Maxim Behar: Music has no boundaries to express yourself to the world

Maxim Behar is a guest in “Slavi Trifonov’s Night Show” on 7/8 TV, hosted by Ivo Siromahov.

Host (Ivo Siromahov): My first guest tonight recently surprised me with his new persona. For the past few months, he has been performing as a rapper. He has two collaborations with Misho Shamara, his son Lil Sha, and Nashville country singer Sarah Haralson. First, let's watch the original debut track of this quartet and a part of its remix. Maxim Behar is here with me. You're full of surprises. I expected many things, but not that you would become a rapper.

Maxim Behar: I'm unsure if I've become a rapper yet.

Host: How can you not have? You're practically a soloist!

Maxim: If someone goes to the most prominent American rap radio station, Hot 21, they will see that this song - "PR We Are," has been 7th in the chart for the last 5-6 months.

Host: It's doing very well.

Maxim: Yes, because millions of people worldwide are involved in the public relations business.

Host: It's something like their anthem – was that the intention?

Maxim: This is the first and only song made for PR, something I didn't know. And I'll tell you it all completely by chance. Misho Shamara, a very good friend of mine, is very emotional and expressive, taking a stand on all sorts of issues. Someone had attacked him on Facebook very nasty, and I defended him. It was around 1 a.m., and people already had 2 to 3 glasses of wine at that point. And he thanked me, saying I was the only one who defended him, and he owes me for that. I told him he didn't owe me anything, but maybe one day we could make a song together. I had never sung before, of course.

Host: You meant it as a joke, I suppose.

Maxim: Absolutely, as a joke. But he asked me every 2-3 months when we would record this track. At one point, he wrote to me he was coming to Sofia with his son and had already booked a studio, so I should be ready. But I had no lyrics, no idea - nothing. I wrote the Bulgarian text, and the song was called "PR is God's Gift." It was on the same topic because I understand PR, which is my business. We sat in the studio, and at one point, the young one, who is now 20 years old, suddenly suggested we do the song in English because more people would listen to it. But I had no lyrics or ideas. He took out his phone, and I started dictating the text to him. After a while, he came back with music. We chose the beat, and that's how we made the song. Then I called my colleagues from the company, and they came to shoot the video. The whole thing happened in 5-6 hours.

Host: How did this song reach American rap radio?

Maxim: We sent it to about fifty American radios. And someone from Hot 21 wrote to me saying they liked the song and wanted us to send it in different formats. The only thing I wanted to do was promote it in New York and Bulgaria simultaneously. I called Niki Yanchovichin from BG Radio, and he happily agreed. So, we did a simultaneous premiere on the same day and hour on BG Radio and Hot 21 in New York.

Host: You should promote this among people in your profession worldwide because it will inspire them, perhaps.

Maxim: That's what I attribute the great interest in the song to. In October, we had to give a presentation at the World PR Congress in Warsaw, and I started mine with this song. About 500 people stood up and applauded it. But the idea was to show that you can do something creative without boundaries when you want to have fun and do something creative.

Host: The most important thing is that you don't take yourself too seriously because that's the big problem with most people in such cases.

Maxim: Of course I don't. Doing such projects gives me pleasure, and you know that we also wrote a second song, "Runaway." It's a bit more complex, and the video will be ready in a week or two. The song is playing on the same radio station, Hot 21, and they like it a lot.

Host: I understand that you enjoyed it. You're on this path now.

Maxim: I'll tell you why I liked it. I've never said this before, but I'm working on a third song, which will be about Bulgaria. Rap is incredibly popular in America and worldwide. Around New Year's, I spent a month in America with my wife. I read a statistic that rap revenues exceed those of other genres combined. Bruce Springsteen, Phil Collins, country music, Willie Nelson, or whoever - take all of them together, and rap still brings in more revenue. Since this music is so popular and our song managed to break through, being played by many other radio stations, and Hot 21 even put it in their chart, I thought it would be best to make a song about Bulgaria. So that the word "Bulgaria" could enter and be heard in America. When you go to America, they ask where Bulgaria is and whether it's still in the Soviet Union. That's why my goal with the second song was to work more with the same team. I met Sarah Haralson by chance in a bar in Sofia owned by Vasko the Patch. I went in for a drink at 11 p.m. and saw an American singer performing. I liked her, but she was only there for one night as part of some American program promoting country music. I filmed her and tagged her on Facebook. The following day, she thanked me, and I told her I needed a female voice for a bridge. I had almost arranged it with a few excellent Bulgarian singers, and we found common ground. I sent her the song, and she responded with just two words – "I'm in." And that's how she became part of the first project and participated in the second song. It seems to me that this is a good project that shows that when you want to say something, you can tell it through social media, articles, newspapers, radio, and even through music.

