Vlada Tomova was born in the tiny seaside town of Sudak, in Crimea, Ukraine, to a Russian mother and Bulgarian father. Her parents, who met while studying engineering, were both musicians - her father a self-taught accordionist and arranger and her mother a singer.
Music was always around Vlada growing up. She remembers practicing in front of the mirror at age 5 or 6 with a deodorant bottle for a microphone. Her mom eventually remarried a prominent Russian pianist, arranger and composer. Her mother and stepfather performed lush, emotional Russian art songs, as well as some classical music. Vlada would sing for the family’s many visitors and for travelers on local public transport.
During her mid-teens she was given a few tapes, and later her first CDs, which she eventually knew note-for-note by heart. This was her introduction to jazz - Letter from Home by Pat Metheny, The Best by Manhattan Transfer, The Wall by Pink Floyd (which she thought was jazz too:) and of course Ella and Louis... Vlada fell in love and never looked back.
In spite of her mother’s dream for her to become an opera singer, Vlada’s interests led her to Berklee College of Music in Boston. The journey wasn’t easy, with her father taking a loan from his already struggling company. She had little money, not enough to cover even her first semester at Berklee, but somehow managed to convince the bursar to let her in. From there she took things a step at a time, working, living frugally, practicing and studying, and making friends from around the world. On fire and unstoppable, she used every trick in the book to stay in and finish school. She remembered her father seeing her off and telling her at the airport that sometimes one needs to just jump into deep water. She never forgot it and eventually graduated with honors.
While everyone was interested to hear her native Bulgarian music, she soon began mixing it with her experimental jazz compositions in her first couple years at Berklee, applying the music’s odd meters, melodic sensibilities and melismatic singing. The fist setting of the band that would become “Balkan Tales” which included Armenian pianist and composer Vardan Ovsepian, Serbian drummer Rastko Rashic and American bassist Edward Perez, all wonderful and most sensitive musicians. The group’s first tour was to Europe in November 1999. Next year, Balkan Tales will celebrate 20 years.
Over the years she has pursued cross-cultural collaborations with the likes of Israeli world dance masters Balkan Beat Box, Lebanese singer Mike Massy, avant garde sitarist Chris Rael, Bulgarian kaval virtuoso Theodosii Spassov, and many ventures into puppet theater and film productions. Today Vlada is busy raising her son Sasha and writing and recording new songs, including an exploration into pop music. She tours and performs with “Balkan Tales” and her “Bulgarian Voices Trio”, teaches workshops and is developing a new show with Cuban musicians, “Havana Sofia Express”.