Folklore, Jazz and Beyond: Alexander Mihaylov and His Patardia

In the vibrant world of music, where cultures and styles intertwine, few artists manage to create a unique and captivating soundscape like Alexander Mihaylov. As the driving force behind the quintet “Alexander Mihaylov and his Patardia,” named after his debut album, this talented musician has seamlessly blended his Bulgarian folk roots with the complexities of jazz and the energy of urban influences. Recently selected as the only Bulgarian artist for this year’s prestigious A to Jazz World Music Showcase, Mihaylov’s innovative approach and heartfelt compositions have garnered international acclaim. Join us as we delve into the stories, inspirations, and future aspirations of a musician who continues to redefine the boundaries of contemporary music.

How did you get started in music, and what are the main influences that have shaped your artistic journey?

At a young age, my parents encouraged me to join the children’s opera in my hometown of Varna, and I have been in a musical environment ever since. Later, when I was 10 years old, the first music class with a focus on folk music opened at my school, and I was accepted. That was my first contact with authentic folk music and its richness. Influenced by different styles of music, I have naturally developed an “ear” that embraces any musical challenges I face. I started with folk music since my main instrument is kaval (a traditional Bulgarian wooden flute), but my first experiments were actually in rock music. Eventually, while studying at the music academy in Plovdiv, I decided to explore jazz on my own – something so abstract to the untrained ear. I sank very deeply into it. On my path to jazz, I also went through a phase of blues music – I love blues guitars!

photo: Sofia from Sofia

As an artist proficient in both kaval and saxophone, how do you decide which instrument to use for a particular composition? How do these instruments complement each other in your music?

I definitely find it easier to think like a kaval player. At its core, my musical phrases are largely rooted in folk, but the context in which they appear is influenced by the overall musical environment I’ve been exposed to. Perhaps it’s most accurate to say that I think in a fusion context. The saxophone is the “tickle” – so far, I’ve used it mostly for the solo parts of compositions. It’s a rewarding instrument—I can play a thousand notes with the kaval, but when I grab the saxophone, even just two phrases can swirl the musical energy around. I play it because it feels intimate, not for show.

снимка: Sofia from Sofia

Can you share the story behind the creation of the quintet “Alexander Mihaylov and his Patardia”? How did you come up with the name Patardia for your debut album?

Over time, I had some musical ideas that I was pursuing with various bands, but I needed to tell my story my way. I managed to win funding from the NFC (National Culture Fund), and with their help, I was able to realize my debut album. The name Patardia came at the right time, as if it somehow completed the picture and put a face to a concept – mixing dissimilar sounds, and in my case, styles from the urban environments where I grew up.

The album Patardia is a blend of different musical styles. What was the creative process like for this particular album? How did your background in Bulgarian folk music influence your approach to jazz and other styles?

Actually, it all came naturally. It’s music after all, isn’t it? Since I’m fascinated by both styles (folk and jazz), a natural symbiosis in fusion stylistics happened. When the ideas were born and I gathered the compositions for my debut album, the next crucial step was to select the right musicians with whom I vibe on the same frequency, who have knowledge in the necessary styles and are easy to work with. The result made us all smile, which was a sign we were headed in the right direction.

photo: Sofia from Sofia

Tell us more about the topics and personal stories that you explore in the compositions of Patardia.

All the stories I share on the album are personal and naturally painted a picture as I composed them. “Thief on the Train” is one of them, inspired by a very real incident when someone tried to steal my sandwich on a train ride. “Sailing,” on the other hand, is related to ships and the sea, which I have been observing since I was a little boy. The musical themes complement each other in the different compositions, and their names sometimes give direction to my ideas. The theme of “Dream” is light and gentle, evoking the image of someone very close to me, the person next to me. As for “Patardia,” the meaning is quite clear from the title (laughs).
*Patardia is a Bulgarian word for noise and uproar, as well as mixing dissimilar sounds.

photo: Q-Jazz Festival

What message or feeling do you hope listeners will get from your music?

As an instrumentalist, I’ve always tried to play in a way that directs the listener’s attention in the musical direction I want. I want listeners to imagine the pictures and colors that are in my head while I play.

To be selected as the only Bulgarian artist for this year’s A to Jazz World Music Showcase among 200 applicants from 29 countries is a great honor. How do you think your project resonated with the jury, and what are your expectations for the upcoming event?

I am happy that we managed to attract the attention of the international jury. We have probably succeeded in our goal to mix cultures and styles. This is a rare opportunity that I hope will open new directions for us to perform and develop. The festival is impressive, and it will be a real pleasure to play on such an established stage among music lovers.

photo: Sofia from Sofia

What’s next? New musical directions or collaborations to come?

I love playing with new people. There are musicians in the industry who are really inspiring to me, and I’d love to record something with them at some point. Otherwise, the directions are many, but I’m always looking for the right habitat for my ideas. There are some interesting concepts related to mixing styles that I hope to implement in the future.

One last question – watermelon or melon?

Don’t get mad at me, but I’ll say melon (laughs). It just tastes better to me!

Interview: Sofia Hussein for Dinya
Cover photo: Sofia from Sofia

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