Vlada Tomova's Balkan Tales
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Vlada Tomova's Balkan Tales

Brooklyn, New York, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2015 | INDIE

Brooklyn, New York, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2015
Band World Acoustic


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"Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales: Amazing Album"

Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales: Amazing Album
by delarue

This isn’t safe, sanitized folk music: Vlada Tomova’s new album Balkan Tales has a raw, dangerous edge. Anyone who loves the otherworldly tonalities and dark, ominous chromatics of Bulgarian, Balkan and Middle Eastern music will love this – it’s a rich, intense treat, all the way through. The Bulgarian-born singer varies her vocals depending on the lyric, from low and apprehensive, to brassy and plaintively gritty, to absolutely joyous, with the occasional big “wheeeeeee!” at the end of a phrase. Good singers tend to be magnets for good musicians, and Tomova is no exception. While the album’s instrumentation varies widely from song to song, most of them are built around the terse, stately acoustic guitar work of Kyle Senna and bass provided by either Danny Zanker or Sage Reynolds. Oud genius Mavrothi Kontanis adds an especially suspenseful edge on a couple of tracks, including one deliciously low, mysterious solo. The rest of the crew - Uri Sharlin on accordion, Alicia Svigals on violin, Sarah Bowman on cello and Matthias Kunzli on echoey, boomy percussion – shift confidently among the diverse emotions Tomova evokes.

The songs are a mix of traditional material along with some more recent songs whose composers’ identities have not been lost. Senna lights up the second track with a graceful yet biting, chromatically-charged solo: hearing it on a guitar instead of, say, an oud or bouzouki, adds an unusual and interesting texture to the mix. A big ballad by Lubo Alexandrov is gorgeously dark, slow and slinky, with wounded vocals; another by Niko Papaxoglu gets a spare, ghostly, haunted treatment. But Tomova quickly flips the script, following with a wry, trickly rhythmic, irresistibly crescendoing dance tune. One song has a rustic sway much like an Appalachian ballad – before the rhythm shifts and there’s no doubt that it hails from Eastern Europe. Another takes a creepy, two-chord pulse with spiraling wood flute and adds a bit of an acoustic rock edge. Avishai Cohen’s apprehensive muted trumpet imbues one of the later tracks with a pensive, late 60s psychedelic folk-rock feel. The album closes with a suspenseful Kurdish song that works its way from seems like a casual, improvisational intro to a fiery, methodically accelerating, accordion-fueled gallop. Tomova plays Symphony Space this Sunday, Oct 23 at 7 opening for Macedonian wood flute virtuoso Theodosii Spassov; tix are $30 and worth it. - NEW YORK MUSIC DAILY

"Vlada Tomova: Crossing Boundaries"

It is a rare experience to live in a place surrounded by different cultures intermingling with one another. However, New York is the Mecca of destinations providing access to unlimited sources of opportunities to manifest dreams of the creative mind. As I walked into CUNY Graduate Center, I did not know what to expect. While the lights remained dimmed and the crew set up instruments on stage, moments later Vlada Tomova and her group entered from the right stage entrance.

Vlada dressed in authentic Bulgarian attire with a fire engine red flower blossoming from her hair, took the stage holding a microphone, and welcomed the embrace and round of applause from the audience. She introduced her group members, and minutes later, it was show time. Immediately, her voice echoed and surrounded the performance hall and her vocal chords jolted my spirit to perk up and forced other senses to follow.

In between songs Vlada briefly described and defined each new track and the significance in her life. One of my favorite tracks titled “The sun, moon, and mountains” meticulously celebrated through each syllable, and intentional pauses for the audience to capture the experience. Vlada mentioned the elements specified above are commonly utilized in traditional Bulgarian melodies but serve a different purpose and meaning. In this case, this particular song was a metaphor to Vlada’s perspective to youth and aging. She emphasizes in the mountains there are forests and similar to life, the leaves renew themselves with time; however, in the case of our existence, in time we wither and never renew our youth. Yes, I will surrender to honesty and admit after she finished singing, I erupted in tears; thank goodness I came prepared with Kleenex.

