It appeared seemingly from out of nowhere a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and overtook the country by storm – but that was over 20 years ago.
Now chalga is a long-established musical phenomenon that, much to the horror of its ever-so-zealous critics, occupies a corner of the Bulgarian music industry – and a plush corner it is!
Skimpily dressed first-name-only female singers sing for scary-looking gold-covered men who look right out of the set of The Sopranos.
Show-offs of easy-come easy-go money, and typical Balkan excess of the most endearing type are present in both the lyrics and the videos, which are imitated by the listening public.
Chalga streams from several 24-hour television channels and radio stations, and provides the musical background to restaurants, cafés, taxis, and buses.
It has grown into the cultural equivalent of Serbian Turbo-folk, Greek Laiko, and Turkish Arabesque. Indeed, chalga often recycles popular melodies from neighboring countries with patchwork lyrics in Bulgarian to match.
Love for chalga has provided many with an identity symbol, as much as the hate for chalga has done the same for the country’s intelligentsia.
Chalga has long grown into an industry that insists on being called pop-folk.
Indeed, the music has evolved into a more sophisticated genre well on its way to morphing into a version of local dance music.
Its critics, however, are adamant about calling it nothing but chalga, a word that originally meant gypsy wedding music, but has grown into a collective term for all things tacky.
The "chalga" industry makes most of its money from posh nightclubs with grand names like Sin City, Versailles, Grand de Luxe, etc.
Every big city features at least one, and it is usually the place to see and be seen in town.
To the traveler who loves diverse experiences, a night in a chalga club will definitely provide many stories to tell. The music is likely to sound awesomely bad to the unaccustomed ear, but it will be an ideal opportunity for discrete people-watching, and a chance to spend a night in a club that seems from a bygone era when anything used to go.