The Bulgarian Chalga Phenomenon

 

Picture this: sweaty, scantily-clad female bodies twerking up and down a pole; platinum-blonde extensions flying without any direction while bold, mobster looking dudes sip on vodka. Correction – the ladies grinding and bouncing to the beats of this hectic mixture of Turkish and gypsy beats know exactly what direction they’re pursuing: wallets full of cash. Welcome to the world of Bulgarian chalga.

How do I begin to explain the vast peculiarity of Bulgarian chalga? For starters, contrary to popular belief, this shit show is not our national music, nor is it our pride. In fact, many of us never dare to show videos of Galena, Azis or Gloria to anyone, ever. Over the past decades, we’ve strayed quite a lot from the traditional bagpipes and angelic voices of Valya Balkanska and somehow stumbled onto Azis – a shocking, perverse, ever-changing hybrid of a person, casually jumping between impersonations of Rihanna, Lady Gaga and a regular family man. Regardless of whether Azis chooses to be Vasko – the ordinary bro playing with his daughter in the park or Vasilka, dressed as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, he embodies chalga better than no one else. We love it (in public or in secret) and we adore to hate it.

If you think that chalga is about having a good time and dancing to fast Balkan rhythms of clarinet, keyboards, and trumpet, you’re right. It is our go-to club music, regardless of whether we are at Sunny Beach or in Studentski Grad. Chalga is all about sex, money and teasing-your-ex with sex and money. Lyrics aim to entice and diss at the same time. About 90% of chalga singers are women, who perfectly achieve all of these things in a single act of kyuchek. This music leaves us feeling good, sexy and desired. However, it has a dark side.

Precisely because most chalga performers are women and the nature of this genre is so overly sexual, every single one of them ends up being slut-shamed. It is not uncommon for rumors to circulate that Mariya or Desislava works as a part-time prostitute when she’s not wearing a coin belt around her waist in Chetvarti Kilometar. What is perhaps even worse, is that rich men (quite a few having made their money illegally) instantly assume that they can “buy” these women. Chalga is all about money and status. Since Bulgaria is poor, once you buy a bottle for your posse at the club, the bartender will get up on the table and rip napkins (read: make it rain), because we’ve got no $1 bills to waste like our Western peers do in movies.

There’s a lot to be hated about chalga. From misogyny, to elitism and anger towards the disappearance of our traditional music and values, this genre is loathed by many. We’ve got a fair amount of hipsters and unconventional characters who prefer Metallica, Lora Karadjova, Krisko, vintage Mastilo and even Slavi. Those are the people who fit the profile of an educated traveler in their 20’s, studying in Germany or Denmark. They go around preaching against chalga, kind of like Jesus – with a good point but misunderstood and blatantly ignored. I must admit, however, that as a USA-educated world traveler with a good job and high IQ, I get down to chalga’s shameless beats every now and then, as a huge ‘fuck you’ to any other culture that won’t shimmy; proudly representing temperamental Bulgaria. Love it or hate it, chalga is here to stay.

Azis – Hop


There’s nothing Azis loves more than a hot bath full of naked dudes. The Soviet Union game is strong, as a retro look to Bulgaria and Russia’s cozy relations was a popular chalga motif at one point. Lyrics go like “hop, put it in little by little then move slowly.”

Azis & Desislava – Kazvash che me obichash


Azis and Desislava have always been an incredibly successful combo. Starting off with gypsy lyrics as to pay homage to chalga’s supposed origins, this is a sad ballad following the story of a woman who got cheated on. Not sure who which of the two is supposed to be the woman in the video is though.

Galin & Preslava – Tsarya na kupona


“Girl what are we doing tonight, I say we get totally fucked up,” is the opener of this video. Suggesting a night of copious liquor, banging and dancing, this jam pretty much embodies all of chalga’s values.

Emanuela – Krayna myarka


Fast cars and latex. Enough said.

The chalga generation
As you can see, the chalga generation is now an undeniable fact. God help us all.