When Vlada sings it feels as if she exists in an internal oasis of seduction, passion, and contentment bursting out via her vocals. It is as if she disappears in a state of Nirvana as she closes her eyes and sings from the belly, heart and soul. A few other favorite tunes included a song titled “Chili Peppers” and she explained it was a song performed on the first night as a married couple. “Scarlet Moon” is a song about a young man in the village who pleads with the moon not to shine because he unintentionally broke a girls’ heart. Additionally, because he is aware of his mistakes, he wants the day to remain so he can immediately make amends and stitch the broken pieces before a new day begins. The last personal favorite song titled “Happy Love” could be considered as an example of a national anthem to couples worldwide. Vlada defines this as her favorite as well and explains despite family, friends, or unforeseen obstacles in your life preventing you from love, take the risk, and follow your heart; cross your boundaries occasionally and you might surprise yourself.

By: Laura M. Artis.
Oct 2, 2012 - New York Events

"The Balkan Mountain Went to America"

Feature in Music Section on Vlada Tomova and Balkan Tales. - Trud (Bulgaria's largest daily newspaper) - Sat, Apr 14, 2012 (Easter Holiday Edition)

"Vlada Tomova - press quotes"

Phenomenal acrobatic vocalizations of every last voice, song, snort, and alarm bell.
The Boston Globe

One of the most exciting voices in the New York global music scene is Vlada Tomova.
World Music Central

.. Bulgarian vocal sorceress ..

.. haunting, otherworldly energy ..
The Boston Globe

..sensual swing and emotional intensity..
her delicate moans and descant runs will remind many of Flora Purim..
..Tomova's 21st-century take on her ancestors' form of expression to life.
The Village Voice

.. her entrancing voice is front and center .. even as dizzy beats dance around it.
Time Out NY

Local folkstress Vlada Tomova .. speaks directly to the pleasure principle.
Time Out NY

Brooklyn's exquisite Bulgarian songstress
Not Only Brooklyn
Bulgarian jazz sensation Vlada Tomova
Chicago Business

Balkan Tales .. updates traditional Bulgarian folk with a jazzy kind of elasticity, featuring flourishes from flamenco, Indian classical music, and even Brazilian pop.
Chicago Reader

Tomova is at her best .. allowing her voice to soar unhindered to craggy sonic peaks.
Express Milwaukee

Of all the varieties of World Music to hit American shores, none may have as much strange, otherworldly beauty as the women’s vocal music of Bulgaria. .. Vlada Tomova brings this sound to .. Balkan Tales.
WNYC-93.9FM, Soundcheck - various press / media

"October 2011 New Releases"

It's that time of the month again for the new releases show on New Sounds, despite the fact that it's All Hallows' Eve. John Schaefer (in his boxing costume) carefully sorts through the stacks, bins, and boatloads of new CDs which have come across his desk over the past month to present some of the finest (and scariest) new releases. He'll pick the lentils from the ashes to present the cream of this crop.

PROGRAM # 3264, October 2011 New Releases (First aired on 10/31/2011) - New Sounds, WNYC

"Concert Preview"

by Anne Mancuso
October 20, 2011

‘Heartbeat of Bulgaria’ (Sunday) The folk music of Bulgaria will be performed by a trio consisting of the singer and kaval (a type of flute) player Theodosii Spassov; the singer Vlada Tomova; and the sitarist, guitarist and singer Chris Rael. At 7 p.m., Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway, at 95th Street, (212) 864-5400, symphonyspace.org; $30, or $20 for students. - The New York Times

"Critic's Picks"

by Siddhartha Mitter
September 11, 2011

BALKAN TALES Accomplished New York-based Bulgarian singer Vlada Tomova leads this ensemble of Balkan-inspired music, from those haunting women’s choir vocals to a smooth, melodic pop. Oct. 21, 8 p.m. Tickets: $22. Johnny D’s. 617-776-2004. www.johnnyds.com - The Boston Globe

"Bulgarian Intersections"

Vlada Tomova - Balkan Tales
(Kuker Music, 2009)

by Angel Romero
October 28, 2011

One of the most exciting voices in the New York global music scene is Vlada Tomova. She was born in Bulgaria and is now based in Brooklyn. Her album Balkan Talestakes the listener to the wondrous musical crossroads of her native country. She achieves this with an exciting mix of traditional Bulgarian music spiced with flamenco, Eastern European Gypsy music and even Indian influences.

On Balkan Tales, Vlada Tomova is joined by Uri Sharlin on accordion; Kyle Sanna on acoustic guitar; Brandon Terzic on acoustic guitar and oud; Sage Reynolds and Danny Zanker on double bass; Paul Ruest, Rosa Ena Campos on palmas (Flamenco handclap percussion); Mathias Kunzli, Rich Stein, and Matt Kilmer on percussion. Special guest appearances include Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Mavrothi Kontanis on oud, Alicia Svigals on violin, Brahim Fribgane on oud, Sarah Bowman on cello, and Josh Geisler on bansuri (Indian flute).

