and birds gathered together.”  Conversation leads to ancient symbols, where a fish carries the human and upon the human, is perched a bird.  Being bridges between earth and sky.

An invitation to Moscow.  You will have everything you need if you come to play there – food, drink, striptease… !¿  Explanation: “A musician takes everything off, until there is nothing left but the soul.  I don’t know of any more complete striptease than this.”

Beautiful encounters.  Luiza.  Mario.  Dmitri.  Oleg.  Inna.  Singing through the night.  Through.  The songs we belong to.  Not the ones that belong to us.  Traditional vessels.  Such magnitude.  Space to bloom.  Singing songs from my grandmothers, and from others’ grandmothers, imbued with today’s finest heart flavors.

The last night, a stage to ourselves.  I mean, to all the brilliant musicians from eclectic places who have colored the stages over 3 days.  An open minded audience.  Who wants to play?  The capacity to begin, without knowing where we will go…  One time.  Present.  Lose yourself.  Win each other.  Somewhat possessed.  We all rode it home.

A stealthy lioness of a humble woman runs this festival.  She says she hopes we will leave with a little piece of their heart in us.  That despite the darkness and difficulty to imagine a future sometimes, these 3 days give her an annual experience of freedom.  Liyon.  Len.  Linen.  Gifts.  Of ancient grasses grown onsite.  And traditional bread.

4am departure to fly back to Sofia with the Kottarashky crew.  Others will take the 30hr train ride to Moscow/Moskva.  Humbled.

A spontaneous audio capture of Andrey Vinogradov’s exquisite Vielle a Roue play is accompanied below by some images gleened along the way.  Unseen are the thousands of punters and most of the bigger stage shows, as my favorite time to contemplate (and take pictures) was in those quieter moments…


C.H.A.N.C.E = Cosmic Heart-full Alignment (with) Non-linear Creative Energy/Engagement

If anything, I mean anything, was possible, if you could live out your dream, what would it look like, in the detail? What small gestures would populate your days, what behaviors would you engage in, in the small ways, if you were, in fact, your idols? Assuming we are made for this. Participation. Gratitude action. To befriend chance we have to be fit with our craft, alert + actually willing to receive.

Having a solo set (album is on its way) has been more than giving myself wings. It has been a make-over of my fundamental beliefs about how things function. Having this vessel built, and available for adventure, has me being able to say… YES!

YES to collaborating with a collection of such fine Australian musicians at UNwind Festival this May, thanks to a chance conversation and spontaneous collaboration with the phenomenal percussionist Ben Walsh on a festival stage this summer.

YES to collaborating with the enchanting minstrel Piers Faccini in his exquisite acoustic series La Route de La Voix (entirely human-amplified intimate concerts in old stone chapels in the South of France), this thanks to following my curiosity re microphones down the rabbit hole of Rokia Traore’s Tchamantché album, finding engineer Patrick Jauneaud in the mountains, honoring our subsequent collaboration with all the musical love I could muster, and to his sharing those mixes with someone he knew…

(Stay tuned for the release of FLY, taster HERE)

And YES to the privilege/challenge of performing our own arrangements of traditional Balkan folklore with my sassy acapella trio ACAPOLLiNATiONS this Sunday, just because we loved it at Te Uru Gallery last time (another entirely human-amplified concert).

30th April – ACAPOLLiNATiONS @ Te Uru Gallery, Titirangi, Auckland, Aotearoa/NZ
5-7th May – UNwind Festival @ Paradise One, Byron Bay, AUSTRALIA
9th May – Tui Mamaki & Encuentro Dos @ Open Studio, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA
20th May – Tui Mamaki & Piers Faccini @ La Route de La Voix, Issensac, FRANCE

And to finish, some stills from an upcoming music video RIWAKA, born of a chance conversation with Shannon Schnittker from Traveling Filmmakers at Luminate Festival this year, and the synchronized map movements that followed.  Definitely a fan of following up on crazy ideas, and in doing so, allowing the paths of grace to collide…

Between Storms

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 …

Listen to BETWEEN STORMS and other musings:


Sword Nesting

I came across this lady yesterday – while getting happily lost on the country roads. Bulgarian villages are never short of imposing soviet monuments. But this one, with it’s proud stork’s nest, took things to another level.

Somehow the nest captured, in all it’s domestic simplicity – branch by branch, brought by beak – the inevitability of giving life. Tenderness is to return, over stone, over swords, over conquerors. We all need a home and the urge to birth is as old as the world self. A sense of welcome? Perched on a sword…  That strange feeling of relaxing into paradox, of finding comfort on the edge,  of finding stability in perpetual flux.

I keep looking at her again, to see if her warrior’s face might have let a smile slip, might have softened unwittingly, from the life going on upstairs, from the births happening upon her hands – those powerful hands gripping the sword of will and liberation.


As the cold comes, the birds have flown south. Her resolve hasn’t weakened but I’d say she is now carrying a promise, and letting that blade trail in the wind…

Vodka and Cigarettes

Olga’s rose garden is rectangular, about as long as a man standing.  Her man is lying down.  She brings him a glass of water, a glass of vodka, a cup of hot coffee, and she lights his cigarette.  The smoke curls up into the shady corner of the Armenian cemetery.  She pours water all over the flowering plants that clothe the concept of him, and she wails – what a beautiful love we had! 50 years together, so much love… a good man, such a good man.  He passed on the 8th of January.  New Year was wonderful.  So much joy.  But we didn’t know it would be THE LAST new year.  Oh, milichka!  You are crying with me!?

