Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Some Famous (and not so famous) Folk Songs from Romania

I never wanted to be famous.  I only wanted to be great.
Ray Charles

Today's post features music by three female Romanian folk singers. Two of them are almost unknown in the United States. 

We begin with Maria Tanase, born in a suburb of Bucharest in 1913, and best known for her song Ciuleandra. You can find the lyrics here in Romanian, English and German. While you're there, check out the rest of the Songbook for Nearsighted People, a collection of folk songs with translations (mostly in German and some in English).

She became interested in folk singing at a young age and gave many performances in Europe and the United States. Unfortunately she died from cancer shortly  before her 50th birthday. Maria Tanase has often been compared  to Edith Piaf, a French singer from the mid 20th century, because of her sultry voice.

There is a dance to this song, and it's very popular among international folk dance groups around the world.

The next song, also performed by Maria Tanase is Bun ii vinu' ghiurghiuliu.  It has a very danceable rhythm (7/16), and a cimbalom (tambal) accompaniment. You can find the lyrics here.

By the way, Romanian wine is very good, but not easy to find in my area.  I drank some at a friend's graduation party last year which was held in a Romanian restaurant. It was open bar, too!

7/8 or 7/16 is the rhythm for rachenitsa, the national dance of Bulgaria.  When rachenitsa crosses the border into Romania it becomes geampara. 

Aneta Stan is from Dobrogea, in southeastern Romania. She performs songs from all the folklore regions of Romania, however, much of her repertoire is from Dobrogea.

Dobrudja is divided in two parts: Northern Dobrogea in Romania, and Southern Dobrudja in Bulgaria.The spelling is slightly different for each country. For you geography buffs out there, this is the region between the Danube and the Black Sea.

Stan, born in 1944, lived a good portion of her life during the repressive dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu.  He ruled Romania with an iron hand from the mid 1960's until his assassination on Christmas Day, 1989. The borders were surrounded with barbed wire and watch towers, and those who tried  to escape were shot. Ceaușescu's austerity program in that country included the rationing of food, heat and electricity which were sold to pay off Romania's foreign debt.

She is not well-known in the United States, although, according to the interview here in Romanian, she has given concerts all over the world. The places that made the biggest impression on her were Africa, Italy and New York City. During her stay in New York, she volunteered at a hospital and cared for an elderly patient.

She visited the United States during one of her performing tours and her impression was that "America was as gray as Romania" and that at night everything came alive with light. She was probably describing the bright lights of New York City.

The song Cernavoda is about Aneta Stan's home town. It's on the Danube, River of Many Names, in the region of Dobrogea, and has a Bulgarian name which translates to "dark water."

If you listen closely, you can hear a bagpipe (cimpoi). By the way the dance to this is a sirba, and the rhythm closely resembles the Bulgarian pravo horo.

Ileana Constantinescu, born in 1929, is another singer little known outside Romania.  She also used the odd rhythms of Dobrogea in her music (she was born in the region of Oltenia, southern Romania) The song, Dunare (Danube) is an example of schiopa, a rhythm related to Bulgarian daichovo, but with the accents on different beats.

The lyrics to Dunare can be found here, along with a translation in English..This is a very haunting love song with lots of rhythm.  The recording is from the year 1954.

If you enjoyed this, you may also like:

Another Country Heard From: The Bagpipe in Romanian Folk Music

Crossing the River, Part One: Music From the Romanian Folklore Region of Dobrogea

The River of Many Names Part Seven (Another song by Aneta Stan:  Balade Fetei Dunarene with scenes from Cernavoda)

The Cernavoda Blog (blog in Romanian with a playlist of Aneta Stan's greatest hits) with a short bio of the singer.  She was made an honorary citizen of the town in 2003.

Folk Ensembles Named After Dances (includes the dance Ciuleandra).

The "Flavors" of Romanian Sirba

You can also visit my new blog Light and Shadow, with poetry, stories and pictures by (who else?) me!

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  1. "Bun îi vinu' ghiurghiuliu", a loose translation of the first stanza:

    It's so good, the amber wine
    It's so good, the amber wine
    picked late in the autumn
    in a bit of frost, in a bit of snow
    I keep drinking but dont get drunk.

  2. Hi, Anonymous,

    Thanks for the translation. I don't know much about the wines of Romania (the wine I tasted was red) but what you describe sounds like a German wine that I've had many years ago. Most German wines are white (gold) and this sounds like the last of the grapes picked from the vine after a frost. The name is "Trockenbeerauselese" and it is very sweet because the grapes have a high concentration of sugar.

    It will get you drunk fast :)

  3. I'm looking for liryc of rumunien folk song LUME HAJ - could You help me. Hej!!!

    1. Not familiar with this song, and I couldn't find it during a search. Sorry!