A large man grasps a fragile-looking stick of a clarinet and raises it to his mouth: a rapid-fire of wild runs, tricky turnarounds, leaps, squeaks and lightning-fast trills bursts forth. Ivo Papasov has been at the top of his field for the best part of 50 years – it’s just that people haven’t always realised it.
Born at the border of Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, in the city of Kurdzali in the East Rhodope mountains (“where I have found my music roots” he says), Papasov plays Bulgarian wedding music, which he has evolved into a unique personal style with international influence from Turkish, Greek, Balkan and Roma music, as well as from jazz and off-kilter rock. His extreme virtuosity and expert command of his instrument quickly secured Papasov and his Trakija Band as the most-wanted wedding entertainers in 1970s Bulgaria. By taking an unorthodox approach to the tradition, he revolutionised it.
It wasn’t always easy: at times his contradiction of traditions brought clashes with the old musical guard; and wedding audiences later abandoned his style for Westernised pop. But genius is hard to dampen, and a resurgence in the last 20 years has seen Papasov and his band once again touring internationally, releasing critically-acclaimed albums and gathering awards as they explode their way through mind-bending time signatures at breakneck speed. It’s a wonder his clarinet doesn’t burst into flames.
It is for his dedication to the advancement of Bulgarian wedding music both in- and outside the country; for his resilience in remaining the epitome of his style through thick and thin; and for his sheer, passion-filled mastery of the clarinet, that Ivo Papasov is the recipient of the WOMEX 22 Artist Award.