(Image source) After having read an article from Romania Libera (dated March 2011) this morning announcing the introduction of manele classes at Conservatorul din Bucuresti, I was mortified. I had visions of Florin Salam, today's most popular manelist (can't quite get why as he has the voice of an asthmatic cheese-grater) and named in the RL article as the chosen course teacher, rapping his way through the corridors, ghetto-blaster on his shoulder dressed in D&G from head to toe, en route to lecturing students on the importance of bad grammar, and repetitive rhymes whilst promoting utter vulgarity. The Conservatory was no place for that, surely?! To me, manele was the screeching racket one hears blasting from the open windows of taxis - generally anti-social and in bad taste. I posted the article onto my Facebook wall and immediately received two comments parallel to my own horror. I obviously wasn't alone, then.
Other comments began to appear and as they progressed, I realised I had been wrong. Manele was not only what I thought it was. I had no idea that there was 'classical' manele (manele lautaresti) which has nothing whatsoever to do with its 'modern' counterpart. Apparently, it is this 'classical' style which is to be taught - at least, one hopes this will be the case!! If it is, then I have no argument. It can only serve to educate and enrich a student in the knowledge of their own history and encourage musical development. It would also help, I'm sure, clear up the differences between 'classical' and 'modern', for the 'classical' needs promoting, needs to be heard once more. It is really very beautiful indeed.
Links were added to my wall, interesting comments continued... The more I read, the more I realised how ignorant I was. Following the URLs and researching a little deeper, I became fascinated. How could a beautiful old, traditional style have changed so much that the name 'manele' has ended up as the noise today on the streets of Bucharest and beyond? And how come I had never heard of 'classical' manele? Muzica populara (Ioana Radu, Ileana Sararoiu, Gica Petrescu, Nelu Ploiesteanu, Mia Braia...) which also includes muzica de pahar, yes, I know that. It's what I call 'diddly-diddly' and I love it. It's sometimes rapid and breathless, sometimes sad and tragic, always with an air of melancholia and absolutely paints another world, another time - the Bucuresti de altadata. I know the muzica lăutărească (Romica Puceanu, for example) and folk music (Maria Tanase pictured left) with marvellous rhythms that always remind me of a three-legged horse, but as already said, manele was manele, point barre! Never had I heard 'classic' manele mentioned anywhere. So, what exactly is it?
The Romanian-gypsy classical musician and politician Mădălin Voicu makes the difference between the original genre of the manea and today's modern interpreters, calling their work "kitsch and bad taste", "bad merchandise, easy to sing, and only sold to fools at a high price", considering the 'modern' form to be "harmful", "simple music and brain damaging", "a representation of the lack of musical culture in society" and "a fad that is poised to never vanish in the future".
One major difference is that 'classical' manele are a Turkish-derived genre performed by bands (taraf) of lautari (professional clans of largely gypsy musicians) on traditional instruments - often violin, accordion etc, while the 'modern' manele are a mixture of dance, hip-hop/rap, oriental, some Balkanic and strong gypsy influences mostly all electronically synthesised. These songs tell of love but also personal success, wealth, sex appeal and how to get on in the world...
"The first mention of the lăutari", says Wikipedia, "is from 1558 when Mircea Ciobanul, the Voivode of Wallachia, gave Ruste lăutarul (Ruste the lăutar) as a gift to the Vornic Dingă from Moldavia. In 1775 the first lăutărească guild (breaslă), was established in Wallachia. The lăutari were both slave Rroma and free Romanians, but the Rroma were the majority and preferred for their musical abilities. Over time there were also Jewish and Turkish lăutari. Before the 19th century, Rroma musicians were often employed (Sarah's note thanks to Cornelia: actually,they were 'ordered', not 'employed' since they were slaves) to provide entertainment in the courts of the princes and boyars. In the 19th century, most of these musicians settled in the rural areas where they sought new employment at weddings, funerals, and other traditional Romanian celebrations. They were called ţigani vătraşi and were Romanian mother-tongue, or sometimes Hungarian." Wikipedia goes on to explain, "the music of the lăutari is called lăutărească music. There isn't one single musical style of the lăutari, the music style varies from region to region, the best known being that from southern Romania. The lăutărească music is complex and elaborated, with dense harmonies and refined ornamentations, and its execution requires good technique. Lăutărească music should not be confused with Romanian peasant music. The lăutari drew inspiration from all music with which they had contact: the pastoral music of Romania, Byzantine church music and foreign music, most notably Turkish, but also Russian and Western European. While the lăutari drew inspiration from local music, they also influenced Romanian peasant music."
