I’ve loved Bulgarian-style women’s choirs since a friend first introduced me to them back in 2008. These harmonies are tighter than the jeans I just pulled out of the dryer and more precise than winged eyeliner.
Listen to “Lale li si” here.
Of all the cultural choral traditions, none are as thrilling and technically challenging as those from Bulgaria. Since the 1950s, Bulgarian women’s choirs have been knocking the socks off of audiences. The Bulgarian Voices Angelite women’s choir was formed from the State Television Choir, which appeared on the Johnny Carson Show in 1990, introducing the United States to the amazing sound of traditional Bulgarian folk choirs. They became a huge hit (for a folk choir), and they have since performed all around the world: at the Grammy Awards, for the royal families of Denmark and Holland, for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, and across the globe in concerts. They’ve recorded with Kate Bush (KATE BUSH!) and were chosen to record a song for the animated film, Brother Bear.
Cultural music traditions can fall prey to imperialism, religious doctrine, or aggressive governments, and the fact that this music has survived is a testament to the tenacity of the singers, the directors, and composers alike. The women in the choir are from all around the country, chosen for the clarity and strength of their voices, and they come from a variety of musical backgrounds. Some of them can read music, some cannot, but all of them have a plethora of undeniably stunning talent.
The lyrics are firmly rooted in the pastoral tradition: choral pieces which wax poetic about shepherds, their sheep, and maidens. The piece describes three shepherds: one with a lamb for slaughter, one with sparkling wine, and one with a copper flute; they meet three maidens, carrying silk and sewing supplies.
If you have time, check out their sister choir, called the Bulgarian Radio Choir, or sometimes known for their 1986 album, Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares.