Songs of Forbidden Love

by London Bulgarian Choir

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‘I’m dreamy and drowsy, but sleep won’t come. There’s that girl in the village who could be lying next to me. She wants me and I want her, but her mother won’t let her. I’ll buy mother a copper pot and she’ll give in. She wants me and I want her, but her father won’t let her. I’ll buy father a purple coat and he’ll give in. I get up at dawn. I’m cold and even dancing’s no use – I wish we were warm together, damn it! The village priest’s no help – he wants 120 gold coins to get us married. But he’s already got a wife to keep him warm and to sing to him all winter.’
‘Denka, until now you were my god-sister. From now on, you will be my sweetheart. I burn for you, Denka. I am dry as a parched walnut tree.’
Dimjaninka took her horse to the cool clear spring. She saw herself reflected in the water and she loved what she saw. ‘I’m so fair and rosy-cheeked. If only I were a little taller and darker-eyed, I’d seduce everyone I met.’ A forest dragon heard her. He swooped down and took her for his bride.
‘I churn up the cobbled road to get to you. I wade through deep mud. I leap over fences. Because of you, the dogs bark at me. I can’t live without you. If only you would come to me.’
Ranbel Moj 01:14
Oj devojche ranbel moj ranbel moj Koj ti kupi gerdan tvoj gerdan tvoj Kupi mi go brato tvoj brato tvoj Saka da mi bide dever moj dever moj Oj devojche ranbel moj ranbel moj Koj ti kupi kolan tvoj kolan tvoj Kupi mi go tatko tvoj tatko tvoj Saka da mi bide svekar moj svekar moj Saka da mi bide svekar moj svekar moj A jas da ti bidam nevesta nevesta Translation: ‘Maiden, sweet basil, who gave you that necklace?’ ‘Your brother bought it. He wants to be my brother-in-law.’ ‘Maiden, sweet basil, who gave you that belt?’ ‘Your father bought it. He wants to be my father-in-law and wants me to be your bride.’
‘Go back, Kalina, don’t follow me. Ahead is a thick forest,you can’t cross it.’ ‘Then I’ll turn into a hawk. I’ll fly over the forest. I’ll be yours forever.’ ‘Go back, Kalina, don’t follow me. Ahead is a deep river,you can’t cross it.’ ‘Then I’ll turn into a trout. I’ll swim across the river. I’ll be yours forever.’ ‘Go back, Kalina, don’t follow me. At home I have a beautiful wife and some children too.’ ‘Then I’ll turn into the plague. I’ll kill your wife and take care of your children. I’ll be yours forever.’
‘Don’t you come through my yard, you minx. What am I going to do with all the heartache you bring?’ ‘Boy, gather up your heartache and plant it in the black ploughed earth. If basil grows, you can chase me, but you’ll never catch me. My mother sent me to fetch cold spring water and to set men’s hearts on fire.’
Ima Nema 01:54
Has Jova got a boyfriend or not? ‘Shehas!’‘Shehasn’t!’‘ButJova’smadeacashmeredress!’ ‘She has!’ ‘She hasn’t!’ ‘But Jova’s made a silk shirt!’ ‘She has!’ ‘She hasn’t, she’s just lying!’ ‘But Jova’s made colourful socks!’ ‘Well, maybe Jova has a boyfriend, but who cares. He’s too far away to matter!’
‘Hey, chubritsa* maiden, come to the gate. Let me see if your face is still as fair and your figure as slender as I remember.’ ‘There’s no point in you looking. I don’t care for you.’ ‘Maiden, as you pick the herb, so you tear my heart.’ *Chubritsa (savoury) – Bulgaria’s favourite herb. This is our spice girl song.
Ajde Gugo 03:08
‘Guga, let’s run away together, at dawn, before the dew has fallen.’ ‘Old man, how can I run away with you? Your beard is as white as fleece, your legs as bent as shepherd’s crooks.’ ‘Never mind that, Guga, let’s run away, while the trees are still green and the fields are thick with clover.’
‘Oh my kaval*, what is making that noise all through the village and around the pub? Are the horses being taken to pasture – or is a maiden being stolen?’ ‘That’s not the horses – a maiden is being stolen.’ *Kaval – a shepherd’s flute
Three brothers were building a house. By day they built it, by night it fell down. The brothers swore to make a sacrifice of whoever brought them breakfast in the morning. First to come was the wife of Manol, the master builder. He motioned to her to go back but she kept coming, like a fog, so they walled her into the foundations of the house.
‘Beautiful maiden, let’s pour the wine. Who is more sorrowful, you or I?’ ‘Young man, my sorrow is greater. Three men have loved me. They all left me, and you will leave me too.’ ‘My sorrow is greater, maiden. I have a life to build, yet I’m off to war.’
‘Mother of my sweetheart, have you woven the fine gifts, the wedding trousseau? Shall I send the engagement party with my brother’s black and scarlet horse?’ ‘Sweetheart of my daughter, don’t send your men. My daughter’s gifts have been given to another.’
‘Hey Neda, did you dream about me as I dreamt about you? You and I turned into nightingales and flew away together.’
‘Lovely Gana, why is your feather quivering? Is it that you want to elope with me?’ ‘Ivan, how can I elope with you? We are cousins – our fathers are brothers, our mothers are sisters-in-law.’ ‘Gana, just as the leaves on a tree can never be counted, nor a deep river forded, so too a beautiful maiden cannot be bound by family ties.’
‘Jovana my love, I see you, sitting on the banks of the Vardar. As you wash the white sheets, I know you think of me. I’m waiting for you, waiting for you to escape your mother and come to me.’
Granny dreamt that she’d married a young man. She woke up to find her old man was lying next to her, crooked and grey. She started to cry, but pulled herself together. ‘We were young once, and crazy. I’ll buy him an embroidered coat and he’ll do!’


