Bulgaria took the world beat scene by storm early on with the Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares project, which took the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir from national ensemble to global phenomenon. The group still tours, but it often seems their initial concept of bringing longstanding village traditions to a modern world has been overshadowed by the group’s pop career, bringing “exotic” Balkan sounds to the likes of Kate Bush, the Xena: Warrior Princess soundtrack, and countless 1990s Eurodance producers.
That isn’t to minimize the accomplishments of the Choir, but it is where Eugenia Georgieva comes in. A singer from cosmopolitan Plovdiv who performed at festivals in the rural mountain villages of Bulgaria as a child, Georgieva has spent a lifetime learning and performing homegrown folk songs with stripped down arrangements and refreshing simplicity. The name of her new album, Po Drum Mome, translates to “A Girl on the Road”, and when Georgieva performs, she is just that. She sings of joys, sorrows, and stories with grace, but without pretense. Tradition may be on her mind, but it comes second to honesty, a quality abundant in her heartfelt delivery of each song. Both come together in Georgieva’s slice-of-rural-life vignettes.
Pastoral images and metaphors are some of the most important tricks of Georgieva’s trade. She opens the album with rustic “Gyul Devoyche”, a flute-heavy song with a steady pace that tells of a girl confiding to a rosebush her anxieties of an arranged marriage. Later, wistful ballad “Sama Li Si Den Zhunala” sees a man asking a woman to harvest and work by his side for the rest of their lives. Birds even save lives from strategic poisonings amidst political upheaval in bleak, shadowy “Trugnala Rada”. Nature is a constant, as are love, death, and farming – all part of the setting on Po Drum Mome.
Arrangements meant for a modern-day audience merge the old and the new in terms of instrumentation; kaval, gadulka, and tamboura meet double bass and guitar across the album. Tragic “Podzim Sum, Male, Legnala” stands out as having a particularly contemporary sound as gently plucked classical guitar strings and bowed bass move into the foreground to stand alongside Georgieva, while “Buenek” feels firmly set in an earlier era as the three more regional instruments perform a ritual dance. The permutations are endless, giving each track full and distinct character.
The academic world once accepted that culture could be broken down into three spheres: the elite, the popular, and the folk. On Po Drum Mome, Georgieva ably collapses the barriers between them, offering sincere renditions of traditional Balkan songs with the skill of a top-tier chamber ensemble and a style that almost sounds like the popular folk revival movement of 1960s Britain and America. It’s Fairport Convention playing the Pirin Mountains, long-told legends, and new-fangled compositions. Rooted in history, Po Drum Mome nonetheless manages to be a testament to Georgieva’s present as she brings forth her heritage and that of her countrymen to create something meaningful and real for this very moment.