Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares included in NPR’s “The 150 Greatest Albums Made By Women”

NPR has created “a list of the greatest albums made by women between 1964 and the present, as an intervention, a remedy, a correction of the historical record and hopefully the start of a new conversation. Compiled by nearly 50 women from across NPR and the public radio system and produced in partnership with Lincoln Center, it rethinks popular music to put women at the center.” Le Mystere des Voix Bulgare’s 1987 Nonesuch LP, which first put them on the radar of the music world, appears in the list at #78.

78. The Bulgarian State Radio & Television Choir
Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (Nonesuch, 1987)

Spine-tingling, otherworldly beauty is not what the world might have expected from a Soviet-ish group called the Bulgarian State Radio & Television Female Vocal Choir. And yet a string of albums, beginning with an alluringly named 37-minute compilation called Le Mystère Des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices), cracked open a whole sonic world largely unknown beyond the Balkans, full of gorgeous dissonances and fierce, sung-out emotion. Originally released in 1975 by the Swiss ethnomusicologist Marcel Cellier, who ran his own boutique label, the first Mystère album became a hotly sought-after prize among cognoscenti, who dubbed cassette copies for each other. One of those fans was 4AD Records founder Ivo Watts-Russell, who managed to license the material and re-release it in the U.K. in 1986 (and in 1987, Nonesuch did the same in the U.S.). Soon these women from all over Bulgaria became international stars, with their plushly layered, plangent voices weaving together Bulgarian dissonance and Western European-style choral singing. Despite any lyrical context (given that in their U.S. and U.K. versions, these translation-less village songs carried such unrevealing English titles as “Diaphonic Chant”), the music’s emotive power and haunting beauty comes shining through. Anastasia Tsioulcas (NPR Music)