Delve into the captivating world of Samodiva Nestya! Our interview with this eclectic Edinburgh-based band uncovers a symphony of cultures, blending melodies and heritage into an Edinburgh gem. Follow their journey on social media and listen to their music here.
1. Can you share how the band formed and how each member's unique background contributes to the music you create?
The band formed in July, originally out of a need of Chris' (our multi-instrumentalist/arranger) to rehearse some Bulgarian music for a concert involving dancers. It rapidly evolved, found larger instrumental forces, and seemed to find good people pretty quickly because it was such an unusual idea for a band.
We are constantly having people ask if they can join! The backgrounds of the people involved are very wide-ranging: Our three singers all have varying backgrounds in song. Aleks (Bulgaria) grew up doing traditional Bulgarian singing and dance but also sang in pop-cover bands after moving to Edinburgh. Her Dad is a prominent traditional musician in Bulgaria playing the Gudulka. Valeria (Italy) has a background in Eastern European female group singing and actually originally met Chris through online teaching when she was locked down on the island of Capri during covid. Alex (Greece) is half Greek, half Ukrainian and the daughter of a conductor. She is a flautist and has been involved extensively in choral music.
The musicians are a mixed bunch too: Tim is a percussionist and trombonist and a member of the Hidden Orchestra, Ella our violinist (Iran, Germany) is also in local klezmer band och vey. Tsvetlina (Harps, Bulgaria) is a concert harpist, clarsach player and teacher but also performs in a jazz band. Anoukia (cello, Romania) is studying concert cello. Chris (Ireland. bayan, oud, double bass...other things) runs many bands (probably most well known is Blue Giant Orkestar) and is active in many genres of music and plays an alarming amount of instruments. The wide range of backgrounds and styles and the unusual and large ensemble immediately makes the project stand out. The backgrounds of the musicians affect not only the sound of the music but the languages of our repetoire; we have songs in Italian, Greek, Serbian, Spanish, Bulgarian and are working on some in Ukrainian, Polish, Romanian, Turkish...
2. What drew you to Edinburgh, and how has the city influenced your musical style?
There are so many of us that it is hard to answer: Work, family, being born here, studying are some of the reasons we could give...
3. Could you talk about specific cultural elements or instruments from your respective countries that you incorporate into your performances?
Apart from the various languages of the songs, we have costumes and sometimes dances! We take bits and bobs that sort of don't belong together: where would you hear an Italian pizzica song harmonised in the style of a female balkan choir accompanied by cellos and clarsachs? Or Greek dance tunes played with neoclassical string arrangements...A lot of the instruments we employ clash with the music in funny ways (clarsach and oud together in the same song for example, or mandolin + tongue drum) but this is part of the mish-mash aspect. There is a lot of attention to detail though. There is a constant element of the balkan style female choir holding it together even if the songs come from somewhere else.
4. Which Eastern European and Mediterranean musicians or musical styles have inspired your band the most?
Some of the singers admire Laboratorium Piesni. Contemporary folk bands with unusual arrangements like Vasen, Tsuumi Sound System, Oratnitza. Ivo Papazov! Some singers like the Hungarian Palya Bea, the English folksinger Sam Lee and the polish saz player Petra Nachtmanova. We seem to listen to things like Jordi Savall a lot. The Balkan Paradise Orchestra for being a huge band full of women (i forgot to mention that Samodiva Nestya is 6 women 2 men) who absolutely storm it. Also much stuff in other genres: Tigran Hamasyan, the Punch Brothers, some local acts like Kate Young and Tom McGuire..
5. Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that you're excited about?
We have a couple of gigs this month (one tomorrow actually at Saint Vincent's in Stockbridge Edinburgh) and one on the 7th at Lost in Leith. Our next plans would be to record some videos, maybe an EP, possibly try to get some funding, look for some promo/management from someone who understands what we are doing and get a big summer festival season booked. We would love to run workshops on group singing/arrangements/traditional songs.
6. Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that you're excited about?
We would love to record an album, possibly of some original music. Do some big touring, lots of workshops and meet lots of interesting players and performers. Shoot a daft music video in the middle of a forest dressed in lots of costumes.
7. What do you think of projects such as Music in the Community?
I think they are great, and I think that we could really help with some interesting work, particularly in engaging people from different backgrounds and offering something a bit unusual.