And yes, I am crying.  So we cry.  A warm salty flow, arms around each other’s shoulders, two women who have just met, in the middle – the place where we are all the same.  Two women, gazing at the smoke from that cigarette, stuck upright in the fresh earth, a steaming coffee cup, decorated with flowers, in amongst the real flowers, on a young grave, and that morning sun, glinting off the water, into the vodka.  They came to escape the war.  And now she is here.  And he is there.  I leave her to speak with him.

_Olga Platcha 1

After strolling in this cemetery for quite some time, I come away feeling like I have met a whole collection of extraordinary, ordinary beings.  Having gazed into their eyes.  Through the veil of time.  Having mused over their absence/presence.  Potent people.  Each life.  All of us, perfectly mortal.  The power of ephemeral beauty – the living lichen, the cracked resin, the fading details, replaced by new detail.  This girl falling in love with strangers she will never meet, but somehow already knows…

Anonymous portraits from the Armenian Cemetery, Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

_Woman 1

_Woman 3



_Woman 2_Man 1


_Young Man_Baba


Gutter 1Quoting Roots Manuva:

“You’ll be nothing – you’ll end up sweeping the streets, Rodney! Well, what’s wrong with that? Why shouldn’t I sweep the road if I want to? A teacher should have no right to say anything like that. What’s more important – a judge or a road-sweeper? We need both! Every other person wants their child to be a doctor or a lawyer – shouldn’t we just want every person on earth to be educated? Then everything else should take care of itself…”

Street-sweepers are an important part of the calm here in Plovdiv. They grace each morning with their fluorescent vests, always too big, over colorful gypsy clothes. The sound of the brooms is soothing compared to the hideous leaf-blowing machines we get in NZ. Skrp, skrp, skrp… they don’t look up. But neither do others. Crossing eyes for the sake of a silent hello is not something you do here. The leaves, the berries, the cigarette butts – all disappear before breakfast.

Drawing parallels between assigned values in society and assigned values in music. Singing in a language that you don’t (at first) understand, gives each vowel, consonant, syllable, word, phrase… equal value. That is part of the attraction – it is just music! All of it.

When I write lyrics myself and come to sing them, however, I tend to prioritize some words, at the cost others. For example, ‘the’.  An untapped sound potential?  Or a hair stuck on your tongue, followed by a sort of guttural grunt? (Particularly if we are allowing ourselves to sing with a Kiwi accent…)

Actually, this incarnation of the vowel ‘e’ is not so far removed from the ‘ъ’ (er-golyam) in Bulgarian language – which I have had to learn to sing with beauty, as there is no discrimination upon which vowel you might be landed with, to ornament properly.  The focus remains on bringing beauty and flow to ALL the vowels, treating them as the precious flesh of the music that they are.

A vowel isolation exercise I use – (sing your song without consonants) – reveals the color, placement, density and direction of each unique vowel. Things, that in the consonant clutter, would go by unnoticed. With this lucidity in hand, we are able to remedy hiccups in the flow, un-obstruct the vowels and ultimately, bring more joy through the music.

Intrigued by the THE train of thought, I decided to have a jam on it – Listen to it here



ON THE THEME OF EASE in singing, life and other creative processes.  Should it be easy? Should it FEEL easy?  And if yes, is there a certain quantity of ‘hard’ work required before the sense, sight and sound of ease, appears?  Or is it, in fact, a WAY of learning? Flow. EASE. An experiment on a group of dancers with the Alexander Technique observed feedback from participants missing the sensation of EFFORT, feeling that it was TOO EASY to be right… Too easy. An addiction to strain, to the position of “I can’t”, to the feeling of being inadequate, can be a real thing of real consequence, as we see humorously depicted in the film What the Bleep do we know.

ON BEING PUNISHED FOR PLEASURE. For those of us freshly issued from Christian (?) heritage – though be it into Atheist or Pagan families – we may find internalized, secreted agents of judgement, tracking our pleasure and marking it down as SIN.  Suffering earns you a place in heaven, work hard, be humble and you shall be rewarded.  Do we ever hear “work supple”? If we are a ninja, we do!  As women, the added red flag on sensuality can have us curbing childhood delights, the deep sense of fun or intuitive pleasures. I realized recently that I take my art very seriously. Or rather, because I WANT TO BE TAKEN SERIOUSLY, I have put a whole lot of SERIOUS into my creative processes, at the expense of my FUN.  A 3 minute slot appeared in my daily practice for pure vocal whatever (fun) recently. I spend it with glee… 3 minutes? That’s quite enough. Snap back to something proper – by golly – we can’t have this whole frolic situation getting out of control! Wow. Stay tuned on that minute rationing…

ADMIRATION is a double edged sword. It guides us towards our chosen stars. It shows us qualities we wish to embody, things we could grow into, but it can also keep us separated from them. By lifting someone else so high in our mind’s eye, we can find ourselves belittled, crushed beneath the weight of the impossibility, apologizing for our insufficiency, as we slouch to keep them above us, when we come face to face. This relieves us of the responsibility for maturing the work in real time, real place. It can be comfortable to be a victim. It can be comfortable to be small, when memories of our brilliance as children, come swathed in the shame we were given for being so fresh, fearless, bright and original. Whoever has worked with Julia Cameron’s Artist Way, can hear her in my words.

