BULGARIAN group Upsurt is considered one of the best acts on the hip-hop scene in Bulgaria. Definitely the most popular, the group was formed in 1996 and originally consisted of four guys: Itzo Hazarta, Bate Ventsi, Butch, and Panchev, who left the group three years ago, all friends from school No.76 in Sofia. They've made numerous recordings, topped music charts, toured throughout Bulgaria and have been enjoying recent success and high acclaim for their latest single, 3 v 1.
In the tradition of true hip-hop, Upsurt speaks for the "common man" living the simple life, criticises politicians and popular artists, mocks the status quo and points out what the real, unspoken problems are in Bulgarian society. They write, arrange, and record their songs, and when they have enough compiled, they release a new album, the normal path for most musicians.
Their newest single that can be heard pumping in most cars and flavouring up many cafes and nightclubs is 3 v 1, meaning 3 in 1, and came with the sponsorship a large coffee company that makes a popular, powdered instant coffee drink called 3 in 1. The band is highly commercialised right now, which is a turn-off for some, but this is because they're such a marketable group of guys: young, talented, down-to-earth, and bluntly articulate in their views of Bulgarian life. The beats drop nicely, the lyrics flow naturally, and the production and arrangement of the songs have an original flair.
They've often teamed up with popular Bulgarian artists, such as Beloslava, a famous pop singer, for the hit And Your Mother Too, an advertisement for the Bulgarian film of the same name. For 3 v 1, Galia lent her vocal talents to the project, and the song consists of an interview with Bulgarian journalist Milen Svetkov in which Upsurt answers mundane questions with a lyrical twist. Another great spin is an excerpt from a speech by Bulgarian communist leader Todor Zhikov in which he says that anytime, anywhere, people have "stuff" - which Upsurt warps into a brilliant criticism of the prevalence of drug use in Sofia's political and social elite.
The idea of 3 in 1 has multiple meanings in the song, from a threesome to their three favourite things: smoking, drinking, and rapping. Plus, the fact there are three of them comprising the group is a statement of their solidarity as a team. Throughout the song, as well as most of their other ones, they continuously slip in rhymes and slang hinting at sex, drugs, corruption, and politics, pointing out the ironies in society and how easy life could be if people kept their needs simple and didn't give in to the politicians. The slickest is the reference to cocaine use in Bulgaria by people at all levels of society, all the way up: smetana (creamer) and a phone card in the bathroom, 30 euro up the nose. Because all of the lyrics are in Bulgarian with a heavy amount of slang, the language is a large barrier for many foreigners trying to understand what they're saying. However, the musical style and ingenuity are enough to dig the songs and definitely a good enough reason to check out one of their concerts.
Living an Upsurt life: Itzo Hazarta and Bate Ventsi
Itzo Hazarta, (25), is seen as the front man for Upsurt, the most easily-identified member of the group. He writes most of the lyrics, and his influences include the Notorious B.I.G., Eazy-E, and the Beastie Boys - all classic American hip-hop and rap artists. A husband and devoted father of his one-and-a-half-year-old girl, Itzo enjoys spending time with his family but loves to travel, though he does feel that Bulgaria will always be "home". Health, friends, family, and money comprise Itzo's idea of perfect happiness. Ventsi, (26), softly-spoken and witty, along with Butch, (25), arranges the music; the catchy and sometimes familiar mixes, like the sample of INXS's I Need You Tonight in the song Pyschopath. Together, the guys of Upsurt spent most of the summer at the Black Sea, clocking up 42 000 kilometers by car in five months of touring.
In Bulgaria it's really difficult for them to make money on the CDs they produce, as most people don't go out and buy music. This is something they talk about in their songs, as they are acutely aware of the social and economic problems that exist in their country. They perform at concerts in order to earn their living and are travelling to Munich for a show on the October 29 and then to London for a November 5 performance, giving the international audience a chance to sample some of the coolest Bulgarian hip-hop around. As young, intelligent Bulgarians, they're talented enough to beat the lack of money and keep doing their favourite thing: making music.
They don't particularly identify with rap music, because what they do is different, it's hip-hop, and they don't present themselves as gangsters. Itzo feels that the people who listen to and enjoy their music are "normal" people who can relate to the things that they sing about in their songs: the sea, women, drinking, smoking, and generally just trying to get by in Bulgaria. Their musical style is one that most people can relate to and enjoy, and the majority of Bulgarians seem to think Upsurt is a pretty cool hip-hop group. Some people are turned off by how commercialised the group has become, but Itzo doesn't see it as a problem. They're trying to increase interest in their music, in order to boost the intrigue.
The music business hasn't changed them too much, and they are all still relatively close. Itzo feels that the friendship between them isn't going to change, because it hasn't changed up until this point. Maybe once international fame and fortune set in, their lives will be drastically altered, but as long as they remain humble and focusing their music on the things that are happening in Bulgaria now and the important figures and events that have shaped their destiny, Upsurt will remain the top hip-hop group in this country and will continue to have success. The music that they create resonates with the youth of Bulgaria, and as long as they stay focused and stick to their roots, Upsurt will remain the voice of the common people and will continue to make music like their hit single, 3 v 1.