Azis' story is one of success against all odds. A dark-skinned, openly homosexual Gypsy in Eastern Europe, where ethnicity and sexual orientation are still seen as signifiers of race and gender-based social status for many, Azis was born to extreme poverty in 1978 in the medieval town of Sliven. In the beginning, no one could have imagined that, twenty eight years later, he would be declared the 21st greatest Bulgarian of all time on national television (the second living greatest Bulgarian after the unbelievably annoying, petulant and infantile wanker that is soccer player Hristo Stoichkov), and become a sex symbol adored by men and women alike. Azis is Bulgaria’s greatest, brightest, highest-selling musical star, and is largely responsible for the massive popularity of chalga. A genre that was, until before he adopted it, regarded as some sort of cultural aberration – greatly so because it was dominated by clothes-averse pop tarts who, tired of being unable to eat by singing full on folk, tried to break into the mainstream by blending it with techno and dance. Thanks to Azis, chalga has also incorporated hip hop and R&B to its very long list of influences. Needless to say, chalga is a fabulous genre and all its singers have good voices! How could things get any better?!
Azis’ life has been a constant journey in pursuit of a better future, and he came across fame in a somewhat accidental fashion, even if his rise to the top has been vertiginously fast. As a child, his family travelled constantly, finally settling in the town of Kostinbrod, in the outskirts of the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Sadly, sedentary life didn’t bring them any joys and when Azis was eleven, their finances were so precarious that their only option to survive was to move to Germany – apparently, they were forced to travel by cart because they couldn’t afford to even rent a vehicle. Life in Germany was very important for Azis, who began to openly express his fascination with femininity and developed a particularly strong bond with his little sister Matilda, his only companion during the seven years the Boyanovs lived there - his parents, practically illiterate Roma people, had to work all day long to be able to sustain the family and were never home. Free to do as he wished and with the complicity of his sister, Azis (who then still went by his given name Vasil) explored his mother’s wardrobe in endless hours of games, which would eventually provide him with the inspiration needed to become a legend.
At nineteen, Azis returned to Bulgaria and started working in restaurants as an ordinary folk singer. He soon got a record contract, but his everyman image didn’t appeal to audiences, and he pretty much went unnoticed for the next five years. Tired of not going anywhere with his career and having to constantly hide his homosexuality, Azis decided to make a drastic change and give in to his love for outrageous clothes by defiantly adopting an ellaborate and carefully studied gender-bending image – he started wearing wigs, heavy make up and high-heeled boots; changed his sober vocal style for a more melodramatic Middle Eastern wail and openly embraced chalga. Needless to say, people loved it, and he soon became a promising star. After he released the album Tseluvaj Me in 2003, he simply exploded into mega stardom, and hasn’t looked back since. The stocky, brooding man of his early records was substituted by a crazy, outrageously vulgar and completely careless character who says whatever comes to his mind and is as likely to discuss the most embarrassing aspects of his personal life as he is to denounce corruption, racism and discrimination against minorities. Azis is, simply put, larger than life.
When Azis became the blinding star he indubitably is, public reaction was extreme. Many were outraged by his flamboyance and for the fact that a Gypsy would be so outspoken. In fact, to this day, the words peder and pedal (‘faggot’ and a derogatory term to refer to Gypsies) are often mentioned by many of his detractors when they talk about him. However, many others welcomed Azis with open arms, and women in particular became fascinated by him, his wildly dramatic and tacky videos and his very healthy obsession with bodybuilders (HOW could such a thing be unhealthy?! ;-P). In his wake, Azis not only became a public face for the gay and the Roma community, but also gave women, who felt isolated from contemporary culture in Bulgaria, the opportunity to claim chalga as their own voice. Still, Azis has always refused to claim exclusivity for anything, saying that his art is there for everyone to enjoy, and anyone can participate in it – that’s why many men have also welcomed him, and follow his next move with bated breath. Not to mention that many chalga singers have risen to stardom thanks to him. In short, Azis is a pretty fucking great individual.
