Commentary on Monika Azmanska: A rising star of Bulgarian folklore music
Author: Nikola Nikolov
Throughout Bulgarian folklore, legends tell of the sweet voice of a maiden that is so captivating to the ear of those who are listening to her magical singing that they will forever be entranced; much like the heavenly hymns of the sirens in Greek Mythology, but without the deceptive dangers. Right now, there is no one more loved and admired than a young Bulgarian musical talent than that of the sensational vocals of Bulgarian-born – in the northern city of Rousse – and longtime resident of Toronto, Canada currently lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monika Dimitrova Azmanska. She instantly stands out with her extremely gifted voice which is far beyond her years and her love of singing no matter how small or large a crowd she is performing to. This talented singer sings some of Bulgaria’s most treasured and difficult folkloric songs from the various regions of her native homeland, Bulgaria: Macedonia, Thrace, Moesia, Dobroudja; and is creating her own remarkable renditions of some of these rich Bulgarian folklore songs.
“The folk songs and music from the region of Macedonia is very high-pitched like the Pirin Mountains, which are very tall, steep and pointy. The Rhodope Mountains are round, smooth and soft and in the northern part of Bulgaria, Dobroudja, when you close your eyes when listening to the music you can see the fields. It is the same for the music from all the regions; the songs represent the culture of the people from the different areas.” Monika Azmanska said.
“I like all the songs from every region from Bulgaria. I love the songs that are humorous, that talk about the people’s lives and how life was like in the past.”
Her repertoires of the many different songs which are from the aforementioned regions are played throughout her first album “Young Maiden,” blending her fantastic voice in collaboration with two well-respected musicians – Dragni Dragnev and George Manovski. Both are professors of music at the National School of Humanitarian Science and Arts “Konstantin Preslavski” in Varna. Since the young age of five, when most kids at that age are learning to put together sentences, learning the letters of the alphabet and beginning to learn basic math, Monika is already able to speak in three languages: Bulgarian, English and French. But the most amazing thing is that she has also been singing on stage from that age and before that, she sung at home for family and friends.
Never having a professional singing teacher in her young life, Monika’s first-ever singing teacher was her grandmother. Her grandmother didn’t instruct her on the proper techniques and notes. She merely sang children’s folk songs to Monika and with time Bulgarian folklore songs. One song in particular that Monika remembers most of all is “Sladkopoyna Chouchouliga.” In fact, both Monika and her mother Temenoujka retold a most humorous story with her grandmother, while living in Toronto at the time.
“I first started with easy songs and then I moved on to the hard songs.” Monika said “In the summer of 2005, when all of my friends left for Bulgaria, I was alone and that is when my grandmother began to teach me folkloric songs.”
As she began to attempt to sing the very songs her grandmother used to sing, she immediately picked them up and began to sing along with her grandmother wherever they were.
“It was only a few days and her grandmother said to me, give me new songs because I ran out.” Temenoujka said “One day after work, my husband and I came back from work and turned to him and said ‘Is this our child?’ After that, we had a concert every night.”
These specially prepared concerts were not only for her loved ones, but also for guests that were invited over either on special occasions like birthdays, Christmas, Easter or other holidays or just gatherings.
“Guests were always waiting for Monika to sing.” Monika’s father Dimitre said “She would always say invite guests (over) because I have learned new songs.”
“Now that I think about it, I remember when Monika was just three years old… We were sitting in the front row at the New Year’s concert in the Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Cathedral Sts. Cyril and Methodius. I asked her ‘Did you like it?’ and she responded ‘Daddy, my place is on the stage. I have to be up there.’”
From that moment on, her desire to sing and popularity simply sky-rocketed; Monika was performing for cultural holidays at the church banquet halls of the three most well-known Bulgarian churches: Sts. Cyril and Methodius, St. Dimitar Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church located 1555 Steeles Avenue West Brampton, ON and at the Holy Trinity Macedono-Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Church located 201 Monarch Park, Toronto, ON.
Monika’s genuine and unending love for Bulgarian folklore music and Bulgaria as a whole shines so bright that when she was going to Elmlea Junior School, located on 50 Hadrian Dr. Etobicoke, and her entire class marveled at her presentation of her heritage.
“In 2006, my teacher told us to do a presentation about our cultures. After a few weeks, my friends and classmates were so impressed, that I taught them all Bulgarian hora and I taught my best friends to sing some folk songs.”
“They said, ‘is there any way for us to be Bulgarian because you are so prideful and happy to be Bulgarian.’”
July of 2007, Monika partaken in the three-day multicultural festival called Carabram. It is held in Brampton, ON with amazing performances by representatives of the various ethnic communities within Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area. Each of the participating ethnic groups, delight festivalgoers with their uniquely colourful cultures. This year was significant because it marked the 25th anniversary of the Festival since it first appeared in 1982.
“I invited my teacher. Afterwards, she would visit and see Bulgaria.” Monika said.
“I sing in front of Bulgarians and both non-Bulgarians. For Bulgarians, I want them to be prideful of our culture and in respect towards foreigners, I wish for them to be interested in Bulgaria and learn about Bulgaria. For example, about Saints Cyril and Methodius, who created the first Bulgarian alphabet, which is the original alphabet for all Slavic languages and sadly not many people, know that they are Bulgarian.”
The rising star is currently working on her second album. In this album will feature a song from one of the most historic regions of Bulgaria – the Rhodope Mountains – known worldwide for its unmatchable bellowing bagpipes and the magnificent vocals of Valya Balkanska.
“…. The song will be a surprise.” Monika said.
So, this “young maiden,” no matter where she is in this world, she has and will delight and mystify plenty of audiences with her captivatingly lovely voice that has drawn in much admiration from those whom have heard her sing some very challenging lyrical and musical Bulgarian folklore songs. Her talent and remarkable joyous presence to sing will continue to marvel many ears of people.
“I will never stop singing. In fact, I hope one day I will sing a difficult song like Izlel E Delyo Haydoutin.”