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Chalga ("Чалга", in macedonian "Чалгија") is the most common word, used for identifying a style of music in Bulgaria and Macedonia, aka Pop Folk, incorporating a blend of Bulgarian, Arabic, Turkish, Greek, and Roma (Gypsy) influences, as well as motifs from even flamenco and klezmer music. It is known for repeating musical themes and dance rhythms and its style of dancing called kyuchek in Bulgarian.



The name chalga is derived from the Turkish word çalgı, meaning "musical instrument". A chalgadzhia (in Turkish çalgıcı, meaning "musician") is a performer who could play virtually any type of music, adding his own distinctive beat or rhythm to the song. Often a chalgadzhia would not be able to read music, but instead played from memory on his caval, (an end-blown flute). Playing in groups at festivals or weddings, these performers initiated the popularization of chalga.

Behind the Iron Curtain

In the socialist period, this genre was held in disfavor by the establishment for many reasons. Such oriental (as opposed to Slavic), low-class music had no place in a forward-looking, modern socialist state, and when Todor Zhivkov (the last communist leader of Bulgaria) decided to steer a more nationalistic tack in the 1980s, such oriental traditions were regarded as inferior to those with more purely Slavic roots. Chalga also came with a provocative hip-shaking dance and at times lewd lyrics, and thus its morality as well as its origins were considered dubious. While discouraged in Bulgaria, chalga-like music called turbofolk met less restriction in neighbouring SFR Yugoslavia.

Throughout the Balkans, folk traditions have been modernized. In Greece, pop music incorporated the traditions of laïkó ("popular"), a genre based mainly on the melos of Asia Minor Greeks. Many of its tunes were later borrowed by pop-folk musicians in Bulgaria. Laïkó's relative known as "Skiladiko" is close to early Bulgarian chalga, as exemplified by the Kristal Orchestra and others. In Turkey, arabesque music, a mixture of local and Middle Eastern influences, has gained ground since the 1960s.

Post-Communist reconstruction

In 1989, when the Zhivkov regime fell, restrictions were lifted and the old culture vanished. The "new" and "forbidden" were released. A new generation of musicians grabbed the public spotlight, performing songs that might have led to official sanctions only a year before. As a consequence of that, even Chalga managed to crawl to the mass media. Though it was still widely considered as degenerate music, and some of the old values kept, it managed to gain in popularity in the following decade.

Some critics believe that the movement reached its peak around 1998-1999, and has been replaced by Bulgarian pop-folk. However, it remains a popular genre. Earlier folk divas like Toni Dacheva, the singer of Kristal Orchestra, were followed by stars such as the "Mother of Chalga", Rousse-born Gloriya, onto the scene; pop-folk legends Konstantin, Desi Slava, Rayna ( one of the most authentic folk singers)], Ivana (Bulgarian singer), Aneliya, and others all became wide-known names. Several recording studios, headed by Payner and Planeta, pump out a steady stream of tracks every week on dedicated, hugely popular TV channels.

Chalga in the new century

By the 2000s, chalga's popularity increased, overtaking the Pop-folk genres of neighbouring Serbian Turbo-folk[1] and Greek laika in popularity.

Among the other styles competing (and in some cases merging) with chalga (Ustata, rapper, and Sofi Marinova, ethnic Roma singer of chalga, made a duet) are most notably rap and hip hop music, represented by artists and groups like Dope Reach Squad, Upsurt, Misho Shamara and Spens. Rap has also gained commercial success in Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria) and Varna, as well as in many televised videos.

Today chalga record companies collaborate and work with partners mainly from the other Balkan countries, making this type of Bulgarian music popular both in its home - Bulgaria, and abroad in the Balkans.


Chalga is popular in so-called "chalga dance clubs" and chalga oriented pubs, called kruchma (крчма/кръчма). Kruchma does not mean chalga club, but explicitly "pub" or "to go to a pub". Most chalga clubs are called 'клуб' (club). Some of the Chalga clubs are the most exclusive venues in town (you have to reserve a table a week in advance for the most popular ones while for most other clubs same-day reservations are common). The popularity of the music among the wealthy Bulgarians is a great stimuli for investors, and this results in expensive interior and exteriors of the clubs as well as a higher-than-average level of service. Although it is widely acclaimed by the masses (and by foreigners[2]) as an interesting modern approach to pop and a great way for entertainment, there is a, to some extent, public dislike of the genre. It is often criticized by some people, as tawdry,[3] having rather loose morals,[4] shocking outlook of singers[5] and having too much, for the traditional Bulgarian European tastes, Eastern, Arabic roots, and for its lyrics, ranging from sincere observation of endemic societal ills to the less easily deciphered. Example of chalga kyuchek lyrics:

Doko, Doko, Doko,[6] again you came home after dawn.

Doko, Doko, Doko, you are left with no money again.
Doko, Doko, Doko, you drank them all up.
Doko, Doko, Doko, you wasted them on women.[7]

Another example:

Pyramids, pharaohs, and stupid people for millions
Dog drags a bus; there is no trace left.[8][...]
He took the money, said "Wait a second," then took the plane.
Catch him if you can![9]

Another example:

Oh, Tiger, Tiger.

If you have money, if you have money, beautiful women.
Oh, Tiger, Tiger.
If you don't have money, if you don't have money... old ladies.

Chalga texts vary in language, most often they are sang in Bulgarian, but sometimes it is a mix of languages - Bulgarian with Turkish, Bulgarian with Roma, even Bulgarian with Serbian, English, Spanish, or Arabic. Some songs are sang entirely in Roma or Turkish. There are even examples of Macedonian contemporary (newly-composed) folk songs sang by Bulgarian chalga singers in folk music festivals in the neighbouring Macedonia. These songs are sang in Macedonian language and have an arrangement closer to Macedonian folk music, but also have chalga elements.

The controversy about chalga has led to some musical and linguistic research, and to a great number of public discussions.[10]

Chalga proponents often say it is the new Bulgarian folk, though it's obvious it has no connection to the national folklore roots, and its only folklore elements are oriental and Roma.

Many people regard chalga as similar to the US disco in the 1970s in that both of these music styles are 'dance-friendly', have catchy melodies, simple lyrics. Although they are very different, both US disco performers in the 1970s and chalga performers in the last two decades wear sparkling, bright-colored and sometimes kitschy stage costumes and clothes.


  • Седемте гряха на чалгата. Към антропология на етнопопмузиката, Розмари Стателова, ISBN 9540115361 (in Bulgarian) (translation of the title: The seven deadly sins of chalga. Toward an anthropology of ethnomusic, Rozmary Statelova)


  1. ^
  2. ^ Beethoven, Schiller and chalga, Boyko Penchev (bg)
  3. ^ Is chalga innocent? (bg)
  4. ^ Moral panic during transition (bg)
  5. ^ Politically incorrect 'chalga', Marlene Smits (en)
  6. ^ Doko is extremely unusual Bulgarian name(Could it be a Gipsy name?)
  7. ^ "Doko, Doko" sang by Kondyo
  8. ^ a modification of a Bulgarian saying: "Dog drags [in the transitive verb sense]; there is no trace left"
  9. ^ "Pyramids, pharaohs" ("Пирамиди, фараони") - from the hit album Pyramids, pharaohs /1996/ of Volodya Stoyanov (Volodya Stoyanov's Biography (bg)). Refers to the financial pyramids from the dawn of democracy in Bulgaria during the 90's.
  10. ^ New Folk: The phenomenon of chalga in modern Bulgarian folk, Milena Droumeva (en)

See also


External links



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