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Deredjeto - Chalga, Kurvi, Nema Pàri, Samo P*dali[1]

Updated: Mar 17

Figure 1: Collage of Retro Chalga Stars

By Sarki

Instagram: @sarsura.samsara


Let us start by attempting to define what chalga is. It is a musical style/genre that originates in the Balkans. It represents a complex hybrid of a few different styles within the region, namely pop, folk, ethnic music from the Balkans, Balkan Roma music, Oriental or belly-dance music and, nowadays, including sounds from rock, techno, rap and maybe even a bit of reggaeton.  This almost rhapsodic musical style is often criticised as reflecting “low culture,” it is opposed to “high culture”. It is seen as the epitome of ignorance, stupidity, over-sexualization and materialism.


Act I: Transgression is Resistance, Bubke[2]


Figure 2: Collage of Retro Chalga stars (inc. Maria, Ivana and more)


If you’re here and reading this, you might know better. In fact, I would go as far as saying that this genre is an accurate representation of the multicultural Balkan societies that comprise it, and you can see, hear and feel in your bones the fight for freedom from the false socialist morality that was enforced in the region during the Soviet era. I see what is deemed vulgar, cheap, materialistic, and ignorant as human, natural, and representative of today's society.


And I’m not saying this as a criticism; how hypocritical would it be for young people listening to rap and pop songs about fucking bitches and getting money to go ahead then and criticise the same aspects within our own popular culture? How do you listen to rap and hyper-pop, love it, and then criticise chalga for its vulgarity and ignorance? Why do we celebrate Western materialism, exploitation and over-sexualization but denigrate the same trends within our own musical paradigm? Could it be a perfect example of internalised xenophobia?


In my early teens, I also participated in the discourse criticising chalga, although, to be fair, I had the same perspective on other popular styles that play with the same tropes, such as rap and pop. And it took me leaving the country and starting my studies abroad to feel a deep sense of nostalgia and homesickness. Finally, I genuinely let myself enjoy the beauty of chalga, the dirty beats, the degenerate lyrics, the fantastically kitsch aesthetics of the music videos and, more generally, the mutra baroque style. Being able to juxtapose our perception of the New World Order within this musical style to the Western variants and interpretations of the same phenomena made me realise why and how I connect to chalga on a deeply personal and human level.


As with any other art form, this musical style has a valid reason to exist and be so popular. It ties into more significant societal problems in the region. Capitalism entered the Balkans like a freight train. The excessive wealth of some, the unhinged enjoyment of eroticism and the deeply disturbed national identities within the region created new pressures that needed sublimation.


Case Study 1: Fish Fiesta and my Favourite Degenerates

Figure 3: Valdes Fish Fiesta Official Video Screenshot


Let’s look at what the post-socialist period brought us in terms of lyrics and, hence, in terms of a perspective on the socio-political climate. If we have a quick gander at Valdes’ Fish Fiesta (Рибна Фиеста), this 2001 song shows that, although listening to chalga may provoke a deep sense of shame, chalga itself is a celebration of everything shameful and thus shameless. After having gone through deep censorship and control over information, the puritanism of the socialist era was finally dismantled (to some extent). It triggered a love for sluts, freedom, illegal and criminal activity, sex and foul, dirty language. And you know what, as a freedom-loving criminal non-binary slut myself, let me tell you, I relate to both the fisherman, the hunter, and the sexy ladies. I want nothing more than to be the fisherman playing the accordion in the river, fishing out sexy underwear and shitting on the law like the revolutionary, dirty panty-sniffer that I always have been:


“I am a hunter; I am a fisherman

I have fucked the law.”


Above, you see the original lyrics of this transgressive and truly revolutionary song. Then, it was censored and became:


“I am a hunter; I am a fisherman

I am king and master of the party.”


It still shows a deep sense of hedonism but perhaps slightly less of the insurrectionary spirit that I seek and appreciate sincerely. Fuck the shame; here is a man proud to show his vulgarity and who doesn’t give a flying fuck about the law. And I want to be that man, I also want to be the proverbial slut, and I want to shit on the law. This is pure relatable content if I’ve ever seen it. The celebration of transgression is what actual rebellion is. If you want to look at genuinely subversive art in the Balkans, the first place you should look is at chalga, turbo-folk and their cousins.


