Sofia Live Club, Sifia, with Milen Kukosharov
Camellia Todorova is one of the most accomplished vocal performers coming from Bulgaria, as well as one of the leading musicians having developed and popularised the art of jazz in her country. Her mother a classical singer and her father a jazz aficionado, she grew up in a musical family surrounded by the enormous record collection at home. She started singing on stage while pursuing an acting career with director Nikolai Georgiev’s experimental theatre group 4+4, and went on to study singing at the National Music Academy in Sofia in 1976, where she met her future mentors and colleagues. Subsequently, she soon began working with some of the most renowned Bulgarian jazz musicians, including Ludmil Georgiev, Simeon Shterev, Mario Stanchev, Theodosii Stojkov and Peter Slavov. Her first major success as a solo artist came with her debut at the 2nd Annual Jazz Review festival in Sofia in 1978, which at the time was one of the leading festivals for improvised music east of the Iron Curtain.
Between 1979 and 1983 she recorded a succession of extremely successful records with the Big Band of the Bulgarian National Radio under conductor Vili Kazassian. Performing continuously in a huge variety of settings, she quickly gathered a devoted following. Bringing unprecedented elegance, refined expression and stunning presence to the stage, her art created almost utopian aesthetic pleasures for an audience deprived of all such aspects so essential to great music, yet rendered “decadent” and “late capitalist” by the official doctrine of socialist realism. Given this existential dimension of her music, she acquired a fame of pop star proportions, hardly comparable to the standing of a jazz singer in any democratic society with a pluralistic music culture.
With numerous performances at festivals in Germany, Austria, Denmark, Russia, Poland, Slowenia, Czechoslovakia, Italy, Greece, Portugal, India and Malta, her truly unique talent received international recognition too. She has performed together with Stan Getz as well as with Mingus Dynasty at the 1980 Jazz Jatra Festival in Bombay, and with Milcho Leviev, Albert Mangelsdorff and Don Cherry in her native Sofia in 1980. She has also performed on the same bill with the likes of Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Billy Preston and Louie Bellson.
A significant moment in Camellia Todorova’s career proved to be the 1980 Golden Orpheus Awards, at the time the most prestigious competition for non-classical artists in Eastern Europe, where she went on to win the Grand Prix as well as the Special Critics’ Award. Her double success in this competition brought her further acclaim, also way beyond Bulgaria. She has received further awards at festivals in Lublin (1979), Bombay (1980), Warsaw (1980), Bratislava (1981) and Dresden (1982).
During the 1980s Camellia Todorova saw a further growth of her artistic development and public profile by acting in some of Bulgaria’s leading movie productions. In 1981, she played the title role in the movie Tarnovskata tzaritza, which today is considered a classic of Bulgarian cinema and has been re-issued on DVD in several editions. Other films she has played in include Monolog za prasentzeto (1981), directed by Short Film Palme d'Or winner Slav Bakalov), Bon shans, inspektore! (1983) and Priliv na nezhnost (1983).
Considering she had received almost no initial support from state television and radio, the subsequent rise to the leading league of Bulgarian and Eastern European artists at a time when performing in a foreign language, not to mention in English, was unprecedented – must be regarded a truly astonishing achievement. Even at such a rank, eventually the limitations imposed on artistic development by the socialist system, and a new love took her to the next stage of her life. After touring Greece in 1983, she did not return to Bulgaria and emigrated to West Germany. Besides founding a family, she was signed by Virgin Records Germany as Camy Todorow, and released two singles: Bursting at the Seams (1985), produced by Roger Taylor of Queen, and her version of Aretha Franklin’s classic Chain of Fools (1986).
In the beginning of the 1990s things changed for both Eastern Europe and Camellia; the communist system collapsed and so did her marriage. She returned to Bulgaria and reunited with the audience through numerous concerts and festival apperances, and released six studio albums between 1991 and 2006. In 1998 she participated in the founding of the first, and today one of the most popular international jazz festivals in Bulgaria, Bansko Jazz Festival. She has since been invited to perform almost every year, presenting a diverse repertoire of original material and jazz standards, accompanied by settings ranging from an intimate trio to a fully fledged big band.
In January 2003 Camellia Todorova celebrated 25 years of her singing career with a major concert at the National Palace of Culture in Sofia. Internationally she sung at concerts and festivals in Lucerne, Moscow, Istanbul, London and the United States among others. Being recognised as one of the leading vocal performers of her country, she has been teaching Singing and Vocal Technique at the New Bulgarian University in Sofia since 2005.
In May 2011 Camellia Todorova received a honorary award for her outstanding contribution to Bulgarian culture by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Bulgaria and more recently the Bulgarian Inspiration award at the 2014 BG Radio Music Awards, as well as the prestigious Crystal Lyre award in the category Jazz for a series of concerts with the Sofia Philharmonic, National Philharmonic Choir and trumpeter Mihail Yossifov in 2016.