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Career pathways for Roma musicians 07/08/2018

Posted by allthingsro in music, Uncategorized.
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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.


Teo and the Gypsies 11/11/2012

Posted by allthingsro in quirks.
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Teo was a teacher I met while I was a teaching assistant in Onesti. On a school trip to Iasi, we saw a Gypsy girl with her mother and father. “Doesn’t she look pretty?” we exclaimed, as she hopped after her parents, the tiers on her white and pink spotted dress bouncing.
Another time, Teo arrived prior to a Sunday morning shopping trip much worse for wear. “The Gypsies playing at the bar wouldn’t let me leave! They just kept playing and telling me to dance,” she explained as she sipped coffee.
We filled in together for another teacher with the seventh grade. After class I remarked, “Why is that boy so much taller than the others?” “The Gypsy boy? He re-sat the first year of school three times. But then he was in my class, and I was so good with him, he made it.” Teo wasn’t like the other teachers: “Doing nothing in class and then full power in private lessons.”
One day a Gypsy woman came to her after class. She wanted Teo’s help to fill in an application for social security. “You know better than me.” Teo was bemused.
It’s hard not to pick up negative attitudes towards Gypsies. I already know what I’ll tell Delphi about my flight to Bucharest this year: “At passport control in Bucharest, we were behind these Roma women. And of course one of them didn’t have her passport or her identity card, she just pulled this photocopy out of her bag…” But Teo gave me hope. She saw Roma as different, but she wasn’t hostile towards them.
Teo taught private lessons and, like so many young teachers, she wanted to get out of teaching, so she was studying finance part-time. “My salary is the same as the woman who sweeps the street.” She wanted a job in a bank and a VW Tiguan. I wonder if she made it.

A close Roma encounter 26/02/2012

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Autumn 2010. Flatmate and I are watching a documentary about Roma in the UK. Or benefit scroungers, in Daily Mail parlance. The documentary is incredibly narrow in focus: you would believe that Roma subsist purely on UK and begging, with passing  for Muslims being the scheme du jour.

It gives no mention of copper wire. Or manele. It doesn’t mention the King of the Gypsies and all his finery.

A few days later, I’m opposite a Roma at the self-checkout at Sainsbury’s Ealing Broadway. She sells the Big Issue outside Marks & Spencer’s. She’s always alone, no begging kids in tow.

Roma woman is trying to scan a Cheese Straw. It has no bar code, no sticker, nothing remotely approaching anything scanable. I step in and help her complete the transaction. She thanks me and leaves the store. I wish I had bought her some fruit.