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Valkana Stoyanova – an emblematic voice in Bulgarian folk singing

Photo: архив

July 13, 2022 marks the 100th anniversary since the birth of Bulgaria’s famous Thracian singer Valkana Stoyanova, a true legend during her lifetime. The folklorist Maria Kuteva writes about her: "The masterful performance of the complex slow songs with rich ornamentation, the emphasized Thracian style, her beautiful voice and expressive singing leave an indelible impression on the listeners. She doesn't just sing, she really "narrates" the song.”

Born in the village of Lyulin near Yambol, Valkana Stoyanova inherited the musical gift of her ancestors. The singer has shared more than once: ”I have been singing for as long as I can remember. My mother was an endless source of songs, I would quietly sing along with her and my dad would always correct me. I loved songs containing beauty, bravery and humanity. It seems to me that folk songs are the best school."

The repertoire of the prominent Bulgarian performer includes more than 350 songs from the Thrace folklore region, some of which are now stored in the Golden Fund of the Bulgarian National Radio. Her talent as a performer is especially impressive in the slow songs in the incredible unity with Nikola Ganchev's accompaniment on the kaval (wooden shepherd’s flute).

The great singer is also among the first Bulgarian performers who recorded folk songs on gramophone records. This happened back in 1936 when she stood in front of the microphone, accompanied by the orchestra of an equally famous musician - clarinetist Ramadan Lolov. Later, she was among the first candidates approved for the State Ensemble for Folk Songs and Dances in Sofiain 1951 - the year of its foundation. And the main artistic director and founder, the composer Philip Koutev, often assigned her creative tasks when the different vocal groups of the choir had to harmonize their voices. This was followed by triumphant tours around the world, on which she performed as a soloist and part of the choir, successfully presenting the abundant wealth of Bulgarian folk songs.

Todor Todorov, who worked for decades as the technical director of the Philip Kutev Ensemble, a long-time friend and connoisseur of its performance, shares personal memories:

ˮI have known Valkana Stoyanova for a long time, we were together very often. She was born on July 13, on a Friday, and at the age of 13 she made the first recordings of her Thracian songs in the studio of the Arfa record company. She was also a teacher at the National School of Folk Arts in the town Kotel. She was very precise in making sure each detail of the lyrics is clearly heard during singing. Valkana Stoyanova had an enormous contribution to Bulgarian folklore. She has many followers, aspiring to sing like her. She gave an important lesson in singing. Valkana Stoyanova was a person who gave a lot to Bulgarian folklore, to the Philip Koutev Ensemble. She sang almost all over the world, in many famous halls. Much more will be said about Valkana Stoyanova, but it is better to listen more to her recording - there is something unique in her voice.”

The folk singer passed away in 2009. Even after she left the stage, she retained the love and recognition of the audience. In 1995, the city of Straldzha gave a stage to her talented followers, who took part in the First National Competition "With the songs of Valkana Stoyanova". She became the winner of the prestigious "Nestinarka" award in 1992 for her contribution to Bulgarian traditional art.

And at the end, a few more words said by Todor Todorov: ‎ˮThe memory of Valkana Stoyanova will be alive as long as there is Bulgaria, ‎as long as there is folk singing. She is the emblem of Bulgarian folk singing."

Edited by Albena Bezovska

English version Rositsa Petkova

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