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I am blessed to have had someone like her in my life: famed folk singer Sonya Kuncheva in the eyes of her granddaughter

“I put my soul into singing,” Sonya Kuncheva would say about her life in folk music. Facts speak for themselves – with her beautiful, sensual voice, she has breathed new life into more than 500 songs from Northeastern Bulgaria (the regions of Varna, Shumen, Veliko Turnovo), 270 of which have been recorded at the Bulgarian National Radio’s (BNR) audio fund. She stored them in her memory for years, songs which she had learnt from local singers at a time when there was no modern sound recording equipment.

Sonya Kuncheva was born in Provadia 90 years ago. She inherited her talent for music from her mother’s side of the family, known for its many talented singers. During her childhood and her school years she sang – out in the yard, in the house, at school and town parties. During her studies at the medical school in Varna and later in Omar village near Shumen, Sonya Kuncheva was amateur soloist and leader of the folklore choir she had founded. In 1951 a commission in the town of Preslav approved her to make recordings at the Bulgarian National Radio, and when she moved to Varna, her songs were played by the local radio station. The singer had the good fortune of having her repertoire arranged by famous names in folklore like Philip Kutev, Hristo Todorov, Stefan Kunev, Nikolay Kaufman. Sonya Kuncheva never forgot the advice she was given by BNR music editor Georgi Boyajiev: "Sonya, do not learn songs that are mediocre. Learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

In 1970 Sonya Kuncheva was appointed soloist of the BNR’s regional station Radio Varna, and there her career as a stage and studio musician unfolded. In 2003 she released her book “The songs of my life”, which includes around 200 songs from her personal music fund, notated by her granddaughter Sonya Kuncheva who followed in her grandmother’s footsteps in music, but as a classical guitarist.

“My mother died when I was 3 and my brother – 8, so it was granny that raised us,” her granddaughter says. “She was a mother to us both. She was very strong, very energetic. She would never give up, she was always singing and preparing the songs she would be recording for the Bulgarian National Radio and Bulgarian National TV, she would practice the lyrics, the modulation. It was her singing that helped me fall in love with folk music. But not just folklore – music as such. We have recorded duets together. And I remember what she said to me: If you are not talented enough then don’t take up music because it is a profession that takes so much effort and talent. Without them you will never succeed. I graduated classical guitar from the music school in Varna. I was tutored by Lyuben Haralampiev, the man who created the guitar school of Varna whose fame has spread all over the world. I myself am laureate of two national and three international classical guitar competitions. I do not teach, I perform abroad. I was blessed to have had someone like my grandmother in my life. She brought me up to rely on my own self, not to look to others for help, to trust myself, to study, to read, to improve my mind. That was what she herself did.

It was so interesting to notate her slow songs – a veritable challenge. To this day I perform songs that are based on folklore with elements from the repertoire of my grandmother.”

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