Case Study 2: Inflation and Economic Struggle – Chalga Reflects the Needs of Working-Class People


Figure 4:  Nelina White Mercedes Official Music Video Screenshot


1996 brought massive inflation in the region, and life for working-class people became even more complex. This pushed people into exchanging all their Bulgarian Levs for Dollars and Deutschmarks en masse. I imagine that working-class people's economic struggle at the time is echoed in the current economic climate. On a personal note, I’m genuinely entertaining the possibility of sex work once again because I can’t afford food, and I need a few more pairs of panties.


All this to say that Nelina’s White Mercedes (Бял Мерцедес) distils this absurd struggle by making a song where the main character goes to buy dollars, there aren’t any left, and thus she is followed by a white Mercedes that offers her dollars, which she rejects because she disavows ‘exchanging love for money.’


I find these lyrics remind me of a lovely quote by Karl Marx: “The less you eat, drink and read books; the less you go to the theatre, the dance hall, the public house; the less you think, love, theorise, sing, paint, fence, etc., the more you save-the greater becomes your treasure which neither moths nor dust will devour-your capital. The less you are, the more you have; the less you express your own life, the greater is your alienated life, the greater is the store of your estranged being.” Nelina encourages poor working-class people to invest in love because capital is essentially just more alienation. I think Nelina was a Marxist, and you can’t change my mind :*


Act II: Oborotni Ped*li[3]: Chalga and the Queer Revolution

Figure 5: Chalga Star Galena at Sofia Pride 2019


We all know that the Balkans are profoundly homophobic and nationalistic, that gay bashing is celebrated and that queers are oppressed. I can go ahead and comment on orthodoxy, socialisation and all the reasons why дереджето[4] is the way it is, but that’s not the point I want to make. Instead, I would like to see how chalga has sublimated this sense of shame and how queer, non-binary artists such as Aziz are obliterating the traditionalism, racism and homophobia in Bulgaria simply by existing. Aziz is a perfect example of exposure therapy, showing us that even the worst homophobes and gay bashers out there can come together to dance to Aziz, not because of how this artist presents, but because it’s chalga and everything is permitted in love, war and chalga.


Case Study 3: Gay Roma Non-binary Chalga Pop Star Aziz or How Gender Fluidity and Ethnicity Can Be Celebrated When Art is Inherently Transgressive

Figure 6: Collage of Chalga Star Aziz


Aziz is Bulgaria's most famous chalga pop star and perhaps even abroad. Their song Sen Trope is a wonderful example of their status, having over 100 000 000 hits. Their music videos are FIERCE, and they have been SLAYING with colourful, sexy and experimental outfits, exploring femininity, gender fluidity, and sexuality in many ways over the years. You can see them sporting wigs, sparkly outfits, and high heels and embodying femininity. But you can also see them bearded, muscly, hairy, and thoroughly exploring their masculinity. They are out of the closet, openly dating men and being unapologetically, proudly Roma in everything they do. It’s hard to fathom how such a profoundly homophobic nation that hate crimes for breakfast can nonetheless ADORE this person, not because of how they present, not DESPITE how they present, but irrespective, independent of it. None of it matters; as long as the beats are dirty and the song is good, chalga will be celebrated independent of identity politics and the increased polarisation we have seen in our socio-cultural paradigm in recent years.




So, what can we deduce? There is this fascinating phenomenon we observe that can unify people who have profoundly different perspectives on life. It can seem naïve, it can seem cliché, but art does, in fact, bring people together, or at least helps them move beyond some of their differences, just for a split second, for a night of binge drinking and debauchery where we forget all the silly little ideals we pretend we care about, so we can embrace hedonism, love, vulnerability and transgressive behaviours. Club culture and chalga culture seem to be the most useful and productive tools in fighting our differences. I go to protests and shout on social media daily, but none of it will ever be as good a tool to fight oppression as chalga is. Honestly, fuck this text I’ve written, you can piss on it for all I care. Listen to chalga, go to a chalgoteka[5], be gay, be queer, be ethnic, and you’ll probably do more to help enact change than I ever will in my silly little ivory tower with my silly little books.


[1] The status quo - chalga, whores, no money, only f*gs

[2] Sweety, honey

[3] Money-making f*gs

[4] The status quo

[5] Chalga club, like discotheque but with chalga as its root


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