Songs of Forbidden Love gives us Kalimanku Denku’s heartbreaking harmonies, Traitsa Brate’s sparse discord, Ima Nema’s fierce antiphony. Our songs subvert ‘boy meets girl’ as only Bulgarian folk music can – man falls for cousin, girl meets dragon, granny imagines grandad in a sexy coat. Haven’t we all been there?

The London Bulgarian Choir turned 18 as we recorded this album. In our late teens, we got out of bed for groovy festivals, Pericles at the National Theatre, and tours of Bulgaria, Switzerland, Amsterdam, France and Poland. We had cheeky flings with Nigel Kennedy, the Turbans and the Philharmonia orchestra. HALO 4 made us the voice of a long-extinct civilisation and we soundtracked The Missing Cryptoqueen for the BBC.

Kiril Todorov wrote us new arrangements of Jovano Jovanke, Nazad Nazad Mome Kalino and Shto Ti Pertseto Treperi. Guencho Guenchev trusted us with Devojko Muri Hubava, Chubrichanche Le, and Momiche Golem Gjavolo.

It’s a world of attraction, seduction, abduction and sacrifice – we hope you enjoy it!


released November 10, 2019

Conducted & produced by Dessislava Stefanova
Co-produced by James Lyndsay
Mixed and mastered by Ivan Kovachev
Recorded at the Purcell School by Tom Bell, in Muzga by Ivan, in Switzerland by Nehrun, in SE5 by Sam Freeman, James and Dessi.
Artwork and design by Kasia Sommerfeld

Alison Conway, Alex Gibson, Bernard Burns, Cate Langmuir, Charlie Ryan, Claire Coxhill, Cole Prosser, David Smith, Dessislava Stefanova, Deanna Benedict, Diana Koleva, Diana Tsokova, Eleanor Roberts, Emily Wasp, Geoff Burton, Georgi Paraskov, Ginka Mastoridis, Giulio Agostini, Helen Brice, Ian Douglas, Irina Stoyanova, Iris Luppa, James Lyndsay, Jana Haragalova, Jordan Gogov, Kasia Sommerfeld, Lora Kaleva, Lucy Gibson, Margaret Luck, Mirella Koleva, Moni Sheehan, Polina Hidzheva, Polly Hunt, Radoslava Leseva, Ron Fielder, Sarah Filippi, Slaveia Christoff, Steven East, Valentina Alexandrova, Zeebar Moore

Bernard Burns, didgeridoo
Nehrun Aliev, percussion, tracks 8, 17 and 18
Cabbar Boziye, percussion, tracks 5 and 6

Thanks to…

Our families and friends for their continued love, support and concert attendance. All the singers who have come through the choir and contributed to its character and sound, and all those learning the songs in the baby choir. Our fans.

The Bulgarian Embassy, the Bulgarian Cultural Institute and the Ivan Stanchov Bulgarian School in London for their generous hospitality.

The album production team: Kasia, James, Cate, Ron, Claire, Moni, Irina and Alex


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London Bulgarian Choir London, UK

Based in London, singing in Bulgarian, led by Dessislava Stefanova, the London Bulgarian choir invite you to join them in finding that ancient resonance in the depth of the human heart.


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