“There has always been some tension between Bulgaria as a modern industrialised nation – a member of the European Union, home to the pioneers of computer programming in the former Eastern bloc and more recently a centre for package holidays at the seaside – and its image as a mystical nexus of ancient folk wisdom, ritual and romance. What bridges the gap is the music that the London-based Perunika Trio present: beautifully arranged songs which stem from post-war years, when composers and performers worked to foster a sense of national identity and destiny, and bring the breath of modernity to the country’s musical culture. Yet the roots of the songs run deep in peasant life and the round of the seasons.
The female trio, from South-Eastern Europe now based in the UK, bring a winning, slightly retro charm to their performances. Although the majority of their songs, even the originals arranged or written by Stoimen Dobrev or the members of the group, hark back to the school of the 60s and 70s in their idiom, the group is not afraid to try to occasional experiment. ‘Paune Forkat’ builds on the practices of the Pirin Macedonia region in combining two songs and two traditions to close the CD with an inspiring energy and powerful swing. As a representative of the older style, the classic ‘Tri Byulbyula Peyat’ (Three Nightingales) received a strong, affecting reading, the three voices blending like the three birds of the title. This is a fine piece of work.”
Kim Burton, Songlines
“The second album from three young women based in the U.K. brings more of what they do so well — singing Bulgarian folk songs. Their renditions are as authentic as anything you’ll hear and helped by the purity of the voices, everything presented a cappella (except for the epic storm that closes “Peperuda”). Although the vast majority of the pieces on A Bright Star Has Risen consist of village music — folk music, that is — “Velichanie Bogorodichno” takes them into church for a sacred piece about the Virgin Mary, performed with exquisite control. Throughout, the harmonies are perfect, the voices blending so well it’s hard to believe that they haven’t been singing together all their lives. Whether joyous or tinged with sadness (“Malo Selo”), there’s real beauty here, the joy of love, life, and singing.” Chris Nickson, AllMusic.com
“It’s always tough to review Bulgarian singing in the arranged-folk style when the recordings involving the likes of Yanka Rupkina or Nadka Karadjova can still be heard. But that was then, this is now; much has changed in Bulgaria, and many of the singers have joined the diaspora and brought the formerly mysterious sound to audiences and singers around the world, often setting up choirs, such as the London Bulgarian Choir led by Dessislava Stefanova.
The core and essence, though, of Bulgarian vocal harmony, with those thrilling close seconds, doesn’t need a big choir; it’s the interplay between just two or three voices that does it. Trio Bulgarka, three of the finest singers, including Yanka Rupkina, from the big communist-era Bulgarian choirs, made that point internationally, as have the Bisserov sisters from Pirin.
The Perunika Trio (named after the Slavic goddess of rain and eternal beauty), was formed by three young Bulgarian-born women in London in 2005, and released its first album in 2008. The current line-up comprises leader Eugenia Georgieva, Dessislava Vasileva and from Serbia (which has its own thrilling traditions of hard-edged, tight seconds) Jasmina Stosic. While it does have edgy, wilder moments, in general their sound is softer, sweeter and more youthful-sounding, less epic, than the exquisite, vibrating, heart-rending edge of the justly-famous soloists who so astonished the world a few decades ago. But Perunika are here and now, and in this set of traditional and composed material largely drawing on the traditions of south and south-west Bulgaria, their singing is finely-balanced, their voices blending as one instrument, and their songs so varied and fulfilling in melody and texture that at no point in this whole CD of unaccompanied singing does one feel a need for instrumental input.
And they live right here in Britain. I hesitate to suggest, but will anyway, that they’ve a thing or two to teach some English folk-singing people about the voice as an instrument.” Andrew Cronshaw, FROOTS
“These three Bulgarian women show a clear commitment to sharing the distinctive range of their homeland’s musical roots in the 14 songs on this release. They beautifully demonstrate the power of the human voice as a musical instrument. One finds this done often and well in music from the Eastern Orthodox part of Europe, as that church’s tradition allows only the human voice to be used as an instrument for praising God. This is not to say that Perunika limits itself to somber spiritual chant. Far from it. Were that their bent, they would hardly have named their act after an ancient Slavic rain goddess.