“The Balkans have something very unique that mixes well with other musics because of its complex and long history,” explains Tomova. “And it’s very emotional for me; it’s about connecting to the places, the ancient villages I’ve loved since childhood. It’s about home.”

On Balkan Tales, Bulgarian folk innovator Vlada Tomova reveals her fascinating musical intersections of Bulgarian music and global sounds. - World Music Central

"To her ears, Balkan Tales sounds like home"

October 21, 2011
By Siddhartha Mitter, Globe Correspondent

Balkan Tales, Theodosii Spassov
At: Johnny D’s, 7 Holland St., Somerville, today .
Tickets: $20., 617-776-2004, http://www.johnnyds.com

NEW YORK - Here’s a concept: an American-based band that plays music inspired by the folk traditions of the Balkans in southeastern Europe, and that is actually led by someone from that region.

This takes nothing away from Balkan Beat Box, Zlatne Uste, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Slavic Soul Party! or the many other neo-Balkan bands that have sprung up this side of the Atlantic in the last decade. The founder of Gogol Bordello, a pioneer in this trend, comes from Ukraine. And many players in this wave of Balkan music appreciation have done deep, immersive research, traveling to villages and seeking out musicians in places like rural Macedonia.

That said, singer Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales, which visits Johnny D’s tonight, enjoys a little bit of an edge. It dwells in Tomova, who came to the United States 15 years ago to study jazz, but found herself reverting to - and innovating from - the folk music of her native Bulgaria and its neighbors, the sounds she had grown up hearing, almost unconsciously, in the background soundtrack of her youth.

“I didn’t know that I had paid attention to these songs,’’ Tomova says over a glass of wine in Brooklyn, where she has made her home for almost a decade. “Growing up, folk music was something that was supported by the state. We were expected to like it, and anything that is forced on you, you reject.’’

Instead, after growing up playing piano and later studying mathematics at the national university (to honor her parents’ wishes), Tomova launched her music career in Bulgaria with a band that combined English-language lyrics with Brazilian-influenced melodies. Then she decided on jazz, and got accepted to Berklee College of Music.

And so it was late one night in Boston, in the waning hours of a party, that Tomova, almost out of nowhere, found herself channeling Bulgarian folk music.

“There were five or six people out smoking on the fire escape,’’ she says. “And this drummer, who was also Bulgarian, started beating a little pattern in an odd meter and I suddenly started singing a song that keeps that meter.’’

That song, “Dimianinka,’’ appears on Tomova’s album, also titled “Balkan Tales,’’ which came out last year. It’s part of a program of mostly traditional Bulgarian songs, plus a few outliers from Greece, Russia, and even a Kurdish folk song, “Leili.’’

Rediscovering and rearranging Bulgarian songs became a major project for Tomova after her revelation on the fire escape. “I think being so far from home made me reach for songs that I didn’t realize I had soaked up,’’ she says. “I started arranging songs, more in a jazz idiom at first, but this interest in folk music took me away from jazz.’’

When Tomova arrived in New York, she joined the city’s community of musicians who move between jazz, rock, avant-garde, or world-music projects as opportunity and interest arise. Over a dozen of these appear as guests on her album.

Holding it all together is Tomova’s singing, which weaves in the influences she’s picked up over the years, but also carries the haunting, otherworldly energy that Western ears have associated with Bulgaria ever since the Bulgarian Women’s Choir became a world sensation two decades ago.

In her research, Tomova says she has spent time studying with soloists from the choir, as well as village women singers. And for her Boston concert, she will be joined by Theodosii Spassov, a renowned player of the wooden flute called the kaval, who like her has made a career of working both in and out of Bulgarian folk music.

Percussionist Mathias Kunzli, a core member of Balkan Tales who has known Tomova since their Berklee days, says his friend has come into her own with this project. “She’s confident and comfortable with her ideas and her story,’’ Kunzli says.

Kunzli, who is Swiss, says he too only discovered Balkan music once he came to the United States. He says the technical aspects like the odd meters appeal to him, but it goes much deeper than that.

“It doesn’t matter where it comes from - folklore is powerful,’’ he says. “It’s beautiful to be around music that you feel is taught by ancestors from generation to generation.’’

