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 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 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.