Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Honors Thesis



First Advisor

Dr. James Briscoe

Second Advisor

Dr. Sarah Eyerly

Third Advisor

Dr. Frank Felice


During the mid-1990s, against the background of a dizzyingly unstable economy and a corrupt and transitional political climate, a new genre of popular music rose to prominence in Bulgaria and came to be viewed by many as a complex symbol of this new, post-communist society. Although it has been given several names in its short history, this genre is most commonly known today as chalga, a designation that has a variety of connotations, both purely musical and purely derogatory. At its core, chalga is a fusion music genre that combines elements of Bulgarian folk music, Roma and Turkish music, popular and folk music from neighboring countries, western popular music, and an earlier genre of Bulgarian music known as svatbarska muzika, or "wedding music." How chalga relates to Bulgaria's post-communist, western identity has been a source of great controversy with much attention being given to the ways in which chalga accentuates elements of Bulgaria's Ottoman past.

At the center of this controversy is the ongoing process of Bulgarian identity formation, which has been particularly self-conscious and schizophrenic since the 1989 resignation of Todor Zivkov, Bulgaria's communist leader of nearly twenty-five years. J With the political changes that have occurred in the past two decades and particularly with the entry of Bulgaria into the European Union in 2007, Bulgarians have made many official steps toward ensuring that their new identity is a western one. However, this transitional period has coincided with an explosion of chalga, and the relationship of this expression of Bulgarian identity to the western values of democracy and capitalism has been the subject of much speculation and debate.

There has been a strong acknowledgment among scholars of the ways in which chalga is an anti-communist expression that has been made possible by the new democratic society.' According to this argument, chalga, as a popular synthesis of diverse ethnic and cultural influences, is symbolic of a more inclusive Bulgarian identity that was not possible under communism but is now possible amid new democratic freedoms and experiences. Certainly there is much truth in this. Chalga could not have existed (or at least not on such a large or visible scale) during communism, and democratic and capitalistic freedoms have been quite important in allowing chalga to nourish. However, is chalga pro-democracy and pro-capitalism? What is the relationship between chalga and these new social systems, and what does this relationship tell us about the new Bulgarian identity and sense of progress? In this thesis, the music, lyrics, videos, history, and controversies of chalga will be analyzed in their relationship to Bulgarian identity and, in particular, to Bulgarian democratic and capitalistic identity during this transitional time. The process of post-communist identity formation in Bulgaria has been a controversial and complicated one, and I will use my analysis of chalga to highlight and comment on the nuances of this process.

In support of my analysis, I will be drawing on many scholarly writings on chalga Bulgaria has been a controversial and complicated one, and I will use my analysis of chalga to highlight and comment on the nuances of this process as well as my own experiences and conversations with my Bulgarian friends and my Bulgarian husband who have had an emic experience of this musical phenomenon. Much of the scholarly literature on this subject has focused on the clash between the supporters of this new multicultural phenomenon and the members of the Bulgarian cultural elite, who are thought to be in support of the earlier concept of a mono-ethnic Bulgarian identity. What is expressed in chalga, however, is not straightforward and is complicated by the heavy use of parody and humor in its portrayal of the new Bulgarian society. This thesis, therefore, is intended to supplement these existing understandings about chalga through an analysis of what is expressed in chalga and whether or not this expression is in fact supportive of Bulgaria's progress toward a new, more western identity.