An Interview with Lost Chalga
On falling in love with chalga and the uphill battle to preserve it
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Chalga is an important part of Bulgarian music history. However, the genre is still not taken seriously in its home country and many early chalga albums are in danger of disappearing forever. Documentation and archival efforts often come from abroad.
Such is the case with Lost Chalga – a Facebook page and YouTube channel dedicated to preserving rare retro chalga records. I slid into their DMs last week and the result was the first interview in Gotin Link history and a fascinating conversation about ripping rare cassette tapes; fighting YouTube’s copyright system; Andrea’s best lyrics and more…
The interview has been slightly edited for clarity.
How did you get into chalga?
I'm an American living in New York City. I've always been interested in music from other countries since I was 14 (I'm 30 now), and because I grew up with YouТube since its early years it helped open the doors to so many different sounds from different corners of the world. I've listened to Bulgarian music since maybe 2007, but I didn't actually learn what chalga and popfolk music was until around 2009 when Andrea released her song Izlaji me. That song was my summer 2009 anthem, I have lots of fond memories of it from when I was a teenager.
I remember being completely obsessed with Andrea's sound and style. I wanted to hear more songs from her, and that's how I found my way into the world of chalga and popfolk. (Needless to say, Andrea has been my number one favorite singer). From there I started listening to all Balkan music like turbofolk, manele, tallava, and laïko, but I always loved chalga the most.
I knew that the genre had emerged after the fall of the communist regime, so I assumed because it's such a young genre, the only artists out there were the ones that debuted in the late 90s and early 2000s like Kamelia, Maria, Desislava, etc. and that the only labels producing popfolk were Payner, ARA, and Sunny (I think of them as The Big 3). Around 2015/2016, I stumbled onto a Youtube channel that was very similar to mine, full of niche albums and videos, and I wondered why when I searched for a lot of these singers and their songs on Google that I got no results, absolutely none! Then one day I saw that the channel had been terminated and I was pretty sad that such a great collection got nuked like that.
Some time later that person tried to recreate their channel and again, it was terminated once again, however, this time I decided to reach out to that person to ask them if they could send me a song that they had uploaded that I really liked (the song was Greta - Kadife). The person was a Bulgarian woman who goes by the name Strastna, and she was very kind to send me the full album of Greta and through her my digital collection started. However, not everything she had was in the best quality, which is to be expected since it's not easy getting a flawless rip of a cassette tape to digital.
I later decided I wanted to do what she tried to do and make an archive of retro chalga music, so in 2019 I ordered about 35 CDs on discogs, some of which I had no idea were extremely rare, such as Tanya Boeva - Shtastliva sum, for which I paid around 6 euros. I later learned that record labels haven’t made their archives available digitally. Record labels from the former Yugoslav nations all have their archives available digitally, even the labels that are no longer active, so why don't Bulgarian ones do? I learned from my other Bulgarian friends that this is either because:
1. Labels destroyed or lost their masters
2. Many labels simply do not care
3. Copyright (which to me doesn't make since since a lot of turbofolk songs are plagiarized too and they're still available to buy on iTunes)
4. Rumors about someone stealing the masters
And I found this to be so sad, and even if you reach out to the artist themselves, many of them don't even have the masters to their own content, and this doesn't stop with chalga, lots of estrada and retro pop music are like this too, so my channel, which started out to just be about chalga, extended to all Bulgarian music. It makes me sad that these songs will potentially die out and be never heard again. I started getting friends who live in Bulgaria to help me with collecting albums on auction sites like Bazar.bg so I could find better deals, since people on Discogs like to inflate their prices to ridiculous levels.
I later found myself in some collector communities on Facebook, and to my dismay, a lot of these people don’t share my mindset on music preservation at all. In fact, these communities are very toxic, hoarding rare albums for themselves that only they will get to hear. Many times if I reach out to someone for a CD-RIP, even when I offer something from my collection in exchange, I always get the same response: "My drives don't work." What a miserable way to live honestly, music should bring people together.
What’s running your channel been like? How do you deal with YouTube’s copyright system?
