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Career pathways for Roma musicians 07/08/2018

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If you are a Romanian Roma musician, you have, very crudely speaking, two career pathways open to you: you can “manele up”, or you can go down the traditional music route.

To take the manele career path first. If you ask a Romanian what manele is, they’ll probably tell you “Gypsy music”, but this is not strictly accurate. It’s party music made by Roma to exploit Romanians. It’s fun and often cheap and tacky, and can sound vaguely oriental. Sample lyrics may include such gems as “You know that I’m sorry / I was with another girl / My heart belongs to you.” The words generally celebrate the singer’s virility, cunning and wealth. It’s customary to throw notes of money at the musicians at live manele performances. Top manelist Dan the Badger has diversified by founding a school for aspiring performers. And as BBC2 documentary The New Gypsy Kings reveals, some may have connections to the Romanian underworld.

The other end of the scale is populated by the likes of Fanfare Ciocarlia and the brilliant Taraf de Haïdouks, dubbed the best band in the world by Johnny Depp. They perform ferociously fast traditional music. The most successful gypsy bands get to travel the world. Taraf de Haïdouks used the money they earn from touring to bring electricity to their village.

But there are two problems. They lack protection and cannot rely on the police to provide it. Putting on international tours requires credit, and according to members of Taraf de Haïdouks, Romanian banks are reluctant to give it to Roma musicians. They resort to borrowing from loan sharks, and their income from tour appearances may barely cover their debts. Their amazing female vocalist is shown earning a pittance making bricks by hand in the BBC2 documentary.

Clearly Taraf de Haïdouks need a better manager. A hard-headed negotiator and creative strategist who can cut deals and organise stunning global tours. I’m up for it. To be honest, I’ve never managed anything more challenging than a busy inbox, and I wasn’t very good at that. But I can gen up with a copy of Music Management for Dummies and learn as I go. This could be the dawning of a new era for all things Romanian.


Romanian exports 26/09/2016

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You don’t need to go to Romania to experience Romanian culture. Thanks to the Romanian diaspora, Romanian music comes to you if you live in Offenbach, near Frankfurt in Germany.
I spotted this poster for manele star Sorinel Pustiu in the centre of Frankfurt while I was wandering through my old haunts in Frankfurt. I lived in the German financial metropolis for about six weeks, but it would be more accurate to say that I lived in Little Romania. Frankfurt is now a building site, and the Turkish café downstairs is now a shisha bar, but some things don’t change. There’s still a tiny off-licence round the corner where you can pull up a pew and have a brew if that’s what takes your fancy, and Offenbach is still a destination for Romanian cultural exports.sorinel_pustiu_in_offenbach-001

Manele before manele was born 01/02/2016

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I’ve stumbled across an intellectual discussion on the evolution of manele. To Romanian ears, that last sentence might sound like a full-on contradiction. Ask a Romanian what manele is, and they may well answer “gypsy music”.

Not so. Manele or maneaua is music made by gypsies to exploit Romanians. To which it should be added: music made by gypsies to exploit Romanians with the lowest possible investment of lyrics, talent, instruments and production values. You have to listen to it to understand how bad it is – and how much fun it is. And not really understanding the lyrics is not a significant obstacle.

The high-brow discussion highlights what it calls “proto-manele” where the genre began to evolve from state-sanctioned folk music in the 1980s into today’s manele. It highlights Magdalena by Nicolae Răceanu on YouTube as a crucial turning point.

Compare this to Răceanu’s La Constanţa-n cazino, which features all the typical manele low production values (and dance moves). I have the eerie feeling that I’ve heard the backing track before, and I’m now convinced it’s the same or similar to Cânt mereu by Liviu Pustiu, as featured on Manelomania Vol. 1 around 2002. Which would only confirm my point about minimum investment for maximum returns.

I don’t want your money 22/01/2012

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Why translate manele? Because I can. It’s true: aside from commercial Romanian pop, song lyrics are beyond me. But manele I can just about manage. And because the world needs to know that the lyrics are so bad – even when it’s such fun.

Sorinel Copilul de Aur si Laura Vass feat. Susanu – I don’t want your money (Nu vreau banii tai)

2005 .. Guess who has returned to smash the charts… The Golden Boy… Laura Vass… And Susanu… And
Come on, let’s start the nervous system, maestros…
[Laura Vass]:
I don’t want your money, I’m not on the make
If you had been poor, I still would have chosen you Read the full lyrics for

Who is my heart? 26/08/2011

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Ah, manele! Sometimes it’s so bad, it’s good, especially when you have drama, passion and a duet from top-notch manelisti Sorinel “The Golden Child” and Laura Vass. You’ll find the video on YouTube, but comments have been disabled, probably due to the commentators’ foul language and vitriolic anti-gypsy tirades.

Sorinel Copilul de Aur (Sorinel “The Golden Child”) & Laura Vass – Cine e inima mea? (Who is my heart?)

What has happened, why don’t you want me anymore?
I know you love me, I can see in your eyes
Even if I cheated on you, today I’m sorry
I wish from my soul to be yours again

I believed in you but I deceived myself
I saw you with another girl when you were kissing
I’m not worthy of that, I loved you too much
I listened to your fake whispers of love

Who is my heart? Who is my love?
Tell me what made you leave my life
You’ve lied to me since I’ve know you, and I realised too late
Go on, go to her forever, I can’t put up with you any longer
I know that I’m your heart, I know that I’m your love
I will never ever leave your life my love
I’m asking for your forgiveness, my life, I’m asking for your forgiveness before you
And from my heart I promise you that I will not lie to you again
(Repeat chorus)

For whole nights I cried and my eyes burnt
Now you’re crying too and asking me to come back
You know that I loved you, but I can’t forgive you
You can say anything to me, but I no longer believe you

Why are you behaving so badly towards me now?
Do you want me to end up crying like a madman?
I know I messed up and I want you to forgive me
I’m guilty and you can (forgive me) so that you can scold me


Translation by Daisy Waites

Alina – Manele in translation 23/01/2010

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Manele – I know it’s bad and I shouldn’t like it, but I do. Here’s a sample of a typical manele song in translation.

Alina by Viorel Ciolac

I (x2):
I would spend all my money with the girl I like
And I would give it all to her to have her for a night

Chorus (x2):
Alina, Alina
I want you to be only mine
Alina, Alina
I will love you all my life

II (x2):
It doesn’t matter how I make money if I’m clever
All my enemies die of envy because I’m intelligent

Chorus (x2)

III (x2):
Many girls would like to have me for a night
But I can’t love them when I feel you’re close