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"Arizona" from Ma Maren Ma
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Jony Iliev & Band, Ma maren ma (asphalt tango) If it Rains in Kjustendil, it is the Saddest Place on Earth...

Jony Iliev Makes the Sun Shine in Bulgarian Paradise

When Jony sings and his voice moves between four octaves, heart and head are torn. When Boril closes his eyes and pushes his clarinet into the air, its sound cuts like a knife right through the soul. And when Martin Lubenov’s fingers fly over the accordion, everybody loses their mind.

Filled with passion, thrust in between happiness and despair, between poverty and discrimination on one side, freedom and zest for life on the other—Jony Iliev and Band mesmerize with their masterly compositions spiced with Romani lyrics.

If it rains in Kjustendil it is the saddest place on earth
But if the sun shines, it sure is Paradise.

That is what Jony says about the gypsy quarters of the town where he grew up. It is just 150 kilometers in the South-West of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia, on the main road to Macedonia, and the blue waters of the Aegean Sea. On the fringes of town you’ll find the country’s biggest Machala. More than 20,000 gypsies live there, below the surrounding mountains with their summits, 2000 meters above sea level. Here—in an atmosphere, which is urban and almost rural at the same time—lie the roots of his music.

"When I was ten, I had a dream. At the very end of our street in Kjustendil… If you stand right in the middle of the road and look straight ahead, you can see a tower on top of a hill. And behind it, they say, is Greece. In my imagination I picked up a little bag with a few slices of bread, cheese and salt, to get away, only to get away. And if I eventually came back, I’d be a grand Pjevatsh—a famous singer."

Growing up as the youngest of eight brothers in a musicians’ family, Jony’s vocal talents were acknowledged early on and subsequently encouraged within the family structure. At the tender age of 10 he already sang at weddings, all night long, his powerful and expressive voice charming every listener.

The next step, on to the stages of the world was only a question of time. It is almost a matter-of-course that by now, Jony Iliev and Band are on the forefront of Bulgaria’s new spectacular Roma-Sound. They have this special intense quality about them, dreaming and fantasizing in their songs about life in Sofia, its nightclubs, the American dream and the muddy lanes of the gypsy quarters of Kjustendil, their home.

So, welcome to the world of Jony Iliev! Join him on his frantic ride through the streets of Sofia’s gypsy quarters—and its nightclubs. Let him entrance you with the Balkan groove of his passionately swinging band, and indulge in the maestro’s voice and his lyrics situated somewhere between dream and reality: The dreams of another life; somewhere else; the illuminated streets of Sofia; the clubs; the elegant restaurants with their nostalgic charm—the freedom of spirit.