GOING NOWHERE because I am already there/here. Charisma is presence, is about being actually present. Bert van Dijk, theater pedagogue, runs fantastic workshops on this theme. Coaches on stage-fright speak of bringing your attention down into the lower back or the feet. Side effects include enhanced communication with your audience/community.  This is about lowering and anchoring our center of gravity, which, anyone working with martial arts, Tai-chi or Chikung will know, is an absolutely timeless treasure. Simon Barker and Carl Dewhurst run barefoot and are experiencing a deep influence on their performance as musicians. They speak of bringing our consciousness down into the body and so, altering the default to be one of continual release and reset. On running.

AN INVITATION TO THE FUTURE. Being a split second ahead. Hearing it before it happens. Is it possible to be in two places at once? In the present and in the future? Yes, it is. The conductor Valery Gergiev shows us that it is. You cannot start without me. Whether we are conducting, improvising, composing a new piece or delivering a traditional song in all its specific modalities, we must be both utterly present – releasing the past like a ninja – and already hearing the future. LOVE IT.

Treva 3

Cunt to Cosmos

Flight of the cuntsI need to write about the sexuality of singing. More precisely, and from a woman’s perspective, about the communication between the cunt and the cosmos. Within the trajectory of my life-long vocal research (in progress), this chapter – accompanied by the brilliant containment and potent focus of traditional Bulgarian singing techniques – is about integration and revelation.

Integration meaning anchoring yourself, your intention and your sound in a living, active, welling source (the pelvic floor). Then, allowing this energy to travel up, unobstructed, to a delicious (revealing) mouth. What? Yes. “Delicious” implies accessibility, vulnerability, visibility, taste-ability. Allowing the joy (sound) to flow is like allowing an orgasm; you can’t make it happen, but you can create favorable circumstances, favorable balances of tension and release, and favorable alternations in rhythm.

Revelation implies an unlocked jaw, an active (often visible) tongue, pert and willing cheeks and present eyes (even when they are closed). From source to the surface, from cunt to cosmos, in a blink, in a lift, in a breath…

And so, breath is now available to carry the song, to carry lines, shapes, densities, colors, textures, but the flow, the flow, must be unobstructed. This is a concept reflected and verified in so many singing traditions, I know, but I needed to talk about it today, because I feel that the cunt is still vilified in our freshly patriarchal societies. The deep power of the cunt, in music, art and life (both personal and social), is feared and hushed, and this is a loss for us singers. We do it in secret. We lift and flow and cum, musically, spiritually, but we are shamed for our beauty, or used. We are diva-fied, shallowed, stuck out in front of bands in sexy attire, reduced to singing a few lyrics in amongst the musical fabric, the playground of spirit that a voice could so honour…

Someone like Tina Turner takes it to a whole other level – that lioness power. She has made more than friends with this particular feminine mojo, in a glorious earthy way. I deplore the absence of ground in a lot of the sexy singers we see in this era, both in the west and the east. It is a diluted, tamed corruption of the concept. The tits, ass and supplicant lips are often given an eery childlike (powerless) quality. Those who ground the feminine power, who earth it, however, are wanted now. I want them. To be. Watch out.

Cunt power is fearsome, awesome, slow and will alter things. I cannot get a clear sound without my cunt. People fall in love with singers, and hate on them, because of it. It is a flow we must all claim. In a music industry dominated by men and machines, there is a lack of reverence for this power. This is why I am so grateful to be working with more acoustic and acapella collaborations at this time, dare I call them cunt collectives… (This includes all those sensitive male musos, who connect with earth and water in their matrix!)

Thanks for listening!

NOTE: For anyone who was shocked or delighted by my use of the word ‘cunt’ follow the link below to discover amazing diverse stories concerning the etymology of this currently debased word…

Origins of the word ‘Cunt’.


Choosing a life of self-structure. Choosing a rhythm that allows for deep plunges into self-organizing chaos, meaning: music that rides in on tides of trust, tunes helmed by blindfolded graces – those that don’t need to see, but that know already, the undoing of all certainties, and the brilliance that can be embodied at the cusp of willingness… WTF?

This means large portions of empty calendar. Like a whole two months to write. This means stashing nuts when they come. Not spending. This means living on the fringe in ways. It means opting out of some things I used to know, like rent rhythms and lush laurels. Being at the flight deck of how much I work is fabulously surreal. I’ve come to feel that the vertigo of “how will it all possibly come together?” is just a page of the book flipping over in the wind. That book, long abandoned in the wild grasses of the olive grove. Dragonflies have led the eye and mind elsewhere. How frivolous of one! To live so close to the edge of love. (Meaning gratitude).

Faced with the impossibility of planning. Sure, there’s fishing… there’s casting out the wishes, the bios, photos, the recordings – those imperfect recordings – traces of the mojo that serve to perpetuate the flow. YES. I have been following the ‘yes’. After the void of yesteryear, it came about as an experiment: what if I just go where I am wanted?  WANTED.

wantedposterAnd so came emails out of the blue, people asking me to come to you. And the whole thing began to look like a farce / a trick of the eye, as the evidence of self-surrender rose about me, in a tide of gurgling, giggling, why not’s! Turn up. Flank yourself. As close as you can to your bliss. Damn! The pain of separations are like the night and day, giving way, not nearly as overwhelming as they appear, when on the great wheel of stars, a voice so clear, calls out your YES.

(So in practical terms that means I am in Bulgaria, writing new songs toward this album of mine, and being extended on a daily basis, because I can hear things that I can’t yet play… Love it!)


