Taraf de Caliu – “Genius at Play”


By Larisa Perde, Label Manager VRTW, in conversation with Douglas Williams

There’s an energy and dynamism to TdC’s music. It’s both ancient and timeless at the same time. What part of Romania do you think TdC speaks to? Where does it come from? 

Speaking ethno-musicologically, their sound is unique in the world, specific to the region of Southern Romania and to their village of Clejani. The village is considered to be the Mecca for Roma music. People from all around the world – journalists, musicians, and fans – come here to learn more about this special music.

TdC is so quintessentially Romanian. And yet, their appeal is international and universal. How do you explain this? 

Music is a universal language. Spiritually speaking, their music is healing, exorcising, bewitching, mind-bending and soul-haunting at the same time. You get all of these at each of their concerts. One time, at the end of their gig, a girl from the crowd jumped up front and kissed the lead singer’s feet! People laugh, people cry, dances spring up, it’s madness! And this state is so hard to get in today’s live music… When you first encounter something like this, you just know it’s genius at play.

What’s the story behind Taraf de Caliu?

In late August, 2016, a promoter friend of mine asked us to set up a Taraf de Haidouks concert in Bucharest. This is how I first found out that the musicians had returned to their village in Clejani and that the band was in a downward spiral because the late Spehane Karo had fallen ill. The musicians were out of gigs and having a tough time.

After thirty  years of international tours, the Haidouks had returned home just as they left… almost unchanged by time, places or people they encountered, and with the same appetite for performing. Although they played on the world’s greatest stages in Tokyo, Paris, Singapore, New York, London, Los Angeles, becoming favourites of the likes of Johnny Depp, Yehudi Menuhin and Yohji Yamamoto, they remain the same humble people from Clejani.

Because it was hard to regroup Taraf de Haidouks at the time, we quickly set up a concert with the violinist virtuoso Caliu and other “lautari” from the village, and called the project “Taraf de Caliu din Clejani.” It was the 22nd of August, 2016 – my first encounter with them – and you can bet I was incredibly nervous about meeting these living legends.

What happened next? Well… it was love at first sight! The concert took place at dawn, in a very hip garden in Bucharest. It started raining towards the end of their performance and this only amplified the energy. People were dancing barefoot in the grass, some of them jumped in the pool, myself included. It was such a magical vibe, unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Then, the unthinkable happened… In November 2016 the man that made Taraf de Haidouks happen, Stephane Karo, died. I unfortunately never had the chance to meet him, but it was clear that he was a special person and all the musicians held him in high regard.

We decided to grow the Taraf de Caliu project under our label – Vinyl, Rum, Tapas & Wine. 

Slowly but surely, the gigs in Romania started to happen on a regular basis, so we went ahead and contacted Margareta, Stephane’s widow, in order to fully bring Taraf de Haidouks on the stage. We unfortunately hit an initial refusal from her that still holds, and as such we understood that sometimes the musical industry is filled with terrifying passion. We then decided to regroup all the remaining founding members of Taraf de Haidouks and start over using the “Taraf de Caliu” band name. The “Taraf de Haidouks” trademark, registered by Stephane in 2014, was out of our reach, and the musicians could not use the name. So, this is why Taraf de Haidouks is today called Taraf de Caliu.

The first gigs were in different places throughout Romania, places where maybe Taraf de Haidouks would have never performed before… a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that they finally got to showcase their talent at home, and a curse because they were downgraded from the world’s greatest stages. I clearly remember an episode when our car broke down during a tour and we had to literally push it to a nearby service station, after which we all sat down on a field and waited. Caliu then had a nervous breakdown, he began crying, he kept repeating that he cannot understand how he got here after all the years of glory. All our rational explanations about the fact that we have no choice but to start over because we cannot use the Taraf de Haidouk name, and the fact that people from Romania were almost oblivious to their former success, was useless in the face of his emotional response. And he was right to feel that way.

Fast forward to today, four years and significant hardship later, Taraf de Caliu has managed to grow an impressive community at home, almost all their concerts being sold out. Music won! And… as an irony, there are Romanians who only now hear about Taraf de Haidouks! One of our greatest sources of joy is the fact that their newfound fanbase is very young, some of them were  even born when the lautari first set off to conquer the world. This is truly music that can live forever!

What did the band do last year and what will they be doing this coming year?

Last year we had many concerts in Romania and we’ve started touring abroad again – Prague, Corsica, Coutances, London, Bruxelles. Also, we continued recording for the album that we intend to release this autumn. It will be the first album of the Haidouks after 5 years.

Our role, as a label and as their managers, is to be gatekeepers of this music, both here at home and everywhere else, and to continue to make history. On an operational level, we are now in charge of their management, direct booking and promotion for Romania and we’re working on their first new album. We’ve also just recently set up an international partnership with 3D Family that we’re very enthusiastic about and Michel Winter, one of the co-founders of Taraf de Haidouks, as tour manager. We began recording for the new album in 2018 and we want this album to represent the true heritage of this unique Southern Romanian sound.

Tell us about the best/biggest/most recent gig that you enjoyed the most please.

We had many memorable concerts and I think all their fans can attest to that. Our last gig was in Cluj at Form Space, a club where we gathered more than 500 people. We had concerts in so different places, and that’s the beauty: Philharmonic, clubs, old gardens, the rooftop of the House of the Parliament, Casa Ceausescu, Clejani. 

Check Taraf de Caliu’s Facebook for news of upcoming gigs.

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