“When I listen to a folklore song – I cry” – The composer Toncho Russev
Toncho Russev the greatest master of evergreens in the Bulgarian music was born in the town of Bourgas. He graduated from the Music academy majoring in trumpet. He has written songs for almost every Bulgarian performer of popular music: Lili Ivanova, Veselin Marinov, Vassil Naidenov. In 1962 together with Moris Aladzhem he founded the “Balkanton” orchestra where he played until 1972. He was a director of the “Bulgarian popular music” directorate. He is on private practice since 1996. His songs have won a lot of prizes at festivals such as “Zlatniya Orfei” (The Golden Orpheus), “Melodia na godinata” (Melody of the Year), “Bourgas i moreto” (Bourgas and the Sea)… They were published in many European countries, USA and Canada. His hits “Ogan ot lyubov” (Love Fire), “Ti san li si ili te ima” (Are You a Dream or are You Real), “Chudo li e stanalo” (Has There Been a Miracle), “Telefonna lyubov” (Telephone Love), “Gorchivo vino” (Bitter Wine), “Panairi” (Fairs), “Tango sas spomena” (A Tango with the Memory), “Sbogom, kazah” (I Said Farewell), “Nezabrava” (Non – oblivion ) are known and loved by every Bulgarian. The president Georgi Parvanov conferred him with the highest Bulgarian distinction – the “Stara planina” order last year.
Are you sad on your birthday?
I feel sad for the years that have passed and more specific because I should have made much more things. I feel sad for the youth that has gone away and for the people that I have lost.
The history knows many names of artists – Chaplin, Picasso and others that have been working through all their lives…..
I am a realist and I see that the human abilities weaken with age – the physical and musical abilities weaken as well. But I always feel as if the writing of something good lies before me. I wrote a duet for Petya Buyuklieva and Deyan Nedelchev the other day. It is called “Obich” (Affection) and the lyrics are by Evtim Evtimov. I also wrote a duet for Mustafa Cahushev and his daughter Azhda for his Jubilee Concert. The song’s lyrics again are written by my friend Evtim Evtimov. I also started writing songs for verses written by Petya Dubarova and performed by Vanya Kostova.
Let me take you back to Bourgas and your roots. Do you miss this city and would you return there again?
I have been living in Sofia for over fifty years but a big part of my soul is in Bourgas. I love this city very much. For me it is the prettiest city on Earth. But I would not return there because my work, my family is in Sofia. I go to Bourgas with great love and great nostalgia every summer.
You have been writing a lot of songs for Vesselin Marinov lately. Is he your favourite?
Vessko Marinov is a sunny performer. A singer who feels the things he sings. A man whose roots go deep into the black earth soil of Bulgaria. He is real he is not a maniac type of person. I am fond of him. I have written about 80 – 85 songs for him up to now and I continue writing.
Your most famous artistic tandem is with the prima of the Bulgarian music Lili Ivanova. What is the relationship between you?
It is wonderful. There was a period when there were some misunderstandings between us, but now they are in the past. Lili Ivanova is our greatest female singer. We have made a lot of songs together. She is a world class performer. For Bulgaria, Lili is a phenomenon which will remain without an analogue for a long time.
Will you call her for her birthday?
Certainly, if I am alive and healthy! I have been calling her for her birthday for 30 years now. We have traveled around the whole world with her. I shall not forget our visit to Chile in 1973 where we went together with Yancho Takov and Genko Genkov /director of “Zlatniya Orfei”/. The situation was pre-Revolutionary back then. We sang in front of a stadium over crowded with more than 100 000 people. This is the same stadium, where later during the coup on Chile those who disagreed with Pinochet’s regime were arrested, the singer Viktor Hara was locked there.
They did not accept us well in the beginning because of Lili’s family name. They thought that Ivanova is a Russian family name and that she was Russian. Afterwards she turned into the audience’s favourite. We sang “Panairi” and “Ti san li si?” (Are You a Dream) the lyrics of the song are by Pavel Matev and Lili received the award of the mayor of Santiago.
We know that Lili Ivanova follows an “iron” regime she does not allow herself to be tempted by anything and is extremely strict in respect of her voice and her physique. What is the life that you lead?
I am the opposite of Lili ivanova. I overdose everything including alcohol, I just don’t smoke. I do not do any sports but the poet Evtim Evtimov and I go walking in Borisovata gradina for at least two hours every morning.
Do you see a voice among the new names that at least resembles hers?
Some of the female singers that participated in the first “Music Idol” and now in its second edition remind of Lili’s young years. I liked Nevena Tsoneva a lot. She is small, a minion just like Lily and she is a very good singer. From the new participants in ”Music Idol” I like Nora, Ana and Denitsa. I already think of writing a song for one of them. I do not know if they will call me but I shall certainly try to get in touch with them.
Doesn’t the fact that the young try to make their way not only with voice qualities but with a lot of outside effects, attractive looks, aggressive behavior irritate you?
I think that this is normal. We live in different times now. The young carry the sense of appearance and styling. I also think that they have a precise judgment of how to uncover themselves to what extend and why.
Your office is decorated with marvelous paintings by Genko Genkov. Are they a present to you from the artist?
No, I bought these paintings from him. Genko loves Jazz and was a good imitator of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. He knew every jazz standard he was informed and was not a fan who does not know what he is singing. Very often he can be seen along “Graf Ignatiev” str., with a grown beard, dressed like a homeless person and singing in English. They considered him crazy, but for me he was among the greatest Bulgarian artists.
What is the story of your philately collection?
I am very keen on philately and I visit the philately club every Sunday. I have two general collections of Bulgaria and a general collection of France and the former German Democratic Republic.
How many years have you been a director of the “Bulgarian popular music” directorate?
Five years. I have done a lot for the popularization of the Bulgarian music.
I dare to say that names like Rey Charles and Sarah Voon, Tina Turner visited Bulgaria.
Where is your trumpet now, your first instrument? We do not see it next to the piano?
It is in the bedroom. I have not blown on in it since 72 and two years ago I tried to play and it turned out that I could not reproduce a tone. And I was a virtuoso trumpetist…!
Do you remember when have you cried for the last time?
I cry often when I listen to folklore music. In that respect I am like my father. “Zableyalo mi agynce” (A lamb began bleating) from Yovcho Karaivanov, the sad Thracian songs, the songs of Valkana Stoyanova make me cry…