Bulgarian Gypsy transvestite pop-folk star
When it comes to popular music in Bulgaria, it’s Chalga. Chalga is a blend of eastern Turkish rhythms, western pop and local folk music. The King of Chalga is a singer named Azis. He’s a controversial figure. Many Bulgarians love him, but he also inspires a lot of animosity. Matthew Brunwasser has today’s Global Hit.
The Bulgarian intellectual elite doesn’t want you to hear the music of Azis. But plenty of Bulgarians listen just the same.
Azis is the only Bulgarian performer who can fill a soccer stadium. But for every one who loves Azis there’s someone who hates him. That’s not just because of the way he sounds. Azis wears women’s clothes. He has since he was a child.
Azis: For my whole life, it’s come from within me, I’ve wanted to wear women’s clothes. All of a sudden I understood I could make money from this, not just to stare at myself in the mirror at home. I had friends, gays, transvestites, who went to my performances and said try this, wear that. And the people went crazy. Why? Because of my mini skirt. OK, so I decided that it could bring me many dividends.
Azis’ music can also be provocative.
This song is called “Vernosta e luja.” That means “Fidelity is a lie.”
Azis: I am one of the faces of democracy. People saw there was freedom in this country, after I appeared on the screen. A lot of people wanted to take me off, a lot of them didn’t put me on, they were against me. That’s normal, how many years was there communism? For many people, this feeling still remains
Azis is the poster boy of Chalga. That’s a Balkan hybrid of western pop, Turkish rhythms and Bulgarian folk music. Many Bulgarians embrace Chalga as a music of the people. Others fear that Chalga is wiping out Bulgarian culture. Azis says the Bulgarians who hate Chalga are denying their Balkan roots.
Azis: You are in the Balkans! You’re in the middle of gypsy land and what do you listen to? Heavy metal? Why would you listen to that? You don’t understand it. It’s not your music. Rap? You don’t have that culture, you don’t have that history.
Azis: Bulgarians pretend they don’t like me. I don’t believe them. You can’t imagine what letters and emails I get from people, who confide in me, I can’t wait to get home and put on the TV so I can watch your new videos, but I’m afraid to do it in front of my friends. Why? I don’t know. It’s normal to watch me. I put on a show! Who doesn’t watch blood? Who doesn’t watch sex? Who doesn’t watch humor?
Actually, plenty of Bulgarians don’t. Individuality is still not cool in Bulgaria. Many older Bulgarians hold on to their egalitarian social values from the communist era. They find it hard to accept the growing economic gap between rich and poor. But Azis is only 28. He’s comfortable in the new Bulgaria.
Azis: There is this division in society, because before, everyone got the same pay, wore the same clothes, carried the same bags, now it’s not like that. Because of the difference in money. Now everyone has created their own self. I don’t worry about it.
The name of this song is “Haide, pochvai me.” Roughly translated, that’s “Come on, start me up.”
Azis embodies much of what Bulgaria fears. He is a dark-skinned gypsy. He dropped out of school in the 5th grade. He uses gay imagery in his songs and videos. He wiggles his large waxed thighs. And he dresses in the most outlandish clothing imaginable. On a given day, he might sport cat’s eye contact lenses a fur coat and blue bikini underwear. No wonder people watch.
Azis: It’s normal for people to be interested in watching a man with bleached white hair, a bleached beard, and long eye lashes. It’s normal to become a star if you look that way. And sing the way I do
Azis: I’m the Bulgarian dream. Here people think the American dream can only happen in America. I am a living example how a simple, normal villager, came and became a super star in my country.
The public response for and against Azis mirrors the divided public reaction to democracy.
The video for this hit, “Nyama”, or “I won’t”, featured a kiss between Azis and a catholic priest in church.
Azis: Bulgaria went crazy because of that kiss. They stopped the video.
Azis has just released his autobiography. He appears in TV commercials for an herbal weight loss product. He plays the madam of a brothel in an American movie that was shot here. And an exhibition of his drawings should be on display by the end of the year. Azis is staying in the public eye despite the wishes of many Bulgarians.
For the World, I’m Matthew Brunwasser, Sofia, Bulgaria.