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Going “Places”to the sound of the kaval – as seen by Zhivko Vasilev

Born in the town of Smolyan in the heart of the Rhodope Mountain, Zhivko Vasilev grew up with the beauty of these parts. The kaval is the instrument he uses to study, develop and preserve the music tradition of the Rhodopes.

A young and talented instrumentalist, Zhivko oversteps the bounds of the traditional to embark on different experiments. His music education, wide-ranging interests and his work with musicians from Bulgaria and other countries have all combined to help him in his endeavours. He is currently studying at one of the most prestigious universities in the Netherlands, and has spent the past year working on his latest project.

“My new album is called “Places”, the musician says. “The title comes from all the places I have been able to go to as a musician – more than 30 countries on different continents where I have had the pleasure to perform in the past 10-15 years. Everything I have seen in these places inspired me to create the 11 original tracks for the album. The album features some incredible jazz musicians from Bulgaria and from Europe. I really wanted to include more foreign musicians in the project. I have been living in the Netherlands for some time, and there I met some outstanding musicians, but because of the pandemic they were unable to take part. On the other hand, as it turned out, it was a very good reason for me to perform in “Places” with some of the most talented Bulgarian musicians. I have always had an interest in other genres even though I started out in folklore. But I then turned my attention to jazz and to classics. In this album I throw a bridge towards world music, creating a synthesis of various styles. This was the first time I composed music for such a big band, and I included strings as well. This “journey” around the world helped me paint a diverse and variegated picture in music.”


Zhivko says that in the past 10 years or so he has been working with some superb foreign musicians, among them holders of Grammy awards. One of them - Juan Garcia Herreros – is a renowned bass player from Columbia.


He recorded an album with him a few years ago and took part in a jazz festival in Bogota. Zhivko has been performing with Arifa, a band from the Netherlands, but he says, with a smile, that the other musicians are from Turkey, Germany, Hungary and not one is from the Netherlands. What do musicians from other nationalities think about the traditional Bulgarian instrument – the kaval?

“Foreigners invariably regard the kaval as something exotic. My aim is to make this instrument popular. I play baroque, classical music on the kaval, and that is no easy thing, as it has a limited capacity, unlike the classical instruments. I endeavour to bring out the qualities, the potential of the kaval to the maximum, and I have, of recent, started modifying it. So, together with my uncle, we created a kaval made of glass. It has a very interesting timbre and I am going to add it to the substantial collection of kavals I have.”


The cover of “Places” was designed by Delyan Slavov, Svilen Angelov is the album’s sound engineer. It was recorded at the Lyubomir Pipkov National School of Music. “Places” is expected to be presented at various jazz festivals and concerts.

Photos: private library

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