Chalga (often referred to as pop-folk, short for "popular folk") is a Bulgarian music genre. Chalga or pop-folk is essentially a folk-inspired dance music genre, with a blend of Bulgarian music (Bulgarian ethno-pop genre) and also primary influences from Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Romani and Albanian music.
|Cultural origins||1960s, Bulgaria|
The name Chalga is derived from the Turkish word Çalgı, meaning "musical instrument". A Chalgadzhiya (in Turkish Çalgıcı) was a performer who could play virtually any type of music, adding his or her own distinctive beat or rhythm to the song. Often a Chalgadzhiya would not be able to read music, but instead play from memory on his or her Kaval (an end-blown Flute). Playing in groups at festivals or weddings, these performers initiated the popularization of chalga.
Nazi Germany-allied Bulgaria was invaded by the Soviets in 1944 and was under communist rule for forty five years. The local communist apparatchiks denounced western influences that Bulgarians had enjoyed including jazz and promoted its own folklore instead. The music played was often imbued with nationalist or “New Life” undertones to influence the public to be more accepting. Often songs on the radio exhibited communist views and ideals; such as the virtues of collectivized farming. The Soviets banned western music such as Elvis and the Beatles, because they were deemed evil and immoral. Those who did not abide by the ban and continued to listen to western radio stations were sometimes fired or even sent to labor camps. In the 1980s the communists issued a state-run radio station to broadcast only certain percentages of Bulgarian and Soviet songs, and the remaining 20% that was not allocated to those categories was left to “Songs of other nations.” During this time the neighboring Yugoslavia made their own version of Chalga music and called it Turbo-folk which Bulgarians often would pirate the tapes from and listen to in secret. Current Chalga music didn't emerge until 1989 with the collapse of communist rule. The people began to rejoice over the fact that no one could tell them what to listen to anymore, and Chalga took off. There were critics who complained that Chalga was only about corruption, easy money, and indiscriminate sex, but many "ordinary" people got so into it because of their new freedom that they embraced Chalga as their alternative to officialdom.
Throughout the Balkans, folk traditions have seen a process of modernization. In Greece, there are similarities with Laiko Greek music. The eastern music of Byzantine tradition in history, became very close to early Bulgarian Chalga music.
In Turkey, Arabesque music, with similar "popular" elements was developed, taking Turkish music elements and lyrics and mixing it more with Arab influences due to religious similarities, with Arabesque becoming increasingly popular since the 1960s and has now become part of Turkish music as well.
Whilst in the People's Republic of Bulgaria, Chalga was forbidden by the ruling Communist governments. Todor Zhivkov, the last Communist leader of Bulgaria, took a more nationalistic opinion in the 1980s, considering Chalga music tradition as inferior to purely Slavic roots music. Chalga often came with a provocative hip-shaking dance and at times lewd sexual lyrics, so it was also considered inappropriate from a moral standpoint. While discouraged in Bulgaria, and not played on official radio stations, a similar type of music called Turbofolk in neighboring SFR Yugoslavia was met with less restriction by the Yugoslav official media.
In 1989, when the communism fell, restrictions on broadcasting Chalga or Pop-folk music were lifted. A new generation of musicians adopted the genre and grabbed the public spotlight, performing daring and overtly sexual songs not allowed earlier. Pop-folk also infiltrated the mass media with a string of controversial sensational coverage. Though it was still widely considered "degenerate" and "low level" music, it managed to gain popularity in the following decade. In the first years of the rise of Chalga, the melodies were influenced by Arabic, Turkish and Greek folk music featuring instruments such as zurna, clarinet, accordion and buzuki. The early Pop-folk divas and "kings", such as Toni Dacheva - the singer of Kristal Orchestra - Gloria, Valdes, Rado Shisharkata and Sasho Roman, opened the way for uprising stars such as Sashka Vaseva, Desi Slava, Ivana, Kamelia, Reni, Extra Nina, Tsvetelina, Vesela, Joro Lyubimetsa. Although, some had only several years of success, many of the stars of the early Pop-folk years became icons for the genre. Several recording studios such as Payner Music and ARA Music, pumped out a steady stream of tracks every week on dedicated TV channels.