Host: Of course, through music, it's very effective because people easily get into it and start singing along.

Maxim: Music knows no boundaries.

Host: Along those lines, what advice would you give on promoting Bulgaria as a tourist destination? You know about this huge problem – for 20 years, the people responsible haven't been able to come up with anything, and they usually create unsuccessful campaigns. Typically, they focus on banal things that won't attract people.

Maxim: This is an immense pain for me. Although your former colleague Evtim, now a minister, can only do something in a few months, I'm hopeful he will. Throughout these twenty years, the branding of Bulgaria abroad has been extremely unsuccessful. We promote beaches and spa centers that cannot compete with those in other European countries. We promote skiing, though it turns out we don't have working ski lifts, but we can't compete with the slopes in Austria and Switzerland. Even history is not a strong card to attract people to Bulgaria, although Americans are very fond of history. For them, anything 100 years old is almost ancient. Whereas for us, anything 100 years old is yesterday. But the most important thing is to promote the Bulgarian people as much as possible – that we are Europeans and behave well. Of course, we are highly dissatisfied. But the people in Bulgaria are the most valuable and beautiful thing. They are the best asset, and no one thinks about advertising them. And I think that after the elections, someone might come and decide to tell the world that Bulgaria has the lowest taxes in Europe – 10% corporate tax, 5% dividend tax. No other country like this in Europe, but no one says it. And those people who wanted to do business in Bulgaria read only about robberies or other crimes happening here. I lived in the Czech Republic for a long time, and I returned after many years. There, a friend of mine told me that he thinks about me every day because a Bulgarian stole his car. Still, he is my friend, whereas many people read negative things that happened and don't understand. We need to tell them about Bulgaria. I was in Berlin a month ago at an event called "Bulgaria Wants You." 1200 Bulgarians who are living in Germany, and many Germans attended. We told the Germans what Bulgaria was like. At least ten people came to apply for a job at my company when I left. There are good and bad sides to our country. However, music is one of the tools that popularized Bulgaria. It hurt me a lot that Bulgaria wasn't at Eurovision this year. Despite all the controversy around Eurovision, 250-300 million people watched it and could see a good performance. We had Stundji, Elitsa, and Poli Genova, who ranked very high. Krisia and my young fellow citizens from Shumen, Ibrahim, and Hasan were at Junior Eurovision. They are your product. Do you know my story with them? I decided to donate to the school I graduated from – replace the books in the library with electronic books. I'm from Shumen, and they are from Hitrino, a town near Shumen. I arrived at the school and told the principal I would donate. They wanted to give me something in return – two students to play something as a thank you. Someone filmed a video, and these boys, then in 3rd-4th grade, later I saw them on your show and thought, "Wow." They were also at Junior Eurovision if I'm not mistaken. But Eurovision is one of the things. In my professional opinion, from a PR, marketing, and branding perspective, what we need to do is sing as they do in the West. Romania has made quite a few good achievements in this regard.

Host: They have developed their modern music a lot.

Maxim: They make hits that are listened to in the West and are entirely Western-style. That's why I think "PR We Are" was so well-received – because it's rap, American rap at that, written by the two "slaps," as I call Misho Shamara(the slap) and Lil Sha.

Host: And it's memorable - a simple phrase that repeats.

Maxim: Yes, because it has a rhyme, it has everything. And now the third song, which I'll make for Bulgaria, will have the word "Bulgaria" in it, and it will be easy to remember. I have the lyrics, of course, and a beat. But I'm still thinking because I want it to be like an anthem. Many Bulgarian clubs play the "PR We Are" remix, which gives me great pleasure. That was the idea of the remix – to have a disco version of this rap song. My big dream is to get Bulgaria into the American rap charts and make it heard and interest people.

Host: Last time we talked, you mentioned that you would do everything possible to bring King Charles III to Bulgaria once he becomes king. Has anything happened in that direction? Is there any development?

Maxim: Maybe. There has been some progress, but I wonder whether it will happen. However, I am currently working for an organization his father headed – "The Colonel's Fund Grenadier Guards." We've been working with them for years, and because of this, I've had meetings with Prince Philip, who is no longer with us. Last week, I learned that Queen Camilla has taken over the management of this fund. I wrote a polite letter saying I would like to meet the Queen, and they said it wouldn't be a problem. Therefore, we can try.