It’s that appeal, Tomova says, that seems to have drawn so many people to the music and culture of her region - like the American women in the Bulgarian choir she led for a number of years in New York. “They were so passionate and driven,’’ she says. “And I think it comes from looking into a tradition that is so old.’’

She says she sometimes finds it odd to witness, for example, Balkan folk festivals full of non-Balkan players and participants performing traditional music and dance. And she cautions that the search for authenticity can become rigid, when in fact the music and culture are always ev - The Boston Globe

"10 Things to do this weekend"

Margaret Littman
October 27, 2011

LISTEN. Bulgarian jazz sensation Vlada Tomova sings and plays at the Old Town School of Folk Music this weekend. Catch her act along with THEODOSII SPASOV, a master of Bulgarian traditional flute. Oct. 30, 8 p.m. Tickets are $25. 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., (773) 728-6000, www.oldtownschool.org. - Chicago Business

"A Look At Pop Around The Globe"

A Look At Pop Around The Globe, From Operatic Creole Harmonies To Riot-Grrl-Inspired French Rappers

by Carol Cooper
Wed. Oct. 5, 2011

The end of the year brings a flurry of world music albums with commercial intentions ranging from the archival to the optimistically opportunistic. Some, like the Creole Choir of Cuba's Tande-La or Vlada Tomova's Balkan Tales, accompany tours by the outfits that made them; others are heavily branded theme compilations—brain candy for collegiate introverts, mood music for bars and boutiques.

The Afro-Semitic Experience seems determined to do to the synagogue what Jolson and Gershwin once did to Broadway. Bassist David Chevan and keyboardist Warren Byrd have been collaborating with traditional cantor Jack Mendelson and his White Plains congregation for years, and Further Definitions of the Days of Awe (Reckless DC Music) documents three concerts from 2010 that demonstrate their combined approach to the Jewish High Holy Days. The cantor's ability to improvise around a mode or a feeling allows the band to segue from Latin to gospel to klezmer rhythms. But despite earnest attempts to lay funky backbeats behind the first two cuts, this album doesn't really catch fire until the downtempo "Mitzratzeh B'rachamim"—which is incidentally also the first song featuring vocals by Jack's son, Daniel. And although Dad steals back lost thunder on bluesy Gershwin-esque numbers like "Shomer Yisrael" and "Tiviyenu," here the prayers of atonement and praise generally work better over cool jazz than hot.

Similarly obsessed with blending the political, the personal and the spiritual is 27-year-old Keny Arkana, a French rapper whose underground fandom is so devoted that its members have been using You Tube to create and translate promotional clips of her songs faster than she can make her own. Arkana's seventh album is imminent, and her sixth, L'Esquisse, 2 (The Sketch, #2), came out in May. Imagine Chuck D, Bob Marley and Joan of Arc rolled into one and you come close to the sound and sensibility of this Marseilles resident, who formed her first rap crew at 14. On irresistibly kinetic singles like "Mother Earth Cannot Be Sold," "Wake Up!," and "Civil Disobedience," she rages against governmental fear-mongering, racism, globalization, and sexism. Her beats are sometimes as raucous as early Bomb Squad productions, sometimes as lyrical as Wyclef on acoustic guitar. But just when you've got Arkana pegged as a militant Marxist she'll shift to Rasta speak or riot-grrl rhetoric, urging the "children of earth" to "turn off their TVs and exit their front doors" to struggle for social freedom in the streets. Keny fights ignorance and injustice with the weapons of a Sufi, not a soldier. Whether cheerleading the revolution on "V pour Verites" or confiding more personal discontent in "Odyssée d'une Incomprise," Arkana leaps across the language divide with such undeniable power it should make even English speakers recognize her as The Most Important Emcee in the West.

Putumayo's African Beat collects contemporary party riffs from African pop stars. Senegal's Lëk Sén eschews the more traditional mbalax sound to create "Rebel Blues", a catchy blues number anchored by fluid electric guitar and closing chords from a Hammond B3. Freddy Massamba attempts a Congolese version of P-Funk with "Zonza," while Nigerian rapper 9Ice reworks the hooky melody from TLC's "No Scrubs" for his "Alapomeji Anthem." Other artists from the Congo and the Ivory Coast update soukous-flavored club singles with quirky textures borrowed from European electronica. Playful combinations that erase regional and stylistic boundaries abound, as when Les Barons use rhythm lines from juju-music under Afrobeat horns during "Lagos Sound System."

