Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares - Biography
By J Poet
Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares is the catchy name Marcel Cellier made up for the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir. The group was originally known as the Bulgarian National Ensemble & Choir of Radio Sophia and was put together by Filip Kutev in 1951. He traveled Bulgaria and selected the strongest female singers of traditional music he could find. He gave them extensive classical voice training and wrote arrangements for folk songs that emphasized their harmonies, using second, seventh and ninth intervals that make the singing sound “mysterious” to ears raised on western scales. The women’s diaphonic singing, a method of singing from the chest with the vocal chords constricted that gives the vocals an earthy, rumbling feel also adds to the otherworldly feel. Since 1985 the choir has been under the direction of Professor Dora Hristova.
Cellier is the head of the small Discs Cellier world music label, and is well known in Europe for his work as a world music DJ, song collector and amateur ethnomusicologist. Cellier started one of the first world music radio shows - From the Black Sea to the Baltic - on French-Swiss radio in 1960. He discovered recordings made by the Choir in the 50s and released some of them on Discs Cellier in the early 60s. Nonesuch, Elektra’s new world and classical budget label repackaged some of those tracks as Music of Bulgaria (1966 Nonesuch). The recordings laid more or less dormant until Ivo Watts-Russell of 4 AD heard the music, tracked down Cellier and released the recordings as Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares (1975 Discs Cellier, 1986 4 AD, 1990 Nonesuch) and Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, Volume 2 (1988 Discs Cellier, 1988 4 AD, 1990 Nonesuch). The world music boom was in high gear and Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, Volume 2 won a Best Folk Music Album Grammy in 1989. The powerful vocals of the ensemble, sung without accompaniment, is undeniable, and they became a major draw on concert stages worldwide. The personnel is always shifting as old singers leave and new recruits join. Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, Volume 3 (1989 Discs Cellier) included songs by the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir as well as three other Bulgarian vocal groups.
From Bulgaria with Love: The Pop Album (1993 Mesa Blue Moon) turns over tracks from various Voix Bulgares albums to a group of DJs and remix artists for a dance floor treatment that introduced the Choir to club kids. Melody, Rhythm and Harmony (1993 Mesa Blue Moon) is a two disc live recording of a Norwegian concert that’s absolutely stunning. In addition to the commanding full choral pieces, the group breaks down for solo, duo and trio performances that are equally impressive. Ritual (1994 Nonesuch) includes a few male voices and some traditional music interludes; it was nominated for a Best World Music Album Grammy. Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, Volume 4 was released by Discs Cellier in Switzerland and Mercury France in 1998. Music From Alone in the Dark (2008 Milan) may be their most unique disc. It’s the soundtrack for a video game composed by Olivier Deriviere and featuring vocals by Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares. The Best of Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares (2000 Universal France) collects tracks from many of the group’s albums.
In 1992 the group broke into two distinct choirs. One continues as The Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir - Le Mystere de Voix Bulgares, the other is Angelite - The Bulgarian Voices, directed by musical Tanya Andreeva. They have released several albums including Mountain Tale (1999 Shanachie) a collaboration with Tuvan folk band Huun Hurr Tu.
Three singers from choir - Yanka Rupkina, Stoyanka Boneva, and Eva Georgieva – have performed and recorded as The Trio Bulgarka. They’ve provided backing vocals for Kate Bush on The Sensual World (1989 Columbia) and The Red Shoes (1993 Columbia) and made one album on their own The Forest is Crying (1988 Hannibal/Ryko) backed by a small group of traditional musicians.