Bulgaria, as portrayed in song by the Perunika Trio, is a land of passion and extremes, whether the extreme religious faith one would expect to find in a place where cultures collide like the Balkans, deep romantic feelings or pangs of loss. Though a bit restricted by its being a cappella, the record is a convincing kaleidoscope of the seasons, the secular and the sacred, the urban and rural and the past and the present in this colorful crossroads of Europe.
It is not a record for everyday listening, but for Sundays with the Times, days when the seasons definitively change, for planting flowers and for late night contemplation of the Human Condition. For these occasions, for times when it is right, “A Bright Star Has Risen” is superlatively right.” Arthur Shuey, WorldMusicCentral
“This London-based vocal trio will be a real eye-opener for world music fans who’ve assumed that Balkan vocal music reached a peak with the success of the Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares project a few decades back… Simply stated, these three singers — Eugenia Georgieva, Dessislava Vasileva and Jasmina Stosic — harmonize together perfectly, making some stunningly gorgeous a capella recordings. They tilt towards a softer vocal style than other Balkan groups, not at all gooey or saccharine, but not as keening or as sharp as what we’ve been accustomed to… Perhaps there are purists out there who will find this inauthentic in some way: I suspect many listeners will have the same response as I did, which was to drop my jaw and marvel at the sheer beauty of their harmonies and the pleasant simplicity of the arrangements. Definitely worth checking out, for fans of the style as well as casual but open-minded listeners. Recommended!” DJ Joe Sixpack, Slipcue Guide To World Music
“But it’s the ethereal vocals that captivate the senses. Listen to the haunting vocals on Farewell Mother that contrasts with the mirthful vocals on Village Dance. The drop dead gorgeous Harvest opens with a solo voice then the other vocalists fill in the contours. I can see why the wheat flourishes in the fields. The titular track, also moves at a dreamy pace while the a cappella vocals play leapfrog. The religious hymn Adoration of the Virgin features Greek Orthodox scales and modes. This comes as no surprise when you read about the origins of Bulgarian choral music in the liner notes.
Overall, I’m reminded of my favorite women a cappella singers such as Faraualla from Italy, Kitka, and Värttinä of Finland (when this band performs a cappella). I can’t think of a better album than A Bright Star Has Risen to usher in late winter/early spring. I can already see the crocuses pushing through the hard winter soil.” Wholemusicexp.blogspot review
“Drawing on traditional and contemporary compositions, the album also explores the links between Bulgarian folk and Christian traditions. Historically these have bled into each other and here that’s delightfully enunciated in songs such as ‘Paune Forket (Peacocks are Flying)’ and particularly ‘Angel I Moma (Angel and Maiden)’ where a religious text is set to a traditional tune. Wonderfully performed, this is a varied and largely a quietly meditative album with the interplay between the three voices creating music that ranges from thrilling to contemplative, and which is never less than compelling.” Dave Haslam, R2
“Bulgarian music has, also thanks to the communist era, retained its originality. Local songs and songs of the seasons are still popular. The Bulgarian Perunika Trio from London went in search of songs of Southern Bulgaria and from Shopluk, further to the South West. A collection of such songs can now be found on their CD ‘A Bright Star has Risen’. The Perunika Trio now sounds more solid and compact than in their debut ‘Introducing’ of 2008. The three voices are coherent and wonderfully complement each other, to form one musical colour. Harmonic consonances are often enriched with cutting dissonant chords, shouts and glottal effects.
