Andreas Terlaak’s photo
Look at her now. Almost 3 meters long, 120 kilos heavy. 61 fine-tuned planks of red-brown rosewood from Honduras. Her heart still skips a beat when Tatiana Koleva enters her barn converted into a studio. There is no scratch on the marimba after sixteen years. Well, only one that doesn’t affect the sound, when a bike crashed into the side. Being frugal with your most important possession, she has learned that from poverty.
Today she is one of the most renowned marimba musicians for whom more than a hundred pieces have been composed; she plays with orchestras and jazz musicians all over the world and has her own marimba festival. But as a teenager in Bulgaria, she hadn’t been crazy about the marimba right away. It was nice, that combination of piano and percussion, but the sound of the acacia wood she played on didn’t grab her yet. It wasn’t until she played rosewood in France that the lowest notes suddenly sounded as full as the high notes sounded frivolous. That tool was right. And she wanted it.
Impossible. Too expensive. She was, however, invited to study in Rotterdam. Her parents had money for a one-way ticket. In the Netherlands she got to know hunger. As a Bulgarian, she was not allowed to work here by law at the time. She depended on cleaning jobs for teachers, restaurants that paid black, performances at parties, free rounds in the pub. “When I came back to my parents after a year, they didn’t recognize me at first. I had lost weight.”
She gave concerts and recorded CDs with borrowed marimbas and more and more people started to trust her. In 2005, she finally got her own Rosewood Concorde marimba with borrowed money. The wood has been drying for ten years in the Japanese factory, so that it sounds perfect under almost all conditions.
Now she is an ambassador for the instrument. “Marimba, can you eat that? Can you drink that? A lot of people don’t know it.” She herself calls it an “earthly organ”. Tubes hang under the keys that amplify the sound, in the original African form these are often gourds. The marimba must be one of the oldest instruments, says Koleva. She sits on the floor with her legs stretched forward. “You put planks on it, forming a sound box.”
At least as important: the sticks. She plays with four at a time. “They are the transmitters of your soul. They make the sound for you.” She has her own international line of sticks. In her studio there are drawers full of dozens of different types. She also plays with bows, a technique she excels at. The percussion instrument suddenly sounds like a stringed instrument. She wants to innovate, let the ancient move with the times.
Sometimes the marimba has to be tuned. She turns a key and shows seven drill holes. “That’s how they do it. scary. I just look the other way.” She teaches her students to be careful with the wood. You can hit a key in half with the wrong stick and wrong technique. There are people who rush over the instrument with their keys. Just the thought makes her shudder.