By the 2000s, Chalga's popularity greatly increased, in far greater proportion to its neighboring popular traditions of Serbian Turbo-folk or Greek Laïko. The processes of liberalisation in the country allowed the Chalga genre to deal openly with more provocative displays of sex, money, as well as profanity in general similar in attitude to the rap or hip-hop music videos. The early years of the 21st century gave rise to the star of Azis in the Bulgarian musical scene. His provocative and inappropriate public displays of nudity and homosexuality along with the vulgar lyrics of some of his songs and his flamboyant clothing played a great role in controversially popularizing the genre internationally as a typical Bulgarian music. His shocking public behaviour and announcements, alongside his undisputed musical talent boosted his fame and he is considered by many to be the king of the Chalga genre. However, constant competition among for media attention singers and reliance on displays of sex, drugs and the use of vulgar language has left the public with negative attitude towards the genre. A particular example of inadequacy in seeking commercial success is the incorporation of the anthem of the Bulgarian army into a song.
Other competing styles made efforts to create fusion using Chalga elements in rap and hip hop music, represented by artists and groups like Ustata, by acts like Dope Reach Squad, and Mangasarian Bros.
Today Pop-folk record companies collaborate with various partners, mainly from other Balkan countries, giving in to the popular world trends of RnB and Hip-Hop, as well as dance, techno, house and even dubstep and drum and bass, making this type of music more popular abroad.
Chalga has become popular in "Chalga dance clubs" and Chalga-oriented pubs. Most Chalga clubs or Pop-folk clubs are called 'клуб' (club). Chalga clubs are sometimes the most busy venues in Sofia and touristic venues. But this apparent success and upsurge in popularity has invited great controversy about Chalga and its quick proliferation and has led to some musical and linguistic research, critical study, and heated public discussions about the subject.
Chalga proponents often claim Chalga or Pop-folk is the new Bulgarian folk music,, but critics have demonstrated that it lacks connection to any indigenous music traditions and that its origins are largely Middle Eastern. Nevertheless, the Chalga industry promotes Chalga as having Bulgarian-roots to the local population and to tourists,  with the latter accepting it as a novel approach to Balkan pop.
Chalga is often criticized for its tawdriness, loose morals, the shocking look of its singers, its disconnection from Bulgarian music traditions (i.e. its Middle Eastern, Arabic, Arabesque roots), lack of creativity, and its sexually explicit lyrics. In addition, the Chalga industry exploits women and degrades them through sexism and blatant sexual provocations similar in attitude to the rap or hip-hop music videos.
Chalga is criticized for exposing the general public, including children and youths, to its vulgar and sexually illicit content. Some consider Chalga especially degrading of Bulgarian culture because it validates the sexual exploitation of women. Chalga female singers wear shockingly scant or revealing clothing and excessive amount of makeup, and get breast implants and lip injections to appear more attractive to men. Their worth is measured solely by their ability to seduce men and fulfill their sexual desires. Chalga music videos often feature a wealthy man who spends money on promiscuous women and insinuate that they engage in indiscriminate sexual acts. Chalga lyrics focus predominantly on sexual intercourse, promiscuous behavior, sexism, and corruption. Chalga music attracts tourists that don't understand the lyrics mainly because of its rhythm and beats. Still, many Bulgarians are shocked at the obscenity of the lyrics and the degrading effect on their culture and community.
Chalga venues are largely criticized for not regulating entry by underage individuals and for failing to protect its customers from sexual assault by promoting sexual interactions. Chalga venues also do not regulate distribution of illicit drugs and are related to smuggling and drug-trafficking.
Artists, performers, and musicians shun the Chalga industry for undermining music creativity by encouraging formulaic and predictable music, plagiarism, and lewd lyrics.
Modern-day Chalga or Pop-folk lyrics and music videos have overwhelmingly liberal sexual content. Chalga or Pop-folk texts, although sung primarily in Bulgarian, can be sung interchangeably in many languages and Bulgarian Chalga or Bulgarian Pop-folk have been subject of covers in a multiple of languages. But even in Bulgarian Chalga, sometimes especially in duet with foreign singer the actual Chalga song lyrics do contain a mixture of many languages – Bulgarian often mixed with some lyrics in Greek, Serbian, Turkish, Arabic and more recently with some lyrics in English, French, Spanish and Italian.
Because of its appeal and thanks to Bulgarian music television channels like Balkanika TV, Fan TV and Planeta TV, Chalga music genre has become very popular in folk festivals in Bulgaria and neighboring countries, notably Republic of Macedonia, Greece, Romania, Albania, all countries from the Ex-Yugoslavia, and to lesser extent in Russia, Ukraine and Moldova.
popular music, in the pages that follow I concentrate on the most popular genre, chalga. In today's Balkan peninsula, chalga is the general name for a new dance music that is a complex mixture of various musical styles and traditions