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You need strong roots in order to blossom: jazz singer Vlada Tomova and her musical adventures

Vlada Tomova at the presentation of the album Balkan Tales
Снимка: courtesy of the singer

Music and jazz in particular has taken Vlada Tomova all the way from Bulgaria to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, away from home, she reinvented herself, rediscovering Bulgarian folklore. She began to listen to recordings of The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices choir and to learn from folk singers Yanka Rupkina and Kremena Stantcheva. And she presented to her colleagues and friends her own rendition of Bulgarian folklore. "I think roots lie at the core of human nature and we must build upon them." These words of Vlada Tomova have their real dimension in Balkan Tales. In September, the album of this name was promoted at www.meloman.com in Sofia, but not only as a CD.

"I grew up with the records of the favorite performers to my father, so I was glad at the opportunity to release my own vinyl album. It includes two pieces that are not present in the original CD. They are not Balkan tunes, but my arrangement gives them this flavor. One is the theme of Sting /"They Dance Alone"/, and the other - "Fado Mãe" is one of the stars of the Portuguese fado, Dulce Pontes. The album Balkan Tales features songs collected for years. I was making arrangements for a long time with my group in Boston and then in New York, where they were recorded. One of the first songs I performed was about a young maid Dimyaninka who is leading her horse along the road. She looks at her image in the water and likes the reflection. This is a favorite song of mine. The album also features the Greek song "Avgoustos", the Kurdish folk song "Layla" and the Russian Gypsy Romance "Navechernyaya". That’s why I called this collection Balkan Tales. Living away from home, I find kindred spirits who come from different parts of the Balkans. We feel like brothers, we salute each other with "Komshu" (neighbor). Along with the songs I also included typical musical instruments from these countries. I'm glad that whenever I perform them I receive wonderful and warm feedback from the audience. Our rhythms attract and charge people. Not accidentally, there is great interest in Bulgarian folklore in the United States."

"In the vocal and instrumental groups I am involved there are no other Bulgarians", continues Vlada Tomova. "Some people are from the US, others – from Israel, Switzerland, and Greece. They charge the music with their own musical experience and sensitivity. Together we are making ethno music that carries a specific "flavor". I love the authentic folklore. It is important to keep it, but it is also good to find its convergences and mergers with the music of other nations. My work with the women’s folk choir Yasna Voices is focused entirely on Bulgarian folk songs. I am happy that now I have fifteen wonderful singers, five are from Bulgaria and the rest from the US, Russia and Austria. This is an amazing group and I hope next year we will visit the National Festival of Bulgarian Folklore in Koprivshtitsa. In 2014, I spent two months at home and again fell in love with Sozopol. There in my teenage years I was spending time there with different companies of actors, artists and musicians. Now I participated in the concert of Theodosii Spassov Jazz Quintet at Apollonia festival on September 1 and I was filled with new forces. I am preparing an album of original plays. There will be guest musicians, and I will invite Theodosii Spassov for one of the songs dedicated to Bulgaria. But most of them will be in English and have nothing to do with Bulgarian folklore. It came as a surprise even for me."

Vlada Tomova is emotional on and off stage. "Every day brings us the exciting gift of surprise, intimacy and discovery" - she says, presenting us another piece of her musical world. This is the first joint project of Vlada with her husband, American composer and guitarist Chris Rael. The acoustic rehearsals are attended also by their little son who fell in love with percussions and today at the age of 4 years knows and sings the songs from their album The Lazarus Rose.

“The Lazarus Rose is a beautiful album”, says Vlada Tomova. “It includes Sephardic songs - music of the Spanish Jews who settled around the Mediterranean and the Balkans. In the CD, they have been arranged for an ensemble of instruments from around the world. The idea and the arrangements are of my husband Chris. On the cover there is a picture of a rose, part of a bouquet which he gave me. I left it in a vase and it seemed to “come to life” – it stroke roots, I planted it, it grew, blossomed, even with three colors at a time... Unfortunately I did not know that I needed to cut the blossoms as the roots of this young plant have not yet become entrenched. And as for every single person, that is a good analogue - first you have to have strong roots, then you can fly up and blossom. In this sense, both the album Balkan Tales and The Lazarus Rose for me are a return to the roots and a self-affirmation. This makes me feel prepared for new colors. I wish all the listeners of Radio Bulgaria to feel free to dream and fly in every way possible.”

English Rossitsa Petcova

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