However, Azis has had to face his fair share of controversy. From being verbally attacked by the homophobes and racists to being accused of exploiting and distorting homosexual identity, being labelled a cultural corruptor because of his singing chalga (which is, in the opinion of Bulgar nationalists, ‘foreign’ music) and being scolded by the government for disrespecting the image of Vasil Levski (the most revered historical figure in Bulgaria – so much so, he was nicknamed “The Apostle Of Freedom”) by building a stage on top of it for a public performance, Azis has had to fend off quite a lot of attacks, but has always managed to come on top in spite of it all. Still, not happy with that, in 2005 he decided to launch his political career with the underrepresented Euro Roma party, but was unanimously ridiculed by everyone when it was discovered that he had no electoral program and wasn’t really concerned about anything besides advocating in favour of gay marriage and settlement rights, as well as subventions, for the Roma people. Since he received a minimal amount of votes during the elections due to the negative publicity generated, he decided to retaliate by travelling to Germany (he has double nationality) to marry his partner, events promoter and fellow Gypsy Niki Kitaetsa – his answer to the scandal that followed was to repeat the ceremony two days later in Bulgaria, on live television! Then he went on to publicly declare that he had undergone penis enlargement surgery and injected collagen into his lips to improve his sex life… What can I say? He knows what his fans expect of him, and gloriously delivers!
Well, enough of my ramblings! This has to be the longest post I’ve ever made and we haven’t even reached the songs! Well, you know the deal, go get his albums before anything. I’ve been able to find the majority of them on eBay. As usually, I've not included the translations because I've no idea of Bulgarian - I will also keep my comments on each song short. I think I must have reached everyone's saturation point by now.
Обичам Те – Obicham Te (DJ BeBo & B-boy-D remix)
I am not sure whether this is a Kazakh folk song or an original composition by Turkish superstar Serdar Ortaç (people have told me very different things), but it’s a beautiful song. Serdar’s version is a wild house number, whereas the one made by Azis (who is very prone to borrow hits from Turkish and Greek singers) is a fast ballad. I very much prefer this remix, which is simply terrific! It incorporates a fabulous bass line and lots of percussion to the original, giving a sense of urgency that invites you to dance while respecting what I presume is the sad message of the ballad. Awesome song, and immensely funny to dance to. Video for the original version.
Ледена Кралица – Ledena Kralitsa (R&B Version)
This song could very well be an international hit. It has a delicate melody that runs at a slower tempo than the very heavy bass line, and suddenly breaks into an explosive chorus that will make you shake your body around. It’s fantastic. Well, I promised I’d keep things short, so here’s the outrageous video.
Искам, Искам – Iskam, Iskam (duet with Malina)
This hip hoppish track is both indescribably and incredibly good – I hate hip hop, but when I heard this, I was hooked! Maybe the fact that it constantly whirls in a hypnotic kaleidoscope of electronic effects and trumpet solos that fill your mind like a curtain of smoke, has something to do with it. The melody is ripe with hooks, and it has one of the best instrumental breaks I’ve ever heard. Azis and superstar Malina’s voices blend fantastically, and I really like the repetitive, slow chorus. The video is a chav’s dream come true!
Не Казвам Ти Стига – Ne Kazvam Ti Stiga
If you saw my previous post on Azis, you have already watched the video for this song. Still, it’s an amazing track – definitely something you’ll like to dance to. Let me remind you to go to watch the video once again. Oh Lord, is it amazing...
Никой Не Може – Nikoj Ne Mozhe (DJ OeM Club Mix)
The original version of this song is a slow, sad ballad led by the cheesiest synthesizer saxophone imaginable, but once you pass that you’ll find a beautiful melody and one of the catchiest choruses imaginable – which is only highlighted by the dance beat of this remix. Oh, and you have to watch the video! It’s the craziest soap opera imaginable, compressed in five plus minutes!
Черните Очи – Chernite Ochi (duet with Malina)
I love this song! It’s pure chalga, with endless layers of percussion, violins and all sorts of techno little touches, even though it’s also a sad ballad. The video is tacky and tawdry enough as to be borderline pornography but, then again, that's who both Malina and Azis are. Nevertheless, I can’t praise this song enough! It has an exceptionally beautiful melody and Azis goes into chromatic-scale wailing overdrive several times! Amazing!