Host: So, it seems there's a meeting planned.

Maxim: Why do I want King Charles III, Prince William, or anyone from their circle to come to Bulgaria? Because it will make people hear about Bulgaria.

Host: We will make global news.

Maxim: We discussed how all those Britons in the villages around Veliko Tarnovo came because of King Charles III. They learned about the region from him in March 2002. They found out that there are cool people in our country and it's cheap – back in 2002, you could buy a house in Veliko Tarnovo or Vidin for 15,000 pounds. This is part of my bigger goal, which is to be able to promote and "sell" Bulgaria so that foreigners know about it. Bulgaria is not foreign to Germans within the European Union; in the same way, Germany is not foreign to Bulgarians. However, when these people invest in Bulgaria, they will first train many people in discipline, work methods, and standards. They will put in a lot of money here. This will be a big lesson for many Bulgarians who may be bankrupt or financially unstable.

Host: Why is there so much mockery about this portrait of King Charles III? Although I find the portrait interesting and successful, there are many jokes about it.

Maxim: I'm seeing it for the first time – it's cool. Who's mocking it?

Host: People started drawing speech bubbles on social media, using it as the basis for ridiculous jokes.

Maxim: In the end, art is complete freedom and nothing else. People can see and paint whatever they want. That's art.

Host: For comparison, I want to show a portrait of another statesman. I'm sure you will appreciate it. In the portrait, Boyko Borissov, former Prime Minister of Bulgaria, and Aleksandar Vučić, the President of Serbia, are building a gas pipeline.

Maxim: This is a real portrait, a gift to Boyko Borissov.

Host: Look at the socialist realism style – they are sitting and looking sternly.

Maxim: Art is complete freedom. Once, a great poet told Todor Zhivkov that he couldn't be forbidden from loving him.

Host: Exactly – love cannot be stopped.

Maxim: Perhaps the artist told Boyko Borissov that he couldn't forbid him from painting him.

Host: And it's in a heroic moment – the pipeline is progressing.

Maxim: Of course, there is contemporary art, and people want to be liked. But I think the most valuable art is when you have no restrictions. And the only person you want to please is yourself. You want to say that you did it right, but this is you – the artist, and you painted it. Everything else is office equipment.

Host: Tell me, as a specialist, why it is increasingly difficult for politicians to communicate with voters, and some even refuse to communicate altogether.

Maxim: I was going to say – they don't communicate, even during election gatherings and meetings.

Host: They only maintain a very narrow circle of people but don't speak to the voters or the people.

Maxim: Even these gatherings are plastic and artificial. Candidates say the same things, such as how they will do this or that, and the selected people applaud them.

Host: These people are bored because they listen to the same record over and over.

Maxim: No one will waste 2-3 hours at an election rally unless there's a feast or something more interesting, like getting an autograph from a politician. This isn't because of the politicians but because of politics. Although, for some reason, we still call our political system democracy, it isn't working. It's impossible to. Imagine a corporation where the CEO changes every 2 or 3 months. Imagine one where the CEO constantly makes mistakes, and no one replaces them because they wait four years to elect the next one – this corporation would go bankrupt in 2 weeks or a month. The political system doesn't work. If there were control over politicians' promises, they would be more careful. For example, they say they'll increase pensions or something else – OK, but this must be supervised. All this should be put into a computer. Suppose it's not fulfilled by the end of the third or sixth month. In that case, the computer will say this politician can no longer be a minister because they haven't fulfilled their promise. This is only one idea that comes to my mind, but many other options exist to control politicians. For instance, ministers' promises could be documented, and every three months, they should report to the parliament. If they haven't fulfilled what they have promised, the parliament votes and releases them – simple as that. However, the current system allows for lack of accountability, and anyone can promise anything to anyone. This is very damaging, as these are the sixth elections in 2 years. And now elections are 2-in-1, so they are the seventh. We will ask people to vote from the TV screen, saying it's up to them, but they will no longer listen to us. They've already gone, voted, and are tired of promises that are not kept. There needs to be a new approach.

Host: Do you notice that European countries that are monarchies are developing much better, even though their monarchs don't govern? Neither King Charles III governs in England, the Swedish king in Sweden, nor the monarchs in Spain or the Netherlands. But somehow, the monarchy institution creates a different spirit in the citizens. Why is that?


