Golden Globe winner Lisa Gerrard:
Music is a sanctuary
When the women of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices sing, it is as if they have cathedrals inside their throats
Elizabet Radkova, Trud Daily
7 June, 2018
Close-up: The 25 May saw the premiere of BooCheeMish, the latest album by The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. The release is simultaneously in five recording formats - CD, vinyl, Limited Edition, Box Set and Super Audio CD. The world-renowned Bulgarian women's choir recorded pieces created especially for it by Bulgarian composer Petar Dundakov, Ireland's Jules Maxwell and singer and composer Lisa Gerrard of the Dead Can Dance duo. Lisa co-authored and sings in four of the songs on the album. She has a Golden Globe Award together with Hans Zimmer for the original score to the epic film Gladiator. The singer with an unworldly contralto vocal range arrived to Bulgaria for the album's premiere. - You are well known for being a long-time fan of The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices. When did you actually learn about the choir's existence?- I first heard their music many years ago in London. I was 20 years old and had just moved to the UK. I grew up in a working class family of Irish immigrants in Australia. My father was a sean nos singer (of traditional Irish songs) and a poet. My mother was English, but she came from a background of Spanish Jews. The area that we lived in was a migrant area and had a lot of Greeks and Italians. So I was in London and Ivo Watts-Russell (of the British record label 4AD, which produced the work of artists like Cocteau Twins - editor's note) gave me two tickets to a concert by The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices and said, “Go and see them with Brendan, they are amazing!” (Brendan Perry - the other half of the Dead Can Dance duo - editor's note). It was 1984-85, I cannot remember the year. It just changed everything for me. I went home after the concert, and I was so in love, I had so much love in my heart. The situation we were living in London in those times was not beautiful, we had just come through the Falkland Islands War and then there were the riots in London, so there was a lot of angry energy. So when the Bulgarian women came, they just brought light, love and joy. And this singing was something, as I realised later, that had not been touched for over a thousand years. And they had these beautiful natural voices, which is the way I sing, I sing with my natural voice, I do not sing from a constructional education. I had an immediate fascination with them because they took what I believe I had to the absolute highest place. It was something to aspire to as a singer.- Did you yourself have any musical background?- I grew up in an Irish family, so to say that I did not have a musical background would be ridiculous. Every weekend we went to Mass, then the men played football, and then all the Irish family went home and got drunk and sang songs, did poems. That was my childhood every weekend. Singing was a way of people communicating from their heart. There have been moments when I regretted not having had classical music training. Some time ago, an older lady, a vocal teacher in Spain, wanted to train me. “You have an amazing voice. Give me all of your time and in six years I will make you the greatest contralto opera singer. But you cannot sing anything else in those six years,” she told me. I turned down the offer. Not sing anything else?! And how would I have supported myself financially, living in some obscure town to study opera singing?- How did you join the BooCheeMish project?- Boyana can tell you more about that (Boyana Bounkova, executive producer of the new album representing Schubert Music Publishing - editor's note). But the idea was born four years ago. When they were looking for authors to work with Bulgarian composer Petar Dundakov, they discovered Irish pianist and composer Jules Maxwell, with whom I have worked. Jules told them he had to travel to Australia to work on some songs with me. In December 2015, we wrote six pieces, four of which made the album.- Do you like how the record turned out?- It is wonderful, it has got such a lovely, soft, gentle energy in it!- You speak a lot about energy… - Well, of course. I am living in the contemporary world, aren't I? So it is all about energies.- I thought it was about money, power, sex, things of that nature.- Well, it is about those things too. But I suppose as an artist it is your responsibility to bring something that is going to bring some kind of, not a healing property, but something where people can take sanctuary, a safe place. And I believe that this album is completely trustworthy, that everything in there is done from love.- What was the most interesting thing about working on the BooCheeMish album?- It has been interesting working with Petar Dundakov. He is a brilliant composer, of course, but there is something very innocent about the way he approaches everything and the way that he works with Dora (Dora Hristova, the choir's conductor). And Dora is very protective. She is the real guardian of the work. It is a lovely dynamic. It has taken us close to four years to get to a place where we can really start to work properly together.- Do you plan on making another record together?- We have the embryonic kind of property, and the seeds are very beautiful, but we feel safer now to go forth because this whole album was such a learning experience for all of us. So now we feel like it is going to be really interesting to take the next step, with the live concerts, because they allow you to work the pieces on another level. And we are all comfortable together. It is a lot of people in that group, 28 in all, including 22 singers.- Part of the team is also the beatbox world champion Skiller, who is also a Bulgarian. Is his involvement not too modern of a solution?- That was another interesting thing about Petar's approach, the use of Skiller. We could have used traditional Bulgarian drums and he did not do that deliberately to be contemporary, he did it because the beatbox also comes from the throat, so all of the singing and the drumming come from the throat. There is a lovely genius in that connection.- Speaking of live concerts, is there one coming up in Bulgaria?- Yes, we will have a live concert in Varna on 12 June.- You have been to Bulgaria a number of times. Last June, you gave concerts with The Mystery of the Bulgarian Voices in Sofia and the Ancient Theatre in Plovdiv. You gave another concert in Sofia this March.- Yes, this is my fourth visit to Bulgaria, I believe.- Do you have a favourite place in the country?- Yes, my favourite is a village in the Rhodope Mountains called Huhla. All the people there are old, most of the houses are empty. It is remote, close to the Greek and Turkish border. I stayed there for 10 days. It was a very, very special experience.- And how did you communicate with those people?- We were teaching each other. I have learnt a lot of Bulgarian words. I had one lady named Zlatka who was staying there and first we started with drawing, and I had this translation software in my phone, of which she was completely afraid, she did not want to use it. We laughed a lot about that and she taught me many things.- Do you have a favourite Bulgarian folk song?- I think the question should be: “Is it possible for you to not fall in love every time you hear one of these people sing.” And I have to say no. Because every time they open their mouths it is like they have these cathedrals inside their throats. The interview was originally published in Trud Daily.