The choice of repertoire in ‘A Bright Star has Risen’ is focused on Bulgarian folklore, against a background centred on the woman/the girl. Thus, ‘Paune forkat’ refers to the Lazarus celebration in which young girls dance, and ‘Peperuda’ is a Slavic ritual rain dance for women. Many Bulgarian lyrics are about women’s beauty, including the title song ‘Izgreyala yasna zvezda’ (A Bright Star has Risen), written by Dora Hristova, the conductor of the Bulgarian Radio & TV Women’s Choir of Plovdiv. This choir was once given the sobriquet ‘Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares’ coined by the Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier, because of the cutting and special arrangements by Philip Koutev (1903-1982), the father of the modern Bulgarian music. The Perunika Trio’s arrangements are based on this. The mystique has long gone, but it sparkles as never before!” Mattie Poels, Musicframes
“The mix is finished to perfection, with the two parts smoothly blending into one another despite the differences in language and musicality … a strangely comfortable sensation of drifting between nostalgic thoughts of home and exotic experiences of different cultures.” Mainichi Shimbun
“We asked Tomiko Kojima, Honorary Professor of Japanese Music History at the National Museum of Japanese History to listen to their CD of traditional Japanese tunes. “they have made the songs and performances their own with their singing techniques. Their musical expression makes it very familiar and friendly,” says Ms. Kojima. She also reflected on the influences of the March 11 disaster as well as the breakdown at the nuclear power plant that ensued and says, “we are at the turning point after the collapsed myth of superiority in modernness, Western materialism, and technology. People around the world are commending Japan for being able to carry on in times of disaster and emergency in an orderly manner, and there is a newfound appreciation for the culture and customs. Perhaps the classic songs are one of those things.” Numerous other musicians have released their versions and arrangements of classic chorus songs, and the renewed appreciation of traditional music seems to so continue.” Shigeo Fijunami, Tokyo Shimbun
“Very impressive debut from three young London-based Bulgarian women, singing in a whole range of regional a cappella styles. Sometimes sweet, but sometimes surprisingly spiky and well worth investigating.” FRoots
“Perunika is a blossom named after the mythical goddess of spring and eternal youth who is said to make rain when she milks her cloud-cows; Bulgarian villages traditionally held festivals led by girls clad in leaves and branches who sang and prayed for rain. The songs on this album reflect this culture with great charm, blending songs to the goddess with hymns to the Orthodox deity, and displaying the muscular harmonies and irregular rhythms which make this music so beguiling. Making this record has been a voyage of discovery for the London-based singers, who are now returning to their Macedonian roots.” Michael Church, The Independent On Sunday
“Twenty years ago Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares introduced the ringing sound of Balkan choral singing on one of the seminal world music albums, although the ensemble turned out to be the more prosaically named Bulgarian Television Women’s Choir. While two decades of exposure to Balkan sounds have rubbed some of the exoticism off this form of music, they’ve done nothing to dent its essential power.
The Perunika Trio show that you don’t have to be a vast choir to create that haunting, keening sound. Their pure voices interweave in an extraordinary range of vocal effects, and while the members are all cosmopolitan urbanites long resident in Britain, you’d never guess it from the easy way they pitch into these songs of the Bulgarian forests and plains. Rustic, without being overly romantic, the album’s mood is warm and reassuring, the best songs combining a madrigal-like delicacy with a brooding Eastern Orthodox spirituality.” Mark Hudson, The Daily Telegraph
“Bulgaria’s Perunika Trio performs vocal music in the classical tradition of oral story-telling. The trio is Eugenia Georgieva, Victoria Mancheva, and Victoria Evstatieva. The opening track features the kaval flute in the background. The percussion instrument, the tarabuka, also makes an appearance on a few tracks. The oral tradition of Bulgaria and the Macedonian region is steeped in chants, na atsane singing, irregular time signatures, and laments, often a part of the Christian religion. Part of the success of the Bulgarian vocal tradition, stems from the Orthodox Church’s disallowance of instrumentation. The Perunika Trio performs 18 different vocal tracks. Many tracks reflect elements of love, maidens, astronomy, weather, geography, and history. All the tracks are eloquently performed and resemble a smoother form of the Finnish group, Varttina. A contemplative, energetic, and refreshing release. Vocal fans rejoice for the Perunika Trio!” Matthew Forss, InsideWorldMusic.com
