Heritage with a Human Heart
By Oana Vasiliu
Taraf de Caliu, previously known as Taraf de Haidouks, are probably the most inspired and vital of all “lăutari” – traditional, authentic, Romanian gypsy musicians. Taraf de Caliu includes the founding members of Taraf de Haidouks, but also younger “lăutari” from Clejani (southern Romania): Gheorghe Caliu Anghel (violin), Robert Anghel (violin), Ionică Tănase (dulcimer), Marius Manole (accordion) Viorica Rudăreasa (vocals), Sile Neacșu (contrabass). But what’s with this gypsy music? We’ve been talking with the manager of Taraf de Caliu, Larisa Perde, to understand it better.
SO WHAT IS “GYPSY MUSIC”?
Larisa Perde: “The term ‘gypsy music’ is a very broad one; it is difficult to define it without dividing it into the geographic areas in which it was formed. Being a nomadic people, the gypsies took and left the music wherever they went. For example, gypsy music is different in Russia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia or Macedonia. In the territory of Romania there are several types of gypsy music. Speranţa Rădulescu, one of the most prominent Romanian ethnomusicologists, identifies two large categories and, in turn, they are diversified from a regional point of view. The first category is the music of the more recently sedentary Roma people who usually do not play instruments but only sing, accompanied by improvised percussion instruments: drums, spoons. In southern Romania we have the music of the gypsies, a music that appeared in the 20th century, impregnated with Balkan elements. Initially, there were songs by gypsies for their communities: for weddings, baptisms, funerals, but later they were adopted by Romanian communities, especially those in Bucharest. This music had its peak in the 60s and 70s courtesy of musicians such as Fărămiţă Lambru, Dona Siminca, Romica Puceanu and Gore Brothers who all helped introduce and popularize this type of gypsy music.”
ONCE UPON A TIME…
“It was in the early 80s when ethnomusicologist Speranţa Rădulescu found Taraf de Haidouks and helped them to record their first album. The Taraf’s international recognition began in 1991, when they had their first international tour, promoting their Dumbala Dumba album. The musicians from Clejani have since performed under the Taraf de Haidouks name all over the world in places as culturally diverse as Tokyo, Paris, Singapore, New York, Istanbul, London, Los Angeles. Yehudi Menuhin, the Kronos Quartet, Johnny Depp (with whom they starred in “The Man Who Cried”) and Yohji Yamamoto are among those have fallen under the spell of the music these amazing people produce. In 2002, Taraf de Haidouks was awarded with the BBC World Music prize for Best Group in Europe & Middle East. But after one of the founders of the band Stephane Karo passed away Taraf de Haidouks began to decay.
“Taraf de Caliu” was formed in Romania early last year, when the musicians returned home after a long spell abroad. It was the first time that the musicians performed so many concerts in their own country in their 30 years together. Each concert was a potent mixture of nostalgia and joy that’s sure to induce some tears. It’s a shame their music has taken so long to be welcomed at home, but it’s also a joy to sing for the Romanian people and be appreciated by them”, notes Larisa Perde.
HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS
“As Stephane Karo said, the most fascinating thing about this band is perhaps that no matter how much they travel and what worlds they’ve discovered and been part of, the musicians remain unchanged. They dress the same, they act the same and they sing the same. Not even the fancy scenes in which they mixed in the US, in Mexico, Japan, New Zealand, working with Johnny Depp, Tony Gatlif or even after collaborations with artists such as the Kronos Quartet, Yehudi Menuhin or Yohji Yamamoto, all this has not changed them one iota. Speranţa Rădulescu remembered that at their first concerts in Paris and Geneva, the band, not knowing what to do, started to behave on stage exactly like they did at any wedding. And this really won over their audience. The nature and the sincerity of these musicians can not be dented,” explains Larisa Perde.
Gypsy music has been formed and shaped during key moments of human life: weddings, baptisms, funerals and on travels. It evokes intense, universal live elements such as love, enmity, jealousy, sadness, communion with divinity. Besides the “moral” meanings of this music, the fact that it is formed in certain territories, evoking them, makes this music a double inheritance – spiritual and geographic.
“One of the legendary songs of their repertoire is the song of the shepherd who lost his sheep, a song that came to Caliu from his ancestors. The legend says that a shepherd, angry that he has lost his sheep, called for a lăutar to sing. The violin of the lăutar began to reflect the surroundings, picking up sounds of bagpipes and caval (special pipe). Called by the violin’s song, the sheep returned home, one by one. Seeing this, the shepherd offered to the lăutar some of his sheep,” Larisa recounts. The gypsy music is an inheritance from the point of view of the singing techniques which are passed down from generation to generation. For example, the “hair” technique, invented by master Neacşu Niculae, is taken further by Caliu. For those who do not know it, this technique involves replacing the bow with a string that was previously part of the violin, it sounds divine.
Some say Taraf de Caliu are the last of their kind but this is not the case. Theirs is a story of a band of haidouks (Robin Hoods) who continue to perform. Their music is tough, tumultuous and lively reflecting their own lives. They are currently working on a new album produced by Vinyl, Rum, Tapas & Wine and concerts nationwide will follow. Be sure to catch these amazing musicians.