Koprivshtitsa National Folklore Festival happens only every 5 years!  Named after the potent Kopriva (nettle), this seriously charming cluster of stone and wooden houses is nestled in the Sredna Gora mountains, in central Bulgaria.  Renowned for its role in the 1876 uprising, Koprivshtitsa  now opens its valley arms for 3 days and nights, to travelers from all around the country and the globe…

Fleeting impressions for me – in the bustle, in the heat… bus loads of singers, players and dancers from all over the country, come and go. Impressive army tents house these humble magicians, in the fields beneath the village.  Fancifully-retro dressed by day, plain-clothe ninja’s by night.  The best parties happen in the dark, long after the official program has finished, and yet, in broad daylight, flanked by beer sponsored parasols and busy promotional banners, swamped by folk-thirsty admirers in garish modern attire, they always seem to protect and carry the mysterious presence of their ancestors, both in their sound and movement.  Powerful voices break through mediocre PAs, elegant feet fly in bewitching unison over plain concrete slabs, all beneath a heavy blue sky, between the tall pines.

The most beautiful old women you have ever seen, brandish brilliant smiles with single teeth, wear showers of golden coins on their bosom, carry plump roses in their hair, and make their painstaking way up and down the mountain every day, from forest stages to cobbled streets, all in good time, laughing at us travelers, for a reason or two…


hearts 1


Flying by the seat of one’s pants!!

I learn of the final exam the day before it (my tutor forgot to tell me!?)

Enjoy the perks of lost-in-translation: “see you at 10:30, warmed up” is not “see you at 10:30, to warm up”.  I swoop in, sweaty from the walk, and the panel asks – are you ready?  Why, YES, of course!  Something good told me to warm up at home…

A rocky first verse or two with that husky morning voice – vocal chords a little too loose for the bright timbre required.  Then, I sing my heart out, soaring to the mountains beyond the leaves, through arching phrases, sexy ornaments and cheeky rhythms, through lush floating vowels and cutting consonants, endeavoring to apply everything I have learned this year… all in a few moments, a few couplets, AND with feeling, please!

Today’s offering, offered.

Some tunes require such a delicious balance of strength and suppleness, such a blend of light and dark, that I feel like I am on a tightrope, and in love.  I get that this ‘search’ will last all my life – like ‘the search’ for the perfect wave that surfers devote themselves to, without expecting to, or needing to, actually ever find it… the process itself is the magic.

The luminous smile on my teachers face says she is proud enough.

What a crazy experience.  A whole year singing old folk songs in Bulgarian dialects!  Why does this music and language grow on me like this?  My love and admiration has only deepened… and I feel, somehow, carried by the daily challenge.

Spring Snow

Mother Spoke To The Sun

My first impressions of this voice were mineral: A native copper resonance driving through space. The sedimentary influence of centuries of song. The inner core of a purifying ore, reversing the corrosion of our spirits. A high density alkaline substance with an electrical conductivity that reaches the intelligence of my skin…

If my ears were eyes, they would see flint, glinting on the stream bed. If my ears were hands, they would feel raw ochre, crumbling with gold dusts. And if my ears were tongues, they would taste iron, kale and honey.

Though we work with scores and all these songs are written down for some form of posterity, the living treasure and actual significance comes through only in the human transmission. Week after week, Svetla Stanilova offers her voice, her mana-wahine and her patience – to transmit the tone, the phrasing and the ornaments that will carry our stories, be they of love or war.

Working in the old ochre building (The Yellow School) with its peeling facade and sunny outlook, is a treat. Our gazes plunge down over the roman amphitheater like birds, then out to the Rhodope Mountains beyond, as she sings me Mama na Slwncho Govori (Mother Spoke to the Sun) from nearby Pazardjik… LISTEN HERE

The Yellow School

Conversations with Dora Hristova

I want to share with you some moments gleaned from my conversations with Prof. Dora Hristova, choir conductor of “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares”. This is the very choir who’s recordings I heard as a child and who’s phenomenal sound planted in my being the dream of one day coming to this land.

The privilege it is for me to study now with Dora H. in her last year at the music academy in Plovdiv, is doubled with a deep gratitude for her willingness to allow me to sit-in on LMVB choir rehearsals in Sofia, every now and again. There, I get to experience the visceral, pungent timbre of these women’s voices first hand, in process, embodied, as it is today. The generations interweave, the political movements are felt. Amongst trials and triumphs, struggles and successes, the single binding factor is this mysterious magnetic vocal style, and when the women sing, everything else falls away…

Dora Hristova BW med


– from conversations at Nikolay Haytov Chitalishte and Dora Hristova’s home in March 2015. Features samples from LMVB rehearsals + extracts of the songs “Dva Shopska Dueta” & “Kalimankou Denkou”.

By the Yantra River

A time of change. Though some would say it is always the time of change. The illusion of shapes. The imprint they have on a mind. Pathways worn deep.  Grooves of the assumed – until a landslide, an earthquake, a breakup, occurs. And so we are blessed with the task of release. The lights flashing up off the water already know this. We get to hug trees that stand crooked with their wounds and ever reaching stillness. We get to watch cascades of rubbish mingle with sweet wide waters. We get to see the open plan of a fisherman’s face, the space it has learned from watching water flow. And we get to notice the absence of water, in fact, in the stiff mugs of the city folk. But music is water…

On tour with Kottarashky & The Rain Dogs.  We get to bring loud dense sound, sensual rhythm and calls from the cosmos to underground bars, where youth and youth at heart, throb and drink. We get to drive and drive, and watch winter trees passing by like paper cutouts against the affectionate pressing in of a low sun. We get to forget and remember, and forget again, the people we thought we were, the people we thought we needed. Just the sun now, the thistles, and the wind. The wind, caressing the land, the wind picking the foam up off the waves, the wind coursing through the instruments, that breath moving from mouth to mouth, and back alone.