Running my channel has been an absolute joy, but YouTube's copyright guidelines are very overzealous, and they constantly have me worried about a potential copyright complaint and how close I could be to getting banned at any moment. I cannot stress enough that my channel is NOT monetized and I do NOT make money from it, but because so many of these songs are covers of other songs, I get copyright strikes from the copyright holders. Over the summer I had to make my channel private due to 2 active copyright strikes made by Serbian composer Steva Simeunovic. One more strike and my channel gets banned permanently, and it takes around 3 months for the strikes to expire. I sent an email to Steva about the strike and explained to him the purpose of my channel but never got a response from him. I've even had copyright strikes in the past from other Bulgarian artists which really surprised me. A few years ago I received a strike from Boyka Dangova herself, and so I deleted all her albums. I figured she'd prefer to upload them herself for the user traffic, but if you look at her official Youtube channel, none of her albums are available, and all her videos were downloaded from Vbox7 with Planetcho's watermark. Very odd decision on her part. Whereas other artists are very happy to see their old content being revived on my channel, for example I've seen Extra Nina share links from my channel on her official Facebook.
How do you feel about having an audience that is perhaps ignorant of the significance of your preservation efforts?
During the time I made my channel temporarily unavailable, I've received some ignorant messages from people being almost comically dramatic, saying that by doing this I'm playing with their emotions, honestly just totally ridiculous things. Apart from that, another thing I get a lot of ignorant messages about is when I delete and re-upload albums. Converting cassettes to digital is very tedious work, and not all cassette players produce the same sound quality. I like to ensure the best possible quality is available.
I really hope one day record labels will realize how much in demand this music is and release their archives digitally.
You mentioned you don't speak Bulgarian — do you listen to the lyrics of chalga songs?
I actually do care about the lyrical content and I have a Bulgarian friend in California I talk to and sometimes I'll ask him for translations when Google Translate fails to be coherent, and I have noticed a change in the lyrical styles of retro and modern popfolk. Retro songs were very poetic and heavy on metaphors and leave a lot to be open for interpretation, while songs now have simple and more direct lyrics. For example, when Boni did the modern re-work of her hit song, Ogun i led, the beat was great but you could tell how dated the lyrics were. One of my favorite songs lyrically is Andrea's Losha. The first line, "Shte ponesa greha, ako e s tvoito ime" (Translated: I will bear the sin, if it bears your name). I love that so much it gives me chills, I actually want to have it tattooed on me one day. Another song I really liked the lyrics of was Extra Nina's song Neka. It's so dramatic and honestly one of her best songs. I'm always blown away by the content of these songs, because it's rare to hear this type of poetics being used in mainstream English language music.
In addition to uploading cassette rips in high quality, you also do a great job at scanning all the J-cards and CD art. I find the aesthetics of the packaging of these records fascinating, there are some really fun visual tropes. How do you feel about it?
The cover art is something I love so much and I love that there are very specific styles between the record labels too. Milena Records liked to use lots of bright and pastel hues, Payner had a very cold and stoic feel with a lot of contrasting white backgrounds, and ARA used very dense and saturated hues. I miss the way album art and cards used to look. Have you noticed how the recent albums that Payner has released aren't dynamic or eye-catching at all? I think this reflects the current trend of minimalism and it doesn't catch your attention at all.
Do you listen to contemporary chalga? How do you feel about the evolution of the genre over the last 10 years?
I do listen to modern chalga but honestly, it's changed so much that not a lot impresses me anymore. Lyrically, modern popfolk now feels very dumbed down which I think reflects the current generation's preference for aesthetic rather than art or actual talent. Why artists like Aria, who doesn't even sing in her songs, she just talks, are popular, but actually talented artists like Tanya Marinova get overlooked, I will never understand. I really don't like the way the genre has evolved. It's less popfolk and more influences from Western pop culture. Like, the genre isn't about having fun anymore. When you look at old videos from the Planeta Derby concerts, award shows that had artists from different labels perform on stage, and promotional shows for new albums and artists, there was a certain vibe that I can only describe as a sense of family. You don't see any of that anymore. Everyone is just out for themselves now. I don't get hyped up whenever I see new releases now. I think the 2010s were the peak of the genre, and I'm glad I got to grow up during that era. It was around maybe 2018 when I started to notice the decline of the genre into what it is now — soulless and void of any real artistry. The last song that I thoroughly enjoyed was Welcome To Bulgaria, and coincidentally it was an homage to the retro era. I also love that Marieta Angelova wrote the lyrics, that's a name you don't often see anymore. “Gospod e Bulgarin” (Translated: God is Bulgarian) was such a clever addition to the song, I utterly loved it.
You can follow Lost Chalga on Facebook and YouTube. Also check out their backup channel Retro Katalog, where they upload modern records and compilations.
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