Maxim: I wouldn't say that's essential, i.e., I wouldn't say that a country succeeds because it's a monarchy. Many other countries succeeded and weren't monarchies – Germany, Austria, Switzerland. These countries have their traditions and stick to them. I'm not very sure that a monarchy guarantees a democracy will work. Belgium is a monarchy, but it didn't have a government for two years, and we all remember that. The men said they wouldn't shave until a government was formed, and the women eventually refused to have sex until then. And everyone walked around like lunatics – some with beards, others not knowing where they were. Belgium is also a monarchy, but it has these problems. It's a bit more complicated because it's a multinational state. The point isn't whether a country is a monarchy. Modern monarchies are non-constitutional and non-parliamentary. Parliaments and governments make the decisions. Besides, Scandinavian countries traditionally have a very high standard of living. Spain wasn't a monarchy for many years after Franco died. Rather, it's because they don't have those 40-50 years that we lost, attending the Communist party meetings and doing nothing. Another reason is that these countries have fantastic histories and genesis of democratic governance and relationships between institutions. They have great traditions. Many Bulgarians go to Vienna and continuously post on Facebook or Instagram how much better it is there than here. But comparing them, Austria is at the same level as it was 100 years ago. Bulgaria was much lower then, but it has made a giant leap and is almost catching up. And I guarantee this because generations have changed. The young generation that is coming doesn't remember those years. People want to live different lives as if they were in Austria, Germany, or France. Also, you can learn everything from social media. There are practically no boundaries anymore. We travel and see the world. I am a great optimist, and everything will fall into place one day. However, we need to understand the need to work for it. We need to be good and earn well – we, in business, and you to make good shows and send intelligent messages to the viewers who watch you – everyone will thrive in their field. And this will happen one day because I don't see a way for us to go back. Bulgaria and Bulgarians can't go back. It's not possible. All bridges have already been burned.

Host: There's no going back; the question is how fast we move forward.

Maxim: We're not. In the last 2-3-4 years, we haven't been moving. Everything has come to a standstill, and we keep going to elections every few months and complaining. We're angry at ourselves in the morning and in the afternoon at others. This needs to change. That's why I said that this system doesn't work. But as Churchill has said – "nothing better has been invented." And we're in an absolute block waiting to see what and how things can change. One day it will happen. I remember Italy in the '70s-'80s.


Host: Governments changed every six months there.

Maxim: About 50 governments changed in 7-8 years. Some countries have gone through such periods. But I firmly believe that people in Bulgaria are decent, intelligent, and capable. There are all kinds of people, of course. But generally, I haven't seen people like those in Bulgaria anywhere. And these are not empty words; this isn't an empty balloon we inflate to boast. But honestly, people, not only those around me, are great and want to live better. This is a super strong prerequisite.

Host: Motivation.

Maxim: Yes, a prerequisite for success.

Host: Hopefully, it's so, and you will be correct.

Maxim: What we in Bulgaria, and the whole world, need are leaders - charismatic leaders who speak clearly and precisely, especially now during the elections. But look at what's happening – everyone talks about how bad others are. Imagine going to a store and asking if their tomatoes are good, and they reply that the other store's tomatoes are sour. But you're asking about this store's tomatoes, not the one next door. People will eventually lose orientation, motivation, and desire to buy tomatoes. I'm speaking in metaphors. But no one says what Bulgaria can become in 6 months and how we can achieve that. Moreover, we need to guarantee that we'll get there, and if not, to voluntarily promise to resign after two years. No one does that. Everyone talks about the neighbors' rotten tomatoes. This surprises me a lot because, during elections, I expect to see charismatic people who will convince the voters and their fellow citizens that they can do the best for Bulgaria. And God willing, after 2-3 generations, such a leader will be born. And they will come; there's no way they won't come. I'm sorry, but the politicians we see now on television are not good. There's no way this leader won't come.

Host: I hope you're right. Thank you!

Maxim: I hope one of them will come out of this studio, just as many politicians have come out of here over the years and have become decent people, including Kiril Petkov. Hopefully, the next decent leaders will come out of this same studio.

Host: I'm not leaving this studio. They can only take me out of here by force.

Maxim: I'm not even asking you because you're reasonable. We are reasonable people.

Host: Thank you for this conversation, Maxim Behar!

Maxim: Thank you!


Watch the full interview here.

»All articles