And through this thing, this music, that passes, we get to die, all together, and we love each other better for it.  One morning, in the old, old town of Veliko Tarnovo, I sang to the Yantra River…

Yantra River



In a small village not too far from Plovdiv, a motley carnival crowd gathers beneath the cold cloud to soak up the transformative energy of the Kukeri.

The men of the village, costumed and masked, wear a belt of clanging copper bells and carry wooden swords, symbols of fertility, with which they may bless your shoulder. Beautiful black hessian hoods in pyramid form are carried high and sometimes come down to shroud the men. They have already been through the houses to chase the evil spirits away and to bring good health, abundant harvest and happiness. Now they dance-walk, encircling the driving solar rhythms of the ‘tapan’ drums and the hypnotic melodies of the ‘zurna’ wind instrument, played by local Romani musicians.


Traditionally performed only by men, today it is a young woman in hidden-heel-bling-sneakers who carries the leading phallus of the parade. Incongruous rubber gorilla masks mingle with the more traditional woolley-horned spirits and some beautifully hand-made colourful cloth masks…

A ritual that was forbidden during the totalitarian years here exudes a rough kind of gusto – tattooed muscle smokes in the back-line, but there is always time for that energetic whacking of peoples backs with an inflated sheep’s stomach, to chase out evil spirits and bring good health!


Gyuro, Dobwr Yunak

Of the dozen songs thrown at me in my individual lessons so far, one particularly strikes my gong – Гюро Добър Юнак (Gyuro Dobwr Yunak) from Trakiya region, as arranged by Stoyan Paurov.

Our protagonist lays in a prison tower, a hawk chick in hand. He breaks his own fingers to pieces to feed the bird, he gathers his own tears to water it, to raise it to be able to fly, on his behalf, to get news of his family… the grown bird does fly, but brings back only word of overgrown yards, empty houses and a single dead tree.

This epic piece is travelling me. The ornaments, designed to flip and tumble from steady arching phrases, are like running your fingertips through the longing of calm water, and watching the light break up, flash and ripple out into eternity…

I thought it fitting to sing you some of it in the bathroom of a friend’s atelier, located on the 15th floor of a soviet style block in the Sofia suburbs… a tower indeed. A tower where you will hear the water pipes grinding against the weight of time, as I croon in this language that is not mine, but that teaches me so much about making sound!

LISTEN to “Gyuro in the Tower” HERE

Though scored, the timing of this piece is completely elastic, dictated by the story itself – a breathable rather than beatable meter, meticulously coached by my vocal tutor Svetla Stanilova, and lovely piano accompanist, Maria Akrabova.

For me as a vocalist and as a person, this song is like a supreme challenge to be powerful yet tender, broken yet whole, active yet still, ahead yet present, vast yet concise… A piece I believe I will be working with for years! I sang it for the class, accompanied by Maria, for our end of semester sharing on Wednesday:

LISTEN to “Gyuro for AMTII” HERE

And for the vocal geeks:

Something I am finding particularly interesting is learning how to apply the right impulse and pressure of a particular ornament onto different vowels (depending on the lyric). For example the “ko” from sokolovo that you hear in these recordings, is a particularly loving sound (round yet contained), to apply this pattern to. Later in the song (there are two more cycles), a “te” from da te dwrja, risks splaying and hardening, and requires particular attention to keeping the tongue active, yet lower jaw relaxed and throat open, thus allowing the ornament to percuss freely in the larynx…

My favorite pattern looks like this on the page:

Sokolovo Pattern

Listen to this, and more, on my sound-cloud below… (ps – that luminous bird you see just appeared in my motion photo experiments… What happens when you dance and click?  Sometimes magic!!)

Blur Bird square

What a song can do…

Tzigani Street

As living bones are steeped in a damp cold and Koleda (Christmas) lights deployed, Plovdiv pedestrian center takes on a new kind of fast-footed, steaming-breath hush… the furtive cats still own the open rubbish bins, glossy people bustle to buy shiny things, while the matt-finish homeless are less visible, hunkering down somewhere else… fake furs speak with real furs, bling boots insult colored berets, and you learn which paving stones you must not step on lest your weight elicit that mini-mud-geyser up your own leg…

One night, in the soft rain, the gravity of a familiar melody drew me around a street corner to encounter two beautifully weathered Tzigani street musicians: teeth missing, bright eyes and all. On accordion and fiddle, fingerless gloves take on a whole new meaning…

Click here to listen!

Bachkovo Lovin’

When the ache to get out of the city grew too large in my heart, I stuffed a backpack full of warm things and put myself on the bus to Bachkovo – so close and yet a world away. Arriving for sundown – steep slopes still green through the autumn rust, peaks wearing just a sprinkling of snow – I wandered through the village… wood-fire smoke, over-ripe grapes, exposed brick, barking dogs, and the powerful constant roar of the mountain torrent. Across it, the path up to the Monastery…

As the stalls close and day-visitors file out, I sign in and am shown to my room. Prepared for a “monks” night, with sleeping bag, best socks, thermos and all, I am shown into a warm space with linen, towels, blankets, heater, bathroom… umm!? Then ushered down to the dining room – a cosmic art-deco chapel with star studded blue sky and angels flitting about in the clouds. I eat alone, it being barely past 5pm, and note that all the food is mushy. I think of tooth-less jaws masticating beneath great white beards. Roast pepper paste, chicken broth and sweet semolina.

