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Meet our newest member choir: Medena Ensemble

We love welcoming new Member Choirs to our choral community, and this year we’re thrilled to welcome the Medena Ensemble from Auckland. TUi MAMAKi leads the ensemble, which explores vocal tone, bewitching harmony, playful rhythm, and the colourful sounds of Bulgarian folk choral music. We asked TUi to share a little more about her love of Bulgarian music, what drew her to start an ensemble in Aotearoa, and what excites her about joining NZCF…

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background in group singing:

I am a vocal explorer, performer, composer/arranger, born in France, raised in Aotearoa/NZ and often found in Bulgaria. In following the path of voice, I have travelled to Pays Basque, Northern India and the Balkans, to study traditional vocal techniques and repertoire. A cappella music was always part of my life, in childhood records and in practice, but my love of group singing was discovered as an adult, at Theatre School with Bert Van Dijk, in 2001. The energising – more than the sum of its parts – alchemy of resonant voices in motion is a true joy. The holy grail of this for me has always been the sound of Bulgarian women’s polyphony. The arrangements made famous by Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares are but the tip of the iceberg – an ever expanding trove of songs has been occupying my heart, ears and soul for over a decade.

What are the key elements of Bulgarian folk song?

Exquisite vocal ornamentation, epic melodic arcs, lively odd-meter rhythms and bewitchingly close harmony… Often stirringly brought to life by a powerful, clear tone – one that disregards Western notions of head versus chest voice – that amplifies secondary harmonics within the note, creating a sense of a 2nd or 3rd (in duets) vocal presence.

‘Bulgarian folk song’ is a vast and rich terrain of varied and idiosyncratic vocal styles, differing in melody, rhythm, ornamentation, vocal tone and dialect, all depending on the region, the valley, the village… the deeper you go the more nuance you will find, and so it is!

What inspired you to start a Bulgarian vocal ensemble in Aotearoa? 

My lifelong passion for Bulgarian women’s vocal music was responded to in 2011 when I first visited Bulgaria. I then lived there from 2014-2018, immersed in post-grad study/life itself. The songs and stories I have been entrusted with, by many teachers, continue to awaken a sense of mystery and purpose in me over time. To teach them in turn, back in Aotearoa (and to further arrange rural treasures for the purposes of polyphonic ensembles) was a natural progression and celebration. My trio Acapollinations, founded in 2013 as a graduation project, performs largely Bulgarian repertoire with an Aotearoa improvisation twist. My community choir World of Voice (performing songs from around the world) has given way to the Bulgarian obsession, and from a series of workshops have emerged a group of women dedicated to bringing Bulgarian classics and rural treasure songs to the stage: the Medena Ensemble – a way to keep the mystery alive!


What excites you about being a new member of the NZCF community?

A nationwide network of vocal nuts! The joy of singing has many faces and to access each other’s work/expertise is a lively blessing.

You also run workshops – tell us a little bit about those, and what people can expect:

In running workshops, I draw from a unique pool of vocal traditions, including chant Basque (South of France), my learnings in Northern India, physical theatre and extended voice, jazz improvisation, and of course Bulgarian folk vocal.

I endeavour to take participants on a playful yet provocative journey through breath, tone, embodiment, harmony and rhythm – in pursuit of beauty and aliveness, ultimately towards the expression of performance. Though I have an undeniable towards Bulgarian folk song, other languages/songs are at times explored.

The Medena Ensemble gathers once a month in Auckland to develop repertoire towards performance. This women’s ensemble is looking for new members and will be opening its doors for the first three workshops of the season (May 7th, June 4th, and July 2nd). If you are interested in attending any or all of these workshops (one for $120 | three for $300) you can find out more online and email TUi for details. Find out more