“If you’ve ever heard Le Mystère de Voix Bulgares you’ll know how haunting Bulgarian vocal harmonies can be. The Perunika Trio are like an ultra-focused choir with just one voice per part, but perfectly tuned and blended. Eugenia Georgieva, Victoria Mancheva and Victoria Evstatieva are all London-based. Their repertoire here is largely Bulgarian plus a few songs in Macedonian, Russian and Old Church Slavonic. The slimline group works well for most of the songs but it sounds a little thin on the lament Strati and Angelaki which needs more voices with its clashing dissonances.” Simon Broughton, Evening Standard
“There was a time when Bulgarian voices were a mystery to all but the most devoted world music listeners. The London-based Perunika Trio cannot quite recapture the shock of the first Bulgarian recordings to be heard in the west, but their collection of songs still contains surprises. “Bre Petrunko” is punctuated with gulps halfway between a skipping record and an attack of hiccoughs. Elsewhere, mathematically strange harmonies and lurching rhythms abound, as do spurned maidens, wounded warriors and trees.” David Honigmann, Financial Times
“Those who remember Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares will know the magic of the Bulgarian village harmonies, a rural singing style that seemed out of place in the modern age with its odd micro-tones and weird harmonizations. You won’t find quite the same thing with the Perunika Trio, but the time is different — and so, most definitely, is the place. The three young women who make up the group may all be Bulgarian, but they’re based in London, having been raised not in the Bulgarian countryside, but in its cities; one of them is even a classically trained musician who spent time in a rock band. How much that influences the music is up for debate, though. There are some pieces with those ineffable diaphonic harmonies, but many more aren’t, looking out toward Macedonia or Rhodope, bringing ideas in from Orthodox Church liturgical music and, in the case of the very unusual “Morf’ Elenku,” taking the na atsane tradition from the Bansko region. All of that could make it an academically rich CD, but lacking in emotion. Instead, the mostly traditional pieces (“Perunika” was written by one of the singers, Eugenia Georgieva) hang together well to form a whole with one seamless sound made from many facets and suffused with beauty and passion.” Chris Nickson, All Music Guide
“The acoustic, mostly vocal, music on Introducing Perunika Trio is powered by the excitement of energy packed into a suppressed space and released in brief glints. There is a low drone, and then words begin to flick out with the quickness of a quip or a whip, snipped off at the end. The voices don’t linger around for hours stickily collecting dust like Celine Dion’s heart going on, or Whitney Houston always loving you—they fling themselves outwards, rise to a swift crescendo, and chop back. Then they flick out again, and once again withdraw. It’s the glee of no-nonsense schoolmarms, all tight-boned bodices and hairbuns, casting off their glasses and splintering into sharp fermentation at the front of the classroom. Window glass explodes and the children sprint away in panic, shocked by the Bacchic peculiarities of adulthood.
That was the impression I came away with the first time I listened to this album. Listening to it again, I realised that not all of the songs work around the drone and the whip, but it’s these yips and yelps that have lingered; the intense sound of high-pitched and precise female explosions. There are also church chants, humming and simmering, and songs that are closer to conventional madrigals. Some of the songs are Macedonian, some are Russian. Most come from Bulgaria, the Trio’s homeland.
This yipping style of Eastern European folk singing was brought to the attention of the outside world decades ago by Marcel Cellier’s Le Mystére des Voix Bulgare recordings of the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir. The Choir itself was formed during the 1950s by the Bulgarian composer Philip Koutev. The idea of good country people coming together to perform their folk tunes wholesomely in formalised arrangements under a group leader is one that appears to have held great appeal for Communist rulers, for, I suppose, obvious reasons. The people in these groups were expressing pride in their regional culture, but it was a bounded pride, contained, scenic, and non-threatening.
The three women in the Perunika Trio are city-bred city-dwellers who met while they were all living abroad in London, yet they borrow much of their material from the same countrified regions of southern Bulgaria that the Choir drew on in the Voix Bulgare albums. There is music from agricultural North Thrace, and from mountainous Pirin. Pirin is also the source of the Trio’s name. The goddess Perunika was assumed to live on the mountain with a rainbow for a belt.