Called outside by sung prayers, standing still for ages in the courtyard beside the laden persimmon tree, listening, imagining a circle of monks, a private ritual echoing out into the weight of the now moonlit valley… I eventually realize that the chants are amplified throughout the complex and that the ceremony happening just inside the chapel is open to all. I take my cue and light a couple of candles for the dead as it happens to be Arhangelova Zadushnitsa, All Souls Day. Plain clothes mingle with robed monks (yes, bearing great white beards) and relay, prayer upon prayer, in beautiful earthy voices, of which I understand nothing. Soul to soul, then!

Dawn, and the cluster of white doves sleeping on the chapel roof stirs. Still no one out as I fill my gourd with icy spring water and begin the ascent towards… the awesome. (Not without take-away coffee from the machine by the hotel to wash down my walnuts and goji berries mind you!) A lone man and his dog reflect my morning contentment. We soak in the colors together, already amplified by a potent blue sky. Ground frozen hard, boots crunch over white grass to reach latent blackberries, swollen with autumn rain and eternally tart. The valley below is golden, the ridges above, abrupt and crumbly. Cold knees. Wide eyes. Happy heart.

I scaled the flank of a mountain in search of some sun. Found some. Nested there for hours, in the wild thyme and sang with the birds. It’s called Bachkovo Lovin’


As I eat my breakfast each morning, I love to watch the wall. The wall of the abandoned building across the street, that is.

It is in the stillness, the sameness, the repetition of my attendance, that my sight deepens.


One morning, I suddenly perceive the weathered shoe on the windowsill of the 17th window, till now a chameleon, in its perfect lime off-white. The following morning the word QUEEN appears – delicately scratched into the alcove of the once-was-mint-green rusted over door.

Time shows, and the interplay of tags are genuine – a fine blood-red scribe mid-wall is echoed further down in bold block letters, standing like elephants feet on the mossy footpath. The peeling wallpaper inside the 23rd room runs in waves with sharp crests, mimicking the broken glass, still in the grip of the window-frame. The variations of ochre on this wall are infinite – a surface many a painter would be proud to claim as his work.  The human stories have evaporated. Now it is the dust that speaks to the pigeons, while the dead-end wires dance with their own shadows.

Before we are taught what is beautiful, the sight of a river-rat being devoured by a dog is fascinating. Before we are taught what is delicious, a fistful of sand is a feast like any other.  Acquired tastes and sense of value…

The първи глас (soprano) hits a high C# at full open throated velocity – the sound of a banshee. Satisfied ripples on my skin. It surprised me last year to note how many of my World Choir participants initially disliked, or should I say – hated with a vengeance, the sound of one of the songs I proposed. Because I have listened to this music and admired it for years, it never occurred to me that it could be disliked. That very night, on National Radio, was discussed the nature of taste and how we can only love what we know. And yet, some souls are struck like a gong, while others, not.  The mysterious currents of music continue to move…





The distinct sensation of being a jellyfish – carried by the currents, tumbled by the waves, exhibiting a generally transparent personality, with not a word to say. I have become an ambivalent witness of the lights passing through me and frequently quiver with salty emotion.  My dear partner returned to Aotearoa/NZ yesterday. This singular year begins…


Stepping out from my school, each turn is a cobbled cross-country exercise. Large, irregular and ancient stones carry high-heeled women, walking as if they were crossing a river ford (romance is augmented when there is a man’s arm to hold onto…) Aside from this riveting spectacle, the narrow streets, misty today, lead into gardens, churches, galleries, houses for music and their courtyards, where roses hang their heads, heavy with rain, where words emerge triumphantly from a child’s mouth, “o, чадър! как се казваш?” (Oh, umbrella! What’s your name?) And so, a grandfather chuckles, while the milk-bearing mother cat streaks across the way, furtively seizing her moment…

Plovdiv AmphitheaterFilip-Kutev-EnsembleThe roman amphitheater, onto which the academy opens, is home to grand performances, two of which I have been lucky enough to catch. The famous Trakia and Filip Kutev Ensembles spread their brilliant wares even though it rained. My favorite acappella quartet, Eva Quartet, will sing in a music-house at end of the month. Classical music is also in high regard and I am learning to sort my outings by preference as the West European classics ‘à la Bulgare’ have markedly less spine-chilling watts for me, than the gripping arrangements of local polyphony.

With Plovdiv vying for some “cultural capital of the year” European title in 2019, council money is lavished on swish ruin illuminations, stars beneath our feet, and plenty of concerts / presentations, in what seems to be an extra long warm up, while just a street or two back, large old houses are in ruin and graffiti reigns…

My-VistaFacadeNevertheless, praise to the muted sound of the main pedestrian street at night – how calm a city can be with the sweet absence of cars! I’ve only been in one since I am here. The intercity buses are brilliant.

I am renting a room in a house built at the beginning of last century. Sharing no language with my landlady, I discovered after some time that I was not flatting with a fiery artist, but with her nifty mother. With the pension being but 200lev per month (not enough to live on) pennies are pinched: cold-water dishes and shower water heated just enough for one at a time, menus consisting mostly of potatoes, beans and tomatoes, as they are in season. Cigarettes are cheap, so those don’t count. I’m keeping up with a little more than spuds myself, and feasting on olives, goats cheese, dark bread, walnuts, honey…

The floorboards are pretty wild to say the least, some windows don’t open and each door has its own voice. The bathroom and kitchen are like caves that you climb into, built hugging the shape of the mountain. Because yes, the charm is that I am at the foot of one of Plovdiv’s 5 hills, each rising abruptly out of the pure plain.

