Bulgaria. Breeding ground for music talent. News to you? Well that's because Ruth Koleva is a different breed of artist. Born into a volatile world of corruption and hardship in post-Communist Eastern Europe, she endured a difficult childhood largely spent without her mother, found salvation in the classics (Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole) and became 'tour-hardened' by jaunts to far-flung destinations such as India and Thailand in the company of her Olympian father (a weightlifting trainer). From there, Koleva quickly developed into a rounded musician, spending an eye-opening year at the Hollywood Pop Academy and embarking on free-spirited excursions into several local scenes including soul, hip hop and the more ephemeral but nonetheless popular bass movement. All this before the age of 18.
More recently, Koleva has become an ambassador for the best of Bulgaria – the youngest recipient of GRAZIA's Woman of the Year award and Best Female Singer award at 2012’s BG Radio Awards, no less – sharing the stage with imperious jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, reaching the finals of TV show Music Idol, recording her highly acclaimed 'warm-up album' (Within Whispers) and garnering praise from a kindred spirit, N'Dambi.
So where next for someone who has achieved so much in such a short period? The stars, of course. "I want to tour and collaborate far and wide – western Europe, the US, Asia – walking my own path and finding my own sound," says Koleva. That sound is undeniably soulful and intricate, an effort to bring each listener closer to their own emotions. "To give you that feeling of first love, the butterflies in your stomach, a hunger for more," as she puts it. The power of her music is subtle, slowly turning your attention and rewarding those who spend time with it.
Koleva also has a real writer's instinct. Like her contemporary Jessie Ware, Koleva's ability to straddle multiple genres and tempos has made her into a highly versatile artist. She knows what she wants to say, how and when. As a vocalist, her tone is imbued with warmth, sincerity and, particularly when speaking on matters of love, sensuality. Era-defining artists such as Erykah Badu and Jill Scott have cast such a huge shadow over this mood that it's almost impossible to not be influenced by them.
Of course, Koleva is a huge fan but she is determined to find her own unique expression of this thing called soul, often finding the right vibe for a song in the moment, a phrase, a chord. It's the performer in her. "In the studio I get more time to craft the sound, to think about my message and to channel my own feelings," she explains, "but it's on stage where I really come alive. I prefer to share my feelings in that environment and try to develop something new based on the crowd's response."
Speaking of craft, Koleva has certainly upped her game on this album, assuming full control of her career and enlisting a diverse array of talent: keyboardist and composer Vincent Helbers (Seravince, Flowriders), an alchemist in the studio, drummer Richard Spaven (Jose James, Guru, Flying Lotus), co-writers Colonel Red, Rachel Row and Diggs Duke, and vocalist Sharlene Hector among others.
Recorded at breakneck speed, working around the busy schedules of those involved, this fluid album is going to charm a lot of listeners. It's also an important mark in the evolution of Ruth Koleva. The moment when a national treasure become an international recording artist.
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