Introducing is not, however, a rehash of the Voices Bulgare. The limited size of the Trio gives its singing a different character. When the three women rise to meet a note, they don’t have the same wall-of-sound effect as the Choir, instead they sound sweeter, simpler, freer, and cleaner, a flexible independent entity rather than a mass. They also sound less imposing. The noise of those disciplined Choir voices shooting steadily upwards in unison was designed to make your spine tingle and the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It felt like a primitive defensive instinct reviving itself in the modern age. “Danger,” said the lizard brain, “a large crowd of forceful strangers is approaching.” The Perunika Trio, being smaller, seems more neighbourly. It doesn’t bring out that saurian zing.
The sharpness is still present, though, and so is the Eastern melancholy. Even when the voices are rising, there’s sadness in the tone, colouring it, tilting both downwards and upwards at the same time. Bulgaria has, in its time, been occupied by the Ottoman Empire and dominated by Communists, and even while the women are singing about love, there’s still an air of resignation and mourning, as if life is never really entirely happy. This helps to set the region’s folk music apart from other forms of folk. West African folk, for example, is more likely to be straightforwardly pleased or straightforwardly sad. The Bulgarian songs pull in two directions, and the tension at the centre gives them a trembling core of power. The drone hums along like a constant memento mori. Et in arcadia droning.” Deanne Sole, Popmatters.com
“The three Bulgarian-rooted, London-based female voices that account for nearly every sound on Introducing Perunika Trio—only a tarabuka drum and kaval flute augment them, and even then very sporadically—are sometimes so light and airy, there’s a sense that they’ll simply float away and dissipate into the ether. At other times, there’s more of a palpable strength, or a deliberate otherworldliness, to their harmonization, as if to remind us that they are, after all, contemporary urbanites and not craggy oldsters who’ve never left the countryside. Either way, the trio delivers a pure, decidedly ancient sound—almost churchy in its solemnity and austerity, but often coming with a twist: a slightly bent and discordant note here, a sharp turn of rhythm there, perhaps accompanied by a sandpapery rasp that tries to sully a diamond tone. Together for less than three years and united in their feistiness, as well as their loyalty to their Balkan roots, the members of Perunika Trio don’t adhere strictly to tradition so much as give it an upgrade. ” Jeff Tamarkin, GlobalRhythm
“Eugenia Georgieva leads one of the more unlikely double-lives in contemporary music.
As the founder of the London-based Perunika Trio, she specializes in crafting some of the most exquisite a cappella music you’re likely to hear. The members of the group, which also includes fellow Bulgarian expatriates Victoria Evstatieva and Victoria Mancheva, all have a shared background in Bulgarian and Macedonian culture in general and choral music in particular.
Only four of the selections on their splendid, 18-song debut album feature instrumentation of any kind (and then very sparingly). The other pieces showcase their luminous three-part harmonies and intricate call-and-response vocal exchanges, unadorned. What results at times suggests the famed Bulgarian Women’s Choir in a much more intimate, but equally moving, form.
Together, these three singers explore the folkloric traditions of southern Bulgaria and neighboring regions, producing music that is alternately haunting and edgy, rhapsodic and at times almost raucous. Any language barriers for Western listeners are easily overcome through the group’s visceral voices – and by their ability to express joy, pain and a variety of emotions in between with such clarity and depth of expression.
As for Georgieva’s double-life, her MySpace page identifies her as “Eugenie G” and cites her chief musical influences as Queen, George Michael, Tool and Bulgarian singing star Yanka Rupkina. Georgieva’s – make that G’s – solo work ranges from chill-out reveries and percolating dance-pop jams to otherworldly ballads. But none of her own work is as striking or stirring as that of the Perunika Trio’s, at least not yet… ” George Varga, The San Diego Union-Tribune
A collaboration with Transglobal Underground, 2010
“An album of hidden depths, attractive musical turns and conceptual intelligence” FRoots