1 February, 2023
A conversation about the Romanian blues and jazz music scene, which "is not just Romanian, but a world stage"
The poster for the concert of The River of Blues in Bucharest (source: Spotmedia.ro)

Vladimir Mitev

Andy Raichev, frontman of the Bulgarian band The River of Blues, talks about his musical experience in Romania, the Romanian public’s attitude towards blues musicians and the upcoming tour. On January 19, 20 and 21, 2023, The River of Blues will play in Bucharest, Craiova and Sibiu respectively. Tickets can be purchased here.

Recording from The River of Blues’ performance at the Open Air Blues Festival Brezoi 2022:

We talk to Andrei Raychev of The River of Blues, who are about to play a show in Bucharest and two other Romanian cities. A band that already has a lot of experience with the Romanian blues music scene and accordingly has a lot to tell us. Could Andy introduce his band first?

The band is called The River of Blues. Over the years this name has stuck in my mind because as we know, the blues was born around…

Mississippi?

Not exactly. Even earlier. But yeah, Mississippi. In fact, that’s where the whole idea came from. Because we’re moving down that river. And that was the best title that went into my heart and soul. It’s memorable and resonant. It carries a message. The river of the blues.

Clearly you have experience with music. Can you share how long you’ve been playing blues? Did you have other bands before that?

I’m basically an actor by profession. It’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid to have a band. In fact, my music teacher got me into the blues. I was 10 years old when I watched the Elvis Presley documentary at the cinema. From then on, everything turned around in me. But anyway.

Over the years we got to that point where it all became a joke. We were two or three people. We wanted to do a blues band because all three of us were into the blues. Ignat Moskov and Marin Abrashev. These are friends of mine with whom we created a band North of the River in Plovdiv. It is because the drummer was living in Karshiaka, which is north of river Maritsa. That’s how the name came. Over time there were splits and new members. Everybody made a new band and so on.

My band has been called The River of Blues for 10 years now. With time we found the sound that the band needed. We wanted when people heard us on the side they would say, “This is The RIver of Blues.” And so with a lot of people we started working. Some gave up. Some we didn’t come to an agreement with. As in every band and every crew it happens. But now with these guys that we’re working with – especially the guitar player of the band, Dimitar Ganev, we’ve come to the conclusion that this is no longer the path that we should take as a band sound.

And so at one point you make the transition from Plovdiv to Romania. How did this affirmation of the band happen?

2019 vs 2020, I accidentally got in touch with a lovely guy from Timisoara, who runs the Manufactura bar. And we started sharing stuff about playing at his club. He invited me. He said he had some budget that would interest me and I went there. I don’t care much about the budget. I’m more interested in the connections because as they say, you have to build a name and then the name will work for you. And it really just so happened that we were very fortunate with the exes that we had from River of Blues to come. The lineup then was 6 people on two guitars, harmonica, drums and bass, guitar and vocals. And we went. We traveled all day and just got an hour afterwards just to chill and then drove all night to play. But it wasn’t tiring. Rather, it was very energizing and the people who came to see us, to hear us…it made an impression on me that the audience was from 18 years old to all upper age limits. It was unique. Whereas here in Bulgaria, you know, now this music is for the older people who know rock and blues and jazzmen and so on. Whereas over there I noticed there was no age and everybody loved the blues. It was a wonderful, unique experience. People were happy. By the way, in Timisoara there are three communities: Hungarians, Serbs and Romanians. And it was great. There were a lot of fellow musicians, there were poets, there were writers, all kinds of professions. But one very big thing impressed me. One boy – because he was younger than me, apparently about 28-30 years old. After all that New Year’s Eve euphoria, we mingled with the people in the audience. And everybody was shouting to celebrate and so on and so forth. I got talking to this young man and he said he lived in Germany. And when he found out that the band The RIver of Blues from Bulgaria was coming to play at Manufactura in his town of Timisoara, he was very interested. He hadn’t been back to Timisoara for 7 years. And he came to Timisoara especially for us! And he was so happy. He said that his father was a bluesman back in the day. I couldn’t find out if he had died, But that’s not important. The important thing is that all this is passed from father to son, from mother to daughter and so on.

And you make a good point that there’s a big difference in the music scene in Romania and Bulgaria, and in the audience. Can you tell us more? Comparing Bulgaria and Romania from these two perspectives of scene and audience, what impresses you now?

First of all I have to say that Bulgaria has an awful lot of nice, good, unique blues musicians. They are unique. I can point to the Delta Roosters, Blues Traffic, Poduene Blues Band and so on and so forth. A lot of young guys are coming up. There are young bands, which is unique. They’re trying. We have wonderful bars, clubs and here where you can play. They’re unique. They’re made with a lot of good taste.