West-from-SahatThese rockin’ bumps are home to roman ruins, minarets from the Ottoman time turned bell-tower, humongous soviet style statues left over from socialist times, clusters of satellite dishes, prolific graffiti on rock, kissing youth, pre-teens having their first cider out of school on a Tuesday, dogs walking their masters, the occasional lost soul – monologuing, and many scratchy bushes and trees that I don’t know the name of…

I made my first geranium cuttings and, lo and behold, despite it being autumn, they are budding on my windowsill.  I practice yoga facing the south window (where the warmth is!) and have already lost count of the yellow leaves falling. They are swept away, daily, by the Roma sweepers… Yes, all the sweeper women, with their brush brooms, are darker eyed, darker skinned, and have experienced the weather… I have been shocked by more than one vehement comment on the subject of this unofficial ethnic hierarchy.

My anticipated health sacrifice – to spend a year in a place where they smoke madly indoors, in search of music – is null and void.  Three years ago the Bulgarian people passed the no-smoking-indoors law, which is a total blessing, considering that they are 2nd in the world (smokers per capita) just after Greece and just before Serbia… one can sense the Philip Morris mantel sweeping steadily across the landscape.


There has been more than one administrative riddle and it has taken a good two weeks to understand my timetable and attend the right classes as the right time! The road was not paved – so to speak, and the phenomenal ability humans have to misunderstand each other in normal life, was visibly augmented by our language/cultural barriers. But school is beautiful – see one of the back doors and the steps of the singer’s building below…

School-DoorSingers-BuildingNow with a whole 8 afternoons of language class under my belt, I forage into conversation and just try to keep “спокоино” (calm) when it goes over my head – which is usually by the 2nd or 3rd sentence. There are some angels undercover here, who take the time to smile into my eyes, listen patiently and find words in their broken English to help.

The all female Folklore Choir makes a sound you wouldn’t believe. This, being the main attraction for me, ironically, was the class I wasn’t given information about for two weeks. I could hear them down the corridors but didn’t dare barge in, mid-rehearsal. All is well that ends (or continues) well. I got my dose of shivers today and have a pile of scores to catch up on, with the double task of learning text that doesn’t mean anything to me… yet! I am a sponge, I am sponge, I am sponge…  Here is a short sample of their rehearsal today in Plovdiv. Those of you who know me will understand why I am in pure bliss at the notion of soaking in this for a year.

Otherwise, the dear Prof. Dora Hristova welcomes me into her vocal ensembles on Thursdays – singing in trio to quintet formation. Such a blessing to study intimately with this experienced woman, the conductor of the LMVB (Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares) choir itself! She is bright, generous and inclusive.

The third strand of my study, individual Folklore singing, has opened up its share of tasks with 5 songs already – lavishly ornamented, of various odd-meters, I am encouraged to maintain a particularly clear and forward vowel resonance, and to use short percussive consonants – which is extra funny when there are 4 of them in a row! The 7 distinct regions of Folklore song in Bulgaria will be revealed to me as we go. For now I have 3 tunes from Trakia and 2 from Rodopi on the boiler…

Places where you can hear your breath

Pilgrimage to Bidarray, Vallee du Baztan and up to Col d’Ezpalza, one of my favourite places on the planet… It turns out my guardian tree – an ample chestnut with bowed mossing arms and broad green leaves – was entirely ravished by the 4th July rains. In its place, a gigantic gouge in the mountainside, an open casket of raw red earth. And I thought my ashes would go to its feet! Turns out I lived longer. Reactive and vigorous climb through the heat, shelter from the sun beneath out-crops of slate rock like a land toad, wet your hat in a trickle of moisture -say the armpit of the land, then, climb some more. Reaching ridge-lines, breathe with the vultures, feel their 2m+ wingspan brushing the space above your lonely head in broad strokes of pure glide. A place where you can hear your breath.


I feel a real fondness for Aotearoa/NZ weather. I feel akin to the constant shifting of skies, close clouds swift and the distant ones, still. The hush of the coastline today – is that water to sand or wind to leaf? The glossy wink of Pohutukawa foliage along cliff-tops echoes that of the sea-skin, ruffled this afternoon by the fingers of a tender northerly.  And the sharp cry of gulls deepens the sky… how much does this inform I? Do these moods, shifting over the land and sea of me, form in communion with my surroundings? I look forward to observing what changes in me and what stays constant, while immersed in a different land… soon Bulgaria.

Words can only go so far, so I sang us a sun-shower…

How to start a day

If I read the news first I am paralyzed by sorrow. If I sing first I am awakened to gratitude and wonder.

If I read the news second, this gratitude and wonder encounters a gripping distortion, a confusion in the face of such energetic hate and myriad manifestations of cruelty and violence.

If I look out the window at that moment, I am further disorientated by the stunning blue expanse, the gentle flight of the birds, the peacefulness offered by the clear view of the islands in their perfect paper cut-out silhouettes…

Turning back to my screen, I cannot bring myself to comment, to agree or disagree, to condemn or support, to reconcile perspectives or hope for understanding.

If at this moment, I sing?

– but who am I to sing, to create, to love, when others are suffering!?

I am not sure about it, but I am trying this out: give song/life to your surroundings.

And tell me how you go?