Similar mix-and-match production strategies run through the label's Latin Beat sampler, although the sly sophistication of these 11 tracks owes much to the global popularity of Manu Chao and his many tours. Cuba and Colombia rightfully dominate this showcase of evolving Afro-Hispanic creativity; Colombia is second only to Cuba in its support of Afro-Caribbean swing, while Cuba has only ever been eclipsed by Brazil in the size and diversity of its musical innovations. (Even the Yankee/Mexican combo Charanga Cakewalk gets onto this compilation performing a Colombian cumbia!) The doo-wop samba "Chocolate," sung by the Profetas, and a dubby bolero from a New Zealand outfit called Sola Rosa are the most unique songs here, but Calle 66 and Sarazino both get points for a delightfully psychedelic use of distortion.

Descendants of Haitians who survived a second enslavement in Cuba after 18th-century slave revolts in Haiti resulted in French plantation owners leaving home and encamping there make up the 17-year-old Creole Choir of Cuba. These ten university-trained musicians sing a capella about the historical hardships of Haitian life in Haitian creole, Spanish and French. But the operatic pacin - The Village Voice


Balkan Tales - Full-length album recording - October 2009/2011 (Kuker Music)

Balkan Tales - 5 song EPK - October 2005



Honoring tradition while embracing the present, Vlada Tomova’s Balkan Tales aims for the heart with earthy sophistication. Called a “Bulgarian vocal sorceress” and "one of the most exciting voices in the New York global music scene", Brooklyn's exquisite Bulgarian songstress carries haunting, otherworldly energy in her voice. Featuring some of New York’s finest instrumentalists, Balkan Tales brings modern soul to the Gypsy Balkan diaspora. Reaching far and wide for its tales, the group’s repertoire stretches from Tomova’s native Bulgaria to the rest of the Balkans to the Middle East, with flavors of India and Sephardic Spain, recalling Bulgaria’s cultural origins shaped by ancient migrations. Music critics have likened Tomova’s delicate moans and descant runs to those of Flora Purim. Her 21st century take on the music of her homeland channels the joy that helps keep all great folk traditions alive.

The international ensemble brings an array of textures and moods, blending fiery vocals, mournful taqasims, driving percussion, and colorful harmonic treatments, mixing old world flavor with the zest of a modern metropolis. Balkan Tales, the ensemble's full-length album, was released in October 2009/2011 on Bulgarian label Kuker Music. Balkan Tales was released on vinyl in 2014, featuring 2 previously unreleased tracks.

Additionally, the Bulgarian-born, New York-based Tomova founded New York’s first Bulgarian Women’s Choir, Yasna Voices, and is presently leading her Bulgarian Voices Trio, which performs both within Balkan Tales extended format shows, and full length a cappella concerts, showcasing village songs and arrangements in the style of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices choir. Tomova collaborates on interdisciplinary projects, and is a guest vocalist in demand in the world music, film, and theatre communities. Her work with the Balkan Beat Box continues to receive international acclaim. Her voice is featured on National Geographic's touring exhibit King Tut, and was heard in the sound installation Echoes from the Mountains at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy.

Vlada recently created a new program, Songs of the Spice Road, which was commissioned by and premiered at Lincoln Center in New York. She has collaborated with Bulgarian kaval virtuoso Theodosii Spassov and innovative American sitarist Chris Rael for a series of concerts in the USA, and joined forces with Italian producers Analog People in a Digital World for a new dance track. Tomova collaborated as well with Bulgarian folk dance ensembles Bosilek and Gorana Dance for a show at Brooklyn Botanic Garden's 20th Chile Pepper Fiesta, and was invited to open the second season of Live@365: World Music Series at CUNY Graduate Series, together with Haitian song legend Emeline Michel, and Native American songstress Martha Redbone. 

Vlada is featured on Chris Rael's last album recording, The Lazarus Rose, a collection of old Sephardic songs, arranged by Rael for a world music orchestra. The album was released in late 2013, and on vinyl in 2014.

Vlada's appearances include Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival (New York), Carnegie’s Zankel Hall and Weill Recital Hall (New York), Symphony Space (New York), David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center (New York), the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Chicago World Music Festival, Cumbre Tajin (Veracruz, Mexico), Toronto's Small World Festival, New York Summer Stage, among others.

Situated in the heart of the Balkans, Bulgaria’s distinct cultural and folkloric heritage has evolved at the crossroads between East and West for more than 13 centuries. Having joined the European Union in 2007, Bulgaria has entered a new and exciting era, with music serving as one of its most captivating ambassadors.

Band Members