The Harmonies of Resilience: Music Consumption in Sofia During the Communist Era

The Resprom Record Player

The communist era in Bulgaria, from 1946 to 1989, marked a period of intense ideological control1, especially in the cultural domain. In Sofia, the capital city, music became a powerful means of expression and resistance, with vinyl records playing a pivotal role in shaping the auditory landscape. Among the various artistic forms such as literatures and arts, vinyl records also served as a tangible form of rebellion2 against the state-sanctioned narrative: while the regime sought to control the content and distribution of music, the discreet nature of vinyl collections allowed Sofia’s residents to curate their own musical experiences.

According to one of the 45 stories of the Red Flat3, a preserved communist apartment in Sofia which turned into a tangible museum, Resprom was one os the most widespread Bulgarian brand from the socialist Era. It included manufactures such as TV, radio and especially record player. 4

Based on Red Flat’s manager report, it is known that

“Almost very Bulgarian home had one of these legendary radio-record player sets, so much that in the 80’s Resprom was able to close a deal to get some of the patents and technology of Technics, a Panasonic hi-fi brand

Finally, the Resprom’s hit most of all was realized because of the power of international collaboration between Bulgaria and Japan, especially in transcending historical differences and fostering lasting connections. In fact, these two nations, once situated on opposing fronts during the Cold War, have remarkably forged a relationship characterized by warmth and mutual understanding.

Italian Influence.

As stated by Story n. 21 of the Red Flat, surprisingly, most of all Italian artists played a significant role in shaping Sofia’s musical scene during the communist era: italian music, with its diverse genres ranging from pop to protest folk, resonated with Bulgarians seeking an escape from the confines of socialist realism.

In particular, many artists as Fabrizio De Andre’, whose poignant and often politically charged lyrics transcended language barriers, became emblematic figures for those yearning for a connection to a broader, more diverse cultural landscape.

“There were no mass media other than radio,” says A. Boyadzhie, “and homemade gramophone’s records.”5

Moreover, censored music, particularly from the Western world, found its way into the hands of enthusiasts who eagerly sought the sounds that defied the official doctrines. The regime’s censorship extended to vinyl records, with many Western artists and subversive genres. To bypass these restrictions, as reported in the 24rd and 25th story, a thriving black market for censored vinyls emerged. Under-the-counter transactions and discreet exchanges allowed Sofia’s residents to access the forbidden sounds of rock, jazz, and other genres that challenged the government’s narrative. This clandestine network not only provided an alternative musical experience but also became a form of silent resistance against ideological constraints.

Private Listening Sessions.

Sofia’s residents gathered in discreet locations to enjoy forbidden tunes, forging connections with like-minded individuals and forming a subculture that existed outside the purview of the regime. These private listening sessions not only provided an escape from the oppressive political climate but also fostered a sense of camaraderie among those who shared a common passion for free expression through music.

  • “You could not hear anything but a Bulgarian radio station. However we listened, trying to loosen the seals. (… ) Monte Carlo and Voice of America, which were broadcasting maybe from Thessaloniki or from Italy, so we had information that was good enough for those who wanted to have it. That’s how we kept up with what was happening in the free world. Westward. Before and during the war, we knew Italian and German pop music very well, of course. (…) We knew all the forms that existed then: tango, foxtrot, boogie…6

Also, it is worth to noting that vinyl records facilitated private listening sessions, turning homes into intimate spaces for shared musical experiences.

Community-Building Through Translations.

Finally, during the communist period in Sofia, even the translation of songs played a crucial role in shaping the musical landscape: given the strict censorship7 and control over cultural expressions, the translation of foreign songs, especially those from Western countries, became a subtle form of resistance and a means of connecting with the broader global culture.

“In those years music was a rebellion and a way of expression not only in Eastern Europe, but also in the West and in the United States – against wars, against certain politicians and their regimes.”8

In fact, many western songs, which were often deemed subversive by the authorities, gained popularity among Sofia’s residents when translated into Bulgarian. Translators faced the challenge of maintaining the essence and rebellious spirit of the original lyrics while navigating the constraints imposed by censorship. The act of translating songs served as a creative outlet for expressing dissent and challenging the official narrative.

Also, just as there were underground music scenes, there were also underground translation networks. Individuals skilled in languages, often in secret, translated lyrics of censored songs, allowing a broader audience to understand the messages hidden within the music. These translations were then shared through word of mouth, handwritten notes, or small-scale publications, contributing to the dissemination of alternative cultural perspectives.

Then, translators often resorted to symbolism and metaphor to convey the intended meaning of a song while avoiding direct confrontation with censorship. By employing subtle linguistic nuances, they could maintain the rebellious spirit of the original lyrics without triggering the ire of the authorities: this creative use of language became a hallmark of the underground cultural resistance in Sofia.

This way, the song transfer from one language to another the communist era was not merely a linguistic exercise, and even as the political landscape changed with the fall of communism, the legacy of these translated songs continued to resonate: they symbolized a time of creative defiance, resilience, and the power of music to transcend barriers and connect people across borders, as a real form of cultural resistance, a means of connecting with the global zeitgeist, and a powerful tool for expressing dissent in the face of oppressive political regimes. 

To conclude, in Sofia, the consumption of music during the communist era was a multifaceted experience9 that involved navigating through official channels, clandestine networks, and the tactile allure of vinyl records.

Also, the resilience of the city’s residents was evident in their ability to create spaces for the exploration of censored music, connecting with artists from unexpected corners of the world, such as Italy. The vinyl records that quietly circulated in Sofia during this period served as both a sonic refuge and a symbol of resistance against the ideological constraints of the time.

  1. Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. (2015) “A History of Russia”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 583 ↩︎
  2. (14/01/2024) ↩︎
  3. The Red Flat – Everyday Life in Communist Bulgaria: ↩︎
  4. About the “Bitovaelektronika“:Битоваелектроника(компания)
    To see more: Orush, A. (2019) A big book about Bulgarian technics: ↩︎
  5.естрада-и-социализъм-проблясъци/ (14/01/2024)
  6. Interview with Atanas Boyadzhiev, made on October 24, 2012.естрада-и-социализъм-проблясъци/ ↩︎
  7. (14/01/2024) ↩︎
  8. “” ↩︎
  9. Carpi, Guido (2016) Storia della letteratura russa: II. Dalla Rivoluzione d’Ottobre a Oggi. Roma: Carocci. p. 117-126 ↩︎