What Wiki terms 'peasant' music is also known as 'folk' music and its inflections change depending on the region it is found. I am told that "during communist times, there was an inflation of popular/folk music leading it to become kitch, such as the music sung by Ion Dolanescu, not too far from the kitch zone of today's "manele". (Thank you, Cornelia!)
We first read of manea (singular) and manele (plural) in Romanian texts dating back to the late 18th to early 19th century, during the period of Turkish suzerainty, as a kind of dance music imported by Phanariotes from Istanbul. This dance had no text. Some of these 'classical' manele have been adapted over the ages.
In the 60's a type of lautareasca manea appeared by adding texts to the geampara, a Turkish lautaresc.
(Left: Nicolae Guta) The modern manele we hear today originated in the '80s and early '90s as underground translations and imitations of Turkish and Arabic songs and were heard sung on the streets of Ferentari, a poor neighbourhood of Bucharest. One of the earliest known manele bands was Azur from Brăila. A well-known Romanian manele singer, Adrian Copilul Minune traces it to a genre known as "turceasca" (Turkish). It continued to develop in other parts of Romania (Oltenia and the Banat) from Serbian musical influences. Singers of the modern style have been accused of plagiarism a number of times, adapting popular songs from Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, without giving due credit. This has not done Romania's general image any favours.
To be sure, modern manele doesn't do much for Romania at all, and certainly doesn't promote it as a country of cultured and intelligent people, for it is most popular in the 'lower strata' of her society, even though one of the commenters on my wall said that French and British tourists had been heard saying they thought it sounded "optimistic and lively". My answer: that's probably because they'd never heard anything like it and didn't understand the words!
For examples of 'classical' manele, please listen to this beautiful haunting piece by Anton Pann or this one by Tudor Gheorghe where he has the audience laughing. These were also posted on my wall and I am very grateful for having discovered them. Thank you! See also HERE. Wikipedia lists Gabi Lunca and Romica Puceanu as notable performers. Please visit this wonderful site dedicated to Romica Puceanu. I did not know that the music she sang was 'classical' manele. For me, that was muzica lautareasca. I have come to the tentative conclusion that muzica lautareasca and 'classical' manele are one of the same. Is that right? Or not? Oh dear. As you see, on n'est pas sorti de l'auberge!! There are so many styles, like a big patchwork quilt, that make up the long musical history of this beautiful and complex country so very dear to my heart. A course at Conservatorul din Bucuresti would be an excellent idea!
Next day, 16th October: Okay, it's now much clearer, one day on, thanks to Cornelia who left a very good explanation below this post. I have made some corrections and ammendments to yesterday's entry as a result. I hope now it's a little less erroneous! Please go and take a look at Cornelia's comment and follow all her great links. It definitely helps to hear examples so that one can ascertain the instruments, rhythms, styles and thus, differences. The real gypsy music with nothing whatsoever to do with modern manele such as THIS and THIS, I have not included above mainly due to text length and the enormity of all these different, wonderful styles which actually calls for another blogpost devoted just for that. Please, please do check out Cornelia's links below. You will be sure to love them. How often does one see a guy playing the violin with a piece of string?!? Rest in peace Nicolae Neacsu. What a marvellous musician. Thank you so much, Cornelia!