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Chalga is a Bulgarian music genre, often referred to as pop-folk, short for "popular folk".[2][3] Chalga or pop-folk is essentially a folk-inspired dance music genre,[4] with a blend of Bulgarian music (Bulgarian ethno-pop genre)[5] and also primary influences from Greek, Turkish, Arabic, Romani, Albanian and Russian music.


The name Chalga is derived from the Turkish word Çalgı, meaning "musical instrument".[6] 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.

In communist era[edit]

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.[7]

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.[8] 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.

1990s onwards: Surge in popularity[edit]

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.[9]

Chalga proponents often claim Chalga or Pop-folk is the new Bulgarian folk music,[citation needed], but opponents say it has no connection to the national indigenous Bulgarian folklore roots, and its only folklore elements are Middle Eastern. However, it is widely accepted by the night club DJs and a great attraction for tourists[10] who consider it as a novelty and an interesting modern approach to Balkan pop and a great way for entertainment, the genre meets with distaste and refusal from the more conservative public.

Chalga is often criticized by conservative people for the perceived tawdriness, loose morals,[11] the shocking look of its singers,[12] the genre's Middle Eastern, Arabic, Arabesque roots, influences and elements, and its sexually explicit lyrics. Chalga commonly exploits women and degrades them in its music using sexism or blatant sexual provocations similar in attitude to the rap or hip-hop music videos.

Chalga is looked down upon by a lot of Bulgarian citizens, because of its immorality and vulgarity that it exposes to the public. Conservative people look at it as a degradation of their culture and exploitation of women and youth, because of their style of dress. Women are encouraged to wear very revealing outfits, get breast implants and have lip injections done so they would appear more attractive to men. Women get very tan and put on excessive amounts of makeup which they then use to seduce and attract the attention of men and women alike. In a lot of Chalga music videos there is a wealthy man who spends his money on beautiful Chalga women the way a pimp would, and it is insinuated in many songs that they have indiscriminate sexual relations. Chalga has also been related to smuggling and drug-trafficking. Lyrics in the music are also distasteful to the community, because a lot of them include overly sexual lines, cheating, sexism, and corruption. Chalga music tends to be popular for tourists that don't understand the lyrics, because of the rhythm and beats that pound out of the clubs that are playing them, but other members of the community look upon Chalga shamefully and do not like to consider it a part of their culture.[13]

There is also criticism of Chalga clubs accepting entrance from underage individuals, and proliferation of illicit drugs and of sexual activities in the Chalga venues.

Chalga also faces heavy criticism from artistic circles who see it as an unworthy genre of music that cheapens music and creativity, replacing it with a formulaic and predictable music with often stolen music from other genres and lewd lyrics and draws the public away from more creative music.

Lyrics and music videos[edit]

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,[14] Serbian, Turkish, Arabic[15][16][17] 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 Bulgarian Pop-folk style singers[edit]


  • Седемте гряха на чалгата. Към антропология на етнопопмузиката, Розмари Стателова, ISBN 954-01-1536-1 (in Bulgarian) (translation of the title: The seven deadly sins of chalga. Toward an anthropology of ethnomusic, Rozmary Statelova)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ An umbrella term covering Balkan; In this case Bulgarian and influence from Greek, Serbian, Croatian, Slovenian, Albanian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Montenegrin, Romanian and Turkish music.
  2. ^ Стателова, Розмари. (2003) Седемте гряха на чалгата. София: „Просвета — София“ АД, ISBN 954-01-1536-1
  3. ^ Димов, Венцислав. (2001) Етнопоп бумът. София: „Българско музикознание“, ISBN 978-954-8307-14-7
  4. ^ Balkan Popular Culture and the Ottoman Ecumene, p. 144 

    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

  5. ^ Music in the Balkans, p. 669, at Google Books
  6. ^ Self-Orientalization in South East Europe, p. 54, at Google Books
  7. ^ "A BRIEF HISTORY OF BULGARIAN CHALGA MUSIC". Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  8. ^ Ройтерс обяви България за попфолк република. , Ройтерс, БГНЕС 25.06.2010 г.
  9. ^ Milena Droumeva (en). "New Folk: The phenomenon of chalga in modern Bulgarian folk" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  10. ^ "Анализи | Бетовен, Шилер и чалга". 2012-10-15. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  11. ^ "Вестник "Култура", бр.4, 2 февруари 2001 г". Archived from the original on 2012-03-09. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  12. ^ Marlene Smits (2004-09-16). "Politically incorrect 'Chalga' - Life". The Sofia Echo. Retrieved 2012-10-22. 
  13. ^ "Do you like Chalga?". Eat Stay Love Bulgaria. Retrieved 2015-12-01. 
  14. ^ "Камелия & Сакис Кукос - Искаш Да Се Върна (Music Video)". 
  15. ^ "Цветелина Янева ft. Rida Al Abdullah - Брой ме (Music Video)". 
  16. ^ "Емилия ft. Нидал Кайсар - Любов И Нежност (Music Video)". 
  17. ^ "Preslava ft. Rashid Al Rashid - Molish me (Music Video)". 


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