Last year I discovered a magnificent Bulgarian band, Asen & Milena Group. It has already been 10 months since my valuable discovery and my first blog post about them (a-few-words-about-bulgarian-folk-jazz-milena-karadjova). Recently, I checked out their website to satisfy my curiosity regarding their artistic output. I wasn’t disappointed to see that they have still been performing in Sofia, but not only there. One of their big plans is to play a concert in Vrnjci, Serbia where the International Guitar Festival will take place in July this year. It didn’t take long for me to persuade them to tell something more about themselves. It may sound prosaic, but the interview turned out to be very interesting and enjoyable. See for yourself.
How are you?
Milena: Fine, thank you!
Asen: Good, as usual.
Hristian: Fine, thank you!
What is your name? When and where were you born?
Milena: Milena Karadjova. In 1966, in Elhovo, Bulgaria
Asen: Asen Marinov. I was born in 1973 in the lovely town of Kyustendil.
Hristian: Hristian. I was born in Sofia.
How did you learn to play (sing) this kind of music?
Milena: From my mother and grandmother.
Asen: I am a classically trained musician. Yet, Bulgarian music is all around me so at some point I started applying the classical guitar approach to this traditional music. I love to experiment.
Hristian: I learned to play by listening to music, by repeating it, by visiting classes and meeting musicians and teachers.
What made you decide to start performing as musicians?
Milena: My desire was to continue the tradition of the Bulgarian folklore. I want it to sound contemporary, the way I feel it.
Asen: A friend of mine played one day a simple melody on the first string of a guitar. I fell in love with the instrument and soon I started playing myself. It is a pure meditation to play music for several hours, without realizing that this time has passed. Music is magic. Creativity is magic.
Hristian: It was not a decision, it just happened. For me playing is merely realising my feelings, expressing an aesthetic view of the surrounding world.
How did you get to know each other? How long have you been working in the business?
Milena: About 10 years ago, I met Asen at a friends’ dinner and I discovered that the Bulgarian folklore sounds magical on classical guitar. I started singing 3 years ago and since that time I have managed to release 2 solo albums with Bulgarian folk-jazz and my newest album with Asen&Milena Group.
Asen: I started playing the guitar when I was 13. Ever since I’ve been playing music. The CD ” The Middle Ground” with Asen&Milena Group is my fifth CD, after four with classical music.
Hristian: A friend and a fellow – musician introduced me to Asen and Milena and we began meeting and playing together.
What is it about this kind of music that makes it different from other types?
Milena: Our band performs Bulgarian traditional songs with the unusual combination of the classical guitar. The traditional Bulgarian woodwind instrument kaval is a bridge between the tradition and the modern sound.
Asen: I love the voice of Milena and that was my primary draw to start this project.
Hristian: It is emotional and tender but on the other hand it could be strong in a way; it’s real. This kind of music takes you back in time, it tells you old stories from a long time ago.
When and where do you usually play music?
Milena: We play mostly in the capital Sofia, and sometimes in other cities in Bulgaria, whenever invited. One can see us most often in the Tea House “Chai vav Fabrikata” – we play there at least once a month.
Asen: It is interesting that we play in clubs, as well as classical and ethno/world music festivals, and private parties.
Tell me more about your tours, for example about the International Guitar Festival in Vrnjci, Serbia. How often do you give performances?
Milena: At the moment we have a few concerts every month.
Asen: We had concerts at several festivals for classical music like the International Guitar Festival in Kyustendil. Last year we played at the Blue Danube festival in Kladovo, Serbia and this year we are invited to the International Guitar Festival in Vrnjci, again in Serbia.
Are there others in these locales that play the same kind of music? What are their names and what types of musical instruments do they play?
Milena: Yes, there are many young people that are inspired to interpret the traditional folklore and they use traditional instruments like gadulka, kaval, gaida, tapan, tambura, as well as non-traditional instruments such as the kahon and the didgeridoo. Each one of them expresses their own feeling about the folklore.
Asen: To mention some names – Teodosij Spasov, Lot Lorien, Balkan Horses, Oratnitza.
What is your favourite song or tune to play?
Milena: Bachiana Bulgara.
Asen: The newest song – whatever the new song is in our program is my favourite!
Hristian: Ajde mome da begame, Izgrela mi e yasna zvezda.
Who would be your dream collaboration?
Milena: Al di Meola.
Asen: Miroslav Tadic, Steve Vai, Nigel Kennedy, Tracy Chapman.
Hristian: I’ve never thought about it, but if I have to… maybe Cinematic Orchestra.
If you could be an expert in another instrument, what would it be?
Milena: Percussions and guitar.
Asen: Piano, percussions, sax.
Hristian: Oboe, soprano sax.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Milena: To paint, to travel, to knit and to create different things.
Asen: Enjoy my family and friends, hiking, biking, skiing, being with nature and another million and one things…
Hristian: I read books a lot; I love travelling and mountain hiking.
What are you working on now?
Milena: We’re working on new songs and we are playing concerts.
Asen: Finishing two new songs for the group, working on our website, looking for new opportunities to play.
Hristian: I’m working on several history projects in my university. I’m working on a new song in which I mix alternative rock with folklore.
Do you have anything else you would like to add?
Milena: I am happy with what I do; I get the sense of fulfilment and creativity.
Asen: Life is wonderful and it only depends on us to make our dreams come true!
Hristian: Yes, only music is capable of breaking borders, we only have to play and listen to it.
Thank you very much for your time and good luck with your future performances and recordings!
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