Bulgarian artist and activist, Ruth Koleva sings to raise awareness about mental health, women’s rights, the LGBTQ+ community and domestic violence in Bulgaria and around the world. She has managed to find a way to combine art and activism; as she says, “music is my language and my way of expression.”
Citizen of the world with a Bulgarian background.
Ruth Koleva is Bulgarian but grew up in many different places in Asia such as India, Thailand, and Bahrain, to follow her father’s career as a weightlifting coach after he was an Olympic champion. She describes herself as a “world citizen” and considers her childhood of travels as a real opportunity; a real chance to get to know different cultures from a young age. The singer now lives between New York (US) and Sofia (BG).
Her parents divorced when she was 10 years old, and she discovered the mockery of her classmates still stuck in a conservative society. However, living most of the time with her father and brothers allowed her to experience a life of equality with men, which has benefited her throughout her career, living without knowing the limits of her gender.
“What does women empowerment mean to you? It’s a very important topic because I was predominantly raised by my father, feeling like I’m nothing less than a man. I’m equal. And that’s how I was raised to think.”
On the other side, she learned to sing and play piano with her mother, who loved jazz and practiced it despite the restrictive regulations around music. During the communist era, music considered as “capitalist” was banned in Bulgaria; the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were allowed to cross the borders and enter homes with only with great discretion.
Being Bulgarian offers another dimension to express oneself in today’s Western World. Indeed, before joining the European Union, Bulgaria was a communist country and did not experience proper democracy until Ruth was 17. The singer learned very late that this art could be linked to activism and expressing revendications.
Music and social engagement.
After moving to the United States at the age of 15 years old to pursue a solo singing career, she quickly became known for her strong views on capitalist society and the place of women in it. Co-writing her song, she navigates between electro, soul and pop to spread her ideas, fighting for women and LGBTQ+’s rights. Her debut album RUTH, which won the top prize at the Bulgarian Radio Awards in 2014 started, her career.
“My took of expression is music so I take all the measures and all the access I have to speak out.”
Her last singles “All the guys” and “Salty” are perfect witness of her revendications. “All the guys” is about how she experience the world as a woman. She breaks the stereotypes around the myth of being the perfect girl and denouncing slut-shaming extremely present in the Western society. “Salty”, made in collaboration with the LGBTQ+ organisation GLAS and The Bulgarian Fund, is about equality and inclusion for all. As she says, “To me, “Salty” is a personal declaration of independence. It’s my way of saying ‘I’m enough’. It’s about self-love and confidence, which as a woman we need to embrace more.”
“A woman’s business is the woman’s business, there isn’t a guy out there that can tell you what to do.”
Ruth Koleva not only spreads ideas in her songs, but she also tries to engage with social and ecological issues in all forms. For example, her costumes for the videos are made by sustainable brands and female designers.
Human rights face many obstacles in Bulgaria. The country does not have many financial resources to help its citizens. Domestic violence and mental health are huge problems in the country and are still a big taboo. Ruth Koleva is one of the few voices addressing these issues. One of her friends committed suicide because of depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. She herself experienced depression several years ago and aims to raise awareness of these issues in Bulgaria. The singer is here to speak out, break stereotypes, and empower women and girl.
Written by WAVE Intern Raphaelle Jouannic
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