Dessy Dobreva could be the most famous rising pop star most Americans have never heard of.
In her native Bulgaria, she is a singer and TV personality, a young artist who has chatted with Mikhail Gorbachev and performed with such groups as Manhattan Transfer.
But the classically trained artist - and 2006 graduate of the Berklee College of Music - wants to break into the Western music charts. And she wants to do it her way - by infusing her style of pop and soul with the rhythms and melodies of Bulgarian folk music, or to, as she puts it, "enrich the so-famous American pop-music palette with our special and very specific Balkan rhythms and cheerful sounds."
Local audiences will get a taste of Dobreva's style - as well as a full meal of Bulgarian dance, song, classical music, and food - Sunday in Medford as part of the Bulgarian Cultural Day Celebration, held at Springstep.
Organized by the Bulgarian American Center, the event features Bulgarian folk dances by the Boston-area group Ludo Mlado, a performance by Madara, a children's choir, as well as home-style Bulgarian food. Pianist Tania Stavreva, a Boston Conservatory graduate who will have her Carnegie Hall solo debut in 2009, will play the New England premiere of "Toccata," a work by the contemporary Bulgarian composer Vassil Kazandjiev.
The event is "a little bit of everything," said Violet Jeliazkova of Woburn, who founded the Bulgarian American Center 10 years ago as a resource for Bulgarians living in the Boston area. Now the organization focuses on promoting Bulgarian cultural events and organizes an annual cultural celebration, she said.
This year's highlight will be Dobreva, who will return to Boston to perform songs from her new pop, soul, and jazz album, "She IS," as well as some of her hits from her years leading the Ku-Ku Band and appearing on "Slavi's Show" in Bulgaria.
Dobreva studied piano as a child but grew up loving Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, and Stevie Wonder, as well as Bach.
"I wanted to study opera, but I was too skinny, and nobody wanted to take me in their classes," she said in an e-mail exchange. "Once my mother suggested that I could also study pop music, and that's how I started singing."
Even after winning fame as a teenager, she wanted to push herself further musically and enrolled at Berklee, graduating in 2006.
"Berklee was great training for me," Dobreva said. "I learned to be objective, to fight and to defend myself when it needs, to communicate better, and to believe more in myself and in the music in general."
Indeed, Dobreva said artists from Eastern Europe face an uphill battle to win musical acceptance in the West. And while Dobreva loves Western pop, she wants to infuse her solo work with the Bulgarian folk music she also loves.
"As a musician, I would say that the USA is a place where you can meet all different nations and musical styles together, like the African-American jazz and the Spanish hot salsa," she said. "But, as a Bulgarian, I would say that it's extremely difficult, sometimes even impossible, to integrate ourselves into this multicolored world."
She returned to Bulgaria to record "She IS" after a three-year absence. Her reception led to the album's title.
"People couldn't believe that I'm back," Dobreva said, "and whenever they saw me on the street or at any public place, they were asking themselves, 'Is she back? No, it's not her. It's her! No, it's not . . .' and so on, and once my friend turned to them and said: 'Don't you see? It's her!' So, that's how we decided to [use] that title."
After Medford, Dobreva will continue to tour in Chicago and Las Vegas before returning to her current home base in New York City.
She is also working on recording an album in English. The first self-written single, "StronG," is on her website, dessy.us. Her American fan base is growing, she said. She was surprised and pleased that two-thirds of the audience at an appearance last July at Blue Note in New York were American fans.
But even her English songs will have roots in Bulgarian folklore.
"I don't like the concept, used in the pop music, that we all have to be the same, because that's what makes you popular. No. I want to be different, and still melodic and still popular," she said.