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Last Updated: Sunday, 31 December 2006, 09:00 GMT
Culture in Romania and Bulgaria
By Michael Osborn
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

On 1 January 2007, Romania and Bulgaria become the latest countries to join the European Union.

The two nations in south-eastern Europe are relatively unknown in the rest of Europe in terms of their popular culture, including music and television.

Here is a sample of what the average Romanian and Bulgarian settles down to watch on the small screen, and which pop stars are making the biggest splash as the neighbouring countries enter the European club.

BULGARIAN POP MUSIC

Bulgarian chalga singer Azis

In market places, cafes, shops and bars across Bulgaria, it's likely that chalga music will be blaring out of the stereo.

This vibrant, heady mixture of traditional Balkan folk music with Roma (gypsy), Turkish and Arab influences is highly popular.

But it is sometimes frowned upon for its scantily-clad female singers and appeal to "low class people".

"I rather like it. At least it's Bulgarian," says Magdalena Rahn of the Sofia Echo newspaper.

"The rhythms are catchy and the voices incredible. I would prefer Azis to Western pop music being played here," she adds.

Flamboyant, cross-dressing male vocalist Azis is one of the most recognised faces in Bulgaria.

A leading exponent of chalga, he represented his country alongside pop star Mariana Popova at this year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Western music has been widely embraced by Bulgarian artists and regularly dominates the country's charts, alongside the likes of Justin Timberlake and Gwen Stefani.

Bulgarian rappers Rumaneca and Enchev

Bulgaria's best-known rap duo Rumaneca and Enchev are currently riding high in the hit parade along with male singer Grafa (The Count) - deemed "not particularly Bulgarian" by Ms Rahn.

The country's rock scene thrives thanks to bands lik Epizod, who have turned traditional Bulgarian songs into rock anthems.

The group have performed clad in armour with the backing of a church choir and folk dancers.

ROMANIAN POP MUSIC

Romania's most recent musical phenomenon is Cleopatra Stratan.

Aged just three, this diminutive talent dominated the charts recently with her song Ghita and has already recorded an album.

Cleopatra Stratan

The daughter of singer Pavel Stratan is said to have been discovered when she performed at his recording sessions.

Acts who have been in the business rather longer include rock band Voltaj, who formed in 1982 under the communist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu.

Once considered a "danger to society", they did not record their first album until 1995 and won best Romanian Act at the MTV Europe Music Awards a decade later.

Rockers Holograf - currently in the Romanian Top 10 with Voltaj - started life in 1978.

Romanian rock band Holograf (from www.holograf.ro)

Popular names on the Romanian dance scene include DJ Project - best Romanian Act at this year's MTV Europe Awards - and Akcent and Morandi.

Prolific songwriter and performer Marius Moga has penned numerous hits for these acts, earning himself the title "Little Mozart".

As in Bulgaria, Romania's acts have to battle hard against songs from the US and UK which often dominate the country's Top 10.

BULGARIAN TELEVISION

One of Bulgaria's most popular TV programmes is a late-night daily talk show hosted by Slavi Trifonov, one of the most popular figures in the country.

Talk show host Slavi Trifonov (singing)
Chat show host Slavi Trifonov also has a reputation as a musician

The show's makers claim its hour-long mix of guests, political satire and musical performances is "unique in Eastern Europe".

Other small-screen draws in Bulgaria include localised versions of such familiar TV programmes as Big Brother, currently in its third series, and Survivor BG.

The country has also spawned its own derivative of Deal Or No Deal - known as Sdelka Ili Ne in Bulgaria - which offers a top prize of 100,000 Leva (34,620).

ROMANIAN TELEVISION

A scene from TV show Dansez Pentru Tine

Romanian TV has come a long way since the dark days of the Ceausescu era.

Back then, all viewers had to look forward to was two hours of black-and-white programming extolling the dictator's virtues.

The country now has 10 commercial stations to complement the three channels offered by state television.

A set of familiar entertainment programmes are "watched by the whole nation", says Radio Romania International's Iulian Muresan.

Probably the most popular, he continues, is Surprize Surprize - similar to the show hosted by Cillia Black in the UK from 1984-99.

A scene from Surprize Surprize
Tearful reunions on Surprize Surprize draw in Romanian viewers

Its tearful reunions are interspersed with regular appearances by bebelusele - female dancing girls - which are a common feature on numerous Romanian TV programmes.

Other highly-rated shows include Iarta-ma (Forgive Me), where old scores are settled and one-time adversaries start afresh in front of a studio audience, and Dansez Pentru Tine, based on competitive dance shows seen around the world.

The country's most popular comedy show is Cronica Carcotasilor (The Fault Finder's Chronicle), which takes an irreverent look at Romania's political leaders, prominent people in the media and famous faces.

This programme also has a coterie of female dancers who perform between sketches.


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