My Favorite Album: Zola Jesus on "Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares" | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Sunday, February 25th, 2024  

My Favorite Album: Zola Jesus on “Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares”

“It makes me want to quit music because I will never make music that beautiful.”

Mar 16, 2020 Photography by Tim Saccenti Issue #66 - My Favorite Album - Angel Olsen and Sleater-Kinney
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The voices of The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Choir shine with mystery, and Zola Jesus (aka Nika Roza Danilova) doesn’t want the secrecy to be solved. Mysterious in her own right, Danilova discovered Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (which translates to Mystery of Bulgarian Voices) two years ago, and says that she turns to the European choral album all the time; it changed her life.

“It makes me want to quit music because I will never make music that beautiful,” says Danilova from her home in the Wisconsin woods. “This album is my friend—makes me feel in awe of music—it does it for me. Sometimes, I feel cynical about music, but this album feels like home. There’s so much that you can do with your voice.”

Originally released in 1975 by Swiss music producer Marcel Cellier, then reissued by 4AD (1986) and Nonesuch (1987), Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares presents a landslide of vocal emotives. The exact size of the choir is unknown—the album was made over a long period of time and there are a lot of questions about how it was put together—but Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares is astounding and seems not from this world. “I tried to study it for certain melodies, even though I don’t know enough about classical music theory…it’s magical,” says Danilova, hoping for a future trip to Bulgaria. “It’s primal and ancient, unlocking something that’s been locked for centuries, but I don’t know what that something is. It fills me with wonder and awe.”

Danilova says that Le Mystère is an example of humanity’s ability to create beauty in a world that doesn’t always make sense. She’s having a healing summer, slowly writing new music, and the Bulgarian singing helps the calm. “The songs never make me feel sad. Choir choral singing is something that lives forever. I thought about what I listen to the most, and 50 years later, this will not age. Pure style, music that is deep within me as an appreciator.”

During the writing of her last album, 2017’s Okovi, Danilova was listening to a lot of European folk music, and Le Mystère came through. “The dissonance in their harmonies were so unique and emotional,” she says, mentioning “Kalimankou Denkou (The Evening Gathering)” as a focal point. “The harmonies grip me, grab my heart. I listen to it on loop many times.”

Danilova, a classically-trained opera singer, admits that the harmonies on Okovi’s “Doma” is her trying to do a one-woman folk choir, saying that it doesn’t come close to Le Mystère’s inspiration. “I tried to figure out what the choir is doing, but I haven’t done harmonic study—it’s kind of beyond my scope. I would say that it is a bed of harmonies, and it’s dissonant, but, okay, why? Tell me why! It’s still a mystery.”

Beginning to break Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares down, track by track, Danilova stops to confess her passion for the entire album. However, she doesn’t like the moments when an instrument appears, interrupting the ravishing voices. “I want the yearning torch songs, just the voices and the purity,” she says. “It doesn’t need anything else but the voices.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 66 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, which is out now. This is its debut online. For the issue we interviewed musicians and actors about their all-time favorite album.]

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