There is hardly a Bulgarian who does not know the song A little lamb began bleating (original title "Zableyalo mi aganze") – a sad tune from the repertoire of folk singer Boris Mashalov (1914-1962). His heartfelt performance can bring tears to the eyes of every listener and remains the benchmark in Bulgarian folk vocal art. In July this year, we mark the 50th anniversary of the untimely death of this legendary singer from Northern Bulgaria.
Boris Mashalov has a special place in Bulgarian folk music as he was one of the first singers whose performances were played on the radio air, who had concerts and recorded LPs. "Although he had a short artistic path (he died at the age of only 48), this singer was a phenomenon at the transition between different eras, cultural worlds and generations – he blended the traditional and modern, the rural and urban, the local and global into one unique musical interpetation", ethnomusicologist Lozanka Peycheva wrote about Boris Mashalov. One cannot fail to recognize, at the very first notes of a song, his high tenor voice and his remarkable artistic temperament. And we can add to this his purely human qualities for which many people respected him even more – his generosity, dedication, and the knack of finding the shortest parth to the hearts of people.
Another of his best-known songs is the epic tune "50 heroes were drinking wine." This is exactly the king of slow, richly ornamented melodies that Mashalov performed in a unique way.
Boris Mashalov’s repertoire consisted of hundreds of songs from his native town of Sevlievo in Central Bulgaria and other areas of the country – his performing activity was inseparable from his work as collector of the Bulgarian folklore legacy. During his trips, he was searching and recording songs and his personal archive stored hundreds of letters with texts sent by fans of the beloved singer. He also inherited the rich repertoire of her father Nikolai Mashalov. In his lifetime, he tried different a painter, sailor, singer, and even won a national wrestling competition.
A little-known fact from Boris Mashalov’s biography is that he mastered vocal technique from opera singer Sabcho Sabev who taught him to sing arias and canzonettas. His road to the big stage was assisted by gramophone records company "Simonavia." At the invitation of Sirak Skitnik (the first director of Radio Sofia), he started singing and making records with the Ugarchin band of Tsvyatko Blagoev. Years later, he fully flourished in his true calling in folk music setting up his band "Our Song". He traveled across the country and abroad with the most brilliant singers of the time - Atanaska Todorova, Mita Stoycheva, Magda Pushkarova accordionist Boris Karlov.
The performances of Boris Mashalov have a hypnotic influence on the audience: "When he was singing, people did not move for fear of stratling him," recalls folklorist Elena Ognianova. "He radiated a special energy. He knew how to get a grip on the audience. With equal skill he was singing both the slow sad songs and the lively brisk tunes".
Manol Todorov, son of singer Atanaska Todorova, says that Mashalov was bringing tears both to the eyes of the audience and of the other musicians on stage: "I have not witnessed such an impact so far." Enthusiastic admirer of Boris Mashalov is singer Marin Ivanov: "It’s pity he couldn’t record more songs as only he knew how to do it! Unfortunately, I have never met him in his lifetime but I can say that it was he who made folk songs penetrate deep in my heart. He left us a huge legacy of songs”.
Fifty years after Boris Mashalov’s death his songs continue to be played regularly on the air of the Bulgarian National Radio and remain the favorite tunes of generations of Bulgarians.
English Rossitsa Petcova