On Jan. 1, Bulgaria will join the EU, becoming part of an international community with shared interests. Yet its music has already found such a community -- in the Bulgarian Bar.
Patrons and performers mix cultures at this New York club, because politics forgot its dancing shoes. For video artist Daniela Kostova, this phenomenon means much more than just the same old American melting-pot metaphor: It means reinterpreting her native Bulgaria as a cultural crossroads.
Rooted in the immigrant experience, Kostova's documentary Body Without Organs: Bulgarian Bar digs into the burgeoning ethno-mesh music scene to understand the negotiation of place among the displaced. She examines the Bulgarian Bar as a sort of "cultural imaginary" where music transcends ethnic identity. People lose themselves to find each other, dancing to a cross-section of Balkan folk music, gypsy-punk and world-beat.
"I want to think about it as a dialogue," Kostova says via e-mail from New York. "It is a little utopian but worth trying." Considering the dystopian "us vs. them" imagery Soviet television force-fed Bulgarian children, Kostova shouldn't feel guilty about utopian impulses. The film's segues feature one such propaganda throwback, a silly cartoon that reads like a cautionary tale about the perils of Western culture.
Throwing this caution to the wind, many Bulgarians fled westward to escape the Communist government and its designs for ethnically cleansing their diverse homeland. And when that all collapsed in 1989, a sort of national identity crisis emerged.
"After the fall of the regime, everything that was oppressed and hidden came out and created a strange mix-hybrid image of Bulgaria borrowing from the East and the West, Orient and Occident, and getting out of control," Kostova says. Body Without Organs captures this hybrid sensation in a new context: as manifested on the dance floor. Barriers tumble and strangers merge into one body sans politic.
"The process of integration will see a lot more intended and unintended cultural inter-penetration," says DJ Joro-Boro, also by e-mail from New York. No, he's not describing the Bulgarian Bar dance parties he incites. He's talking about his native Bulgaria's ticket to the EU dance.
However, becoming a new diplomatic crossroads is going to be a lot tougher than crumpin' with neighboring bodies. Joro-Boro mentions how Bulgaria must reconsider its social hierarchy that prizes folk tradition while ignoring its "kitsch" street culture and manifold heritage, including that of the nomadic Roma.
In Kostova's film, Eugene Hutz (of gypsy-punk group Gogol Bordello) draws on the silent plight of these people with no place to call home. Onstage and in the crowd, Hutz leads the audience through anthems for the dispossessed, mustering sweat and respect for the marginalized "gypsy" lifestyle. "We're all immigrants," he says. "This is how we live. This is what we experience and that's why it's fucking authentic."
Pandemic, featuring a screening of Body Without Organs and special guests DJ Joro-Boro and filmmaker Daniela Kostova. Film at 9 p.m., dance party at 10 p.m. Thu., Nov. 9. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $3 for film or party; $5 for both. 412-621-4900