In winter 2005, while in Bulgaria I asked a friend for suggestions of a
variety of local music. I was interested in an updated ethnic/folk
sound, what is known as “ethno-pop”.
In Bulgaria, no other artist does this with such outstanding quality than Nina Nikolina.
Most artists of the region stray too much in the pop side of the
equation, and sound little more than commercialised Westernised pap.
Nina Nikolina has managed to retain her traditional origins.
I am not good at describing aspects of music, but Nina Nikolina’s songs
have a catchy rhythm, sometimes hypnotic, which I find in other, more
traditional Bulgarian music. Yet the melody has been updated, and you
find yourself singing along with the lyrics, even though you have no
idea what they mean (at least in my case).
Case in point: listen to a traditional version of Pusta Mladost (Wretched Youth):
and Nikolina’s version:
The closest comparisons I can make in terms of ethno-pop style are The Corrs and Rachid Taha.
People won’t think of The Corrs as ethno-pop, probably because they’re
part of the mainstream English-language pop scene. But if you think
about it, they’ve one beyond Enya by making traditional Irish rhythm more pop sounding.
I find Nina Nikolina brilliant. I’m surprised her material hasn’t been
distributed more widely. Maybe you can find her at her piano bar in