Before the pandemic, some of the bars had 50-60 seats filled and it was great. The pandemic had a severe impact on the concerts. But we’ve got a bit of a the things wrong with the transmission of this type of music between generations. Maybe the oriental flavour grabs the attention of the younger ones more. I don’t mind. Everyone is free to listen to whatever they want,

I had a school project for young people from 1st grade to 12th grade. The project was called “The Roots of Music”. It’s a performance concert. It teaches kids about the music that they listen to. The basis of the whole stuff is blues. Whatever music you listen to, post-Renaissance music comes from the blues. It was a show about music and the history of music. Where did it come from? I’ve spoken to a lot of schools, they’ve welcomed the idea, but all I’m left with is the smiles. Unfortunately.

Actually, what are you discovering as a scene, as an attitude to music, that I guess you’d enjoy?

Well, look at the people in Romania now. They put more emphasis on advertising. They put a lot of emphasis on advertising, because if they want to gain something, they make sure that this music reaches every single person. It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman, small or big. When I walk into a Romanian club for blues and jazz music, the difference is huge. I see people from every age group, which makes me happy. And people understand this music. I don’t know how they achieved that. I don’t know if they have any laws that encourage people to listen to it themselves, or if the venues are state-supported or anything. I don’t know what the explanation is, but it’s unique. The Romanians are way ahead of the game.

Can you tell us what festivals you’ve played so far in Romania and in what clubs?

We’re just getting our foot in the door in Romania. In 2019 we played there for the first time. It’s been a few years. Last year, we were invited to Brezoi for a great international festival where we played on the same stage with many stars. These are world-class stars like Popa Chubby, Eric Gell, Samantha Fish, Larkin Poe, the Texas Girls. Beth Hart.

This trust that the Romanians have actually shown in our music, even though we’re playing covers for now, shows that we’re obviously playing them in a way that they like terribly much and they invited us. It didn’t take long and now we are back in Romania again, this time on a mini tour. Thursday, Friday, Saturday. It made an impression that the people there are now treating us as if they were inviting Eric Clapton or one of the big stars, which is very nice. The Romanian attitude towards the blues is unique. I can’t find words for that warmth.

Okay let’s finish with the expectations and messages you have for the audience in Romania, because my medium and what I will present as an interview will be in Romanian, so people in Romania will be able to read it and hear it.

Well, look, as I said to other people in other media, it is a great pleasure for me to visit Romania. And I’ll say it bluntly and frankly not because there are more opportunities as clubs with greater numbers as people. No, that’s not what attracts me. And we’ve talked to our people – my fellow musicians in the band. We felt it at the festival. I felt it much earlier. Now other people are playing with me now and have been for two and a half to three years. And they felt the love of the people in Romania, the warmth of a true fan who enjoys the musician of his idol. We’re not idols, but they act like we’re idols to them. And so I tell them, “People, when we go there, you’re going to feel this thing.” And to tell you it’s scary. So I want to say to all Romanians that we The River of Blues are the luckiest people because the history of the international scene started in Romania. And for me and for my colleagues, it’s a very high step. A very high rung, because the Romanian scene is not only a Romanian scene, it is a world scene. It is on a big level.

Good. Can you tell us which clubs, which cities and which dates you will play in Romania now?

Yes. On the 19th January 2023 we’ll be in Bucharest, at the Universitate pub. I don’t know where it is exactly.

It is next to the university.

Are you sure? That’s why it’s called the university…

Yeah.

Makes sense. That’s what I thought. The other one is in Craiova. The next day on the 20th you end up in Craiova at Club Cult . And on the 21st you’ll end the evening in Sibiu, a wonderful city. There is a great jazz festival going on there. The place there is called Imperium. Imperium. We will fight back, as they say in the old

Thanks for this interview and we invite our readers and listeners to pay attention to the River of Blues band and also to Bulgarian musicians to have an openness to the Romanian scene.

By the way, we are currently preparing a new album. It will be our first album. We haven’t given it a title yet, but one of the tracks we are going to play is called Shake it. It’s unique. It’s playful. Just to say to the other people who don’t listen to the blues, because when you say blues, they think of some dance music that two people are holding hands, dancing gentle music (what the world calls a ballad, Bulgarians used to call blues – note of the translator). It’s not like that. The blues is playful music, great music, and you party an awful lot to it.

Foto: Andy Raichev in action (source: The River of Blues)

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