A gallery space, an artist who sang to himself in it and who wondered what it would be like to gather here a bouquet of voices, an audience. Diversity came to the George Fraser Gallery. The line up promised intimacy and surprise. Promises were delivered, were mainlined into ears, mouths, hearts and beyond.

I felt so nourished as a vocalist, part of an intricate web of cross-pollinations, as if we had all been transformed, biologically.

In fact, the world had opened, like a pod of ripe seeds. When it came to an end, I strolled into the biting cold with a warm mind. I spoke to an unusual number of strangers that night and had the distinct sensation of actually conversing, of actually exchanging ideas.

In a rather frolic mood I crashed a party, which turned out to be the annual gathering of NZ art teachers. In the electrified cacophony of the gallery dance hall, I came face to face with a woman I hadn’t seen for 20 years, then with my favorite high school teacher – someone who has influenced my creative approach to the core. I was able to tell him how much it meant to me, how much he had given me.

I handed him copy number 51/100 of the hand-sewn Acapollinations EP, which a friend calls aural wasabi. We discussed the fact that it contained my extensions on socialist state arrangements of Bulgarian folk music. We decided to call it post-post-modern-folk.

Last night was proof that magic exists, and likes it when you explore.






Rainy Day

The thing I love most about singing is that it teaches me to be present and whole, while embracing duality. I have to be both the support and the surrender. The death, the birthing, and the moments between. It all ties in with the flight of birds by the cliffs, on a stormy day:

Sculpt the torso to be upright and open, like a cliff face. Set in motion a constant upward stream of energy, like the rising air currents. Allow yourself to be carried with all the tenderness and surrender of the bird. This tenderness can first be felt in the heart, then on the lips, and finally you will hear it reflected as such, resonating into the world.

In between, inhale as an actual release. Release everything you have known, built, achieved, and surrender to this entirely new moment. It will bring you shivers, and a sense of belonging like no other.



On the opening day of my 35th year on earth, it is my pleasure to launch a fun-raising campaign in honor of the heart-felt adventure I am about to embark on…

I will leave NZ early August, abandoning the subtle frosts and beautiful low sunlight of a South Pacific winter, and by steel bird, join the tail of an East European summer, for a year of song.


“A La Claire” (music video) to celebrate the new ACAPOLLiNATiONS album M/OTHER Tongue

When I enter into the process of arranging a traditional song, I take comfort in the lineage, the generations of singers, the hardened, gnarled sinew of the melody, over time… Because the song exists as a living entity of its own, I can literally sit back and listen to the wishes it has for us. Of course, they come through the lens of what I believe to be possible, but most often, the vocal parts present themselves and there is a sensation of revelation – quite the opposite of thinking. Making a moving image for the recording is much the same – while out walking, I can see things unfold in my minds eye, but once it is time for capture and I am with camera in hand, it is an entirely new process, where one follow leads and accept invitations… As if those ideas were just something to leave behind.

This arrangement was made for my grandmother, who taught me this song as a child – with her voice like a flute made of light. I remembered the feelings more than the words. This arrangement is also made for the eternal maiden within, who will always feel things to the fullest, and who enters into communion with the natural world each day – taking delight in the slightest of things.

Nothing purer than dew - 

Dew that does not last,

But refracts a sunlight wonder, 

For those who do attend.

Bird, leaves and promises to the wind!

The capacity to lean into a body-soul encounter,

All the while maintaining a body-soul sovereignty.

The new ACAPOLLiNATiONS album M/OTHER Tongue (2023) is a multi-lingual, compelling collection of colourful folklore songs, where archaic musical systems are reimagined for three vivacious voices. In this recording, Tui Mamaki (French-Kiwi), Chelsea Prastiti (Greek-Kiwi) and Sally Howe (Cook Island-Kiwi) interweave songs from their grandmothers – both genetic and imagined – with a bespoke repertoire issue of Tui Mamaki’s love affair with Bulgarian Folklore. Evocative melodies, stirringly close harmony and stories we all know – of longing, harvest and transcendence – heard anew.

Purchase the M/OTHER Tongue album (physical or digital) here

Get tickets for Sunday 12th March Album Release Concert here

See ACAPOLLiNATiONS @ WOMAD NZ on 18/19 March 2023

M/OTHER TONGUE – Nouvel album du trio néo-zélandais ACAPOLLiNATiONS

Beautiful words from Pierre at La Maison Jaune…

La Maison Jaune, le Blog

Album à paraître ce 01/03/2023

La chanteuse TUi Mamaki, rencontrée en 2018 à l’occasion de la parution de son EP Hear My Voice (Beating Drum 2018), est une de ces personnalités singulières qui ne cessent de creuser le sillon d’une poésie unique, empreinte ici d’une forme de sacré connecté aux traditions vocales.

photo © Shannon Aroha

Au sein de son trio vocal a cappella Acapollinations, TUi Mamaki annonce un nouvel album et une série de concerts..

Acapollinations a fait ses débuts en 2014. Partant du principe que les voix, les cultures et les rythmes s’interpénètrent, ce trio réussit des adaptations envoûtantes et impertinentes de la polyphonie balkanique, avec une touche d’improvisation Aotearoa (nom Maori pour désigner la Nouvelle-Zélande). Des rythmes irréguliers, une harmonie émouvante et les voix évocatrices de Tui Mamaki (Franco-Kiwi), Chelsea Prastiti (Grecque-Kiwi) et Sally Howe (Cook-Island-Kiwi) sont les éléments essentiels d’un registre hautement…

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