Romanian Roots: Essential 10 Albums | Songlines
Monday, November 11, 2019

Romanian Roots: Essential 10 Albums

Simon Broughton recommends some of the best Romanian albums, from Taraf de Haidouks and Fanfare Ciocărlia to The Balanescu Quartet



The Balanescu Quartet

Maria T (Mute Records, 2005)

Alexander Balanescu turns to his Romanian roots here. Maria T refers to the singer Maria Tănase (1913-1963) often described as ‘the Romanian Piaf’. In ‘Life and Death’, Balanescu weaves ecstatic countermelodies around her signature song ‘Lume Lume’. 


Oana Cătălina Chițu

Divine (Asphalt Tango, 2013)

This fine singer has recorded both Romanian tango and, here, repertoire from Maria Tănase. The songs take on a dark Oriental tone with Chițu’s chiaroscuro alto voice. She’s backed by a superb ensemble of violin, accordion, sax, guitar, cimbalom and bass. One of our picks of the year in 2013.


Fanfare Ciocărlia

Queens & Kings (Asphalt Tango, 2007)

These Gypsy brass players are one of the busiest bands in the Balkans. Here they play host to a selection of Roma stars including Esma Redžepova, Šaban Bajramović, Mitsou and manele (Gypsy pop) star Dan Armeanca. A Top of the World in #43: ‘surely the most irrepressible Gypsy disc of the year.’ 


Fulgerica & The Mahala Gypsies

Gypsy Music from the City of Bucharest (World Connection, 2002)

The music of Bucharest’s lăutari Gypsies has sadly waned in recent decades, but this was a superb release highlighting the beauty and sophistication of their music. Infectious stuff. Reviewed in #16.


Toni Iordache

Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol 4 (Asphalt Tango, 2007)

The Hungarians invented the concert cimbalom, but the țambal (its Romanian name) is an essential part of Bucharest’s Gypsy bands. The brightest star was Toni Iordache (1942-1988) and these recordings from the 1960s and 70s are from Bucharest’s lăutari bands’ heyday in Asphalt Tango’s brilliant Sounds of a Bygone Age series. It also includes superb vocalists Gabi Luncă and Romica Puceanu. Reviewed in #45.


Mahala Rai Banda

Mahala Rai Banda (Crammed Discs, 2004)

After the success of Taraf de Haidouks, the next project of Stéphane Karo and Michel Winter was this, something like a meeting between Taraf de Haidouks and Fanfare Ciocărlia. It brings together their violin, accordion and cimbalom with punchy brass and percussion, supercharged with input from DJ Shantel. Unbeatable party music. A Top of the World in #28.


Taraf de Haidouks

Honourable Brigands, Magic Horses and Evil Eye (Crammed Discs, 1994)

All the early Taraf albums were superb and this is their second with the wonderful old veterans – Nicolae Neacşu (violin), Ion Manole (voice) and Cacurică (cimbalom), and the young guard, Caliu (violin) and Ioniță (accordion). The latter take the lead in the more contemporary ‘Geamparale’ and ‘Turcească’.


Gheorghe Negrea

Dance Music from Old Time Chioar (Ethnophonie, 2011)

Romania has a superb series of traditional music CDs overseen by Speranța Radulescu in Bucharest. Nearly 30 albums range from brass bands in Moldavia and fiddlers in Oaş, to Jewish music in various regions. This album is from a celebrated family band in northern Transylvania playing superb dance tunes in a tradition that has all but died out.


Various Artists

Romania: Music for Strings from Transylvania (Chant du Monde, 1992)

The string bands of Transylvania, which were always more ethnically mixed, have a completely different style to those elsewhere in the country. Due to the large Hungarian minority, many discs of Transylvanian music have been released on Hungarian labels. This is a superb collection of Romanian music from Central Transylvania as well as Maramureş and Oaş in the remote north-west.



Suburban Bucharest (Trikont, 2004)

Compiled by Romanian music specialist Grit Friedrich, this is an unbeatable collection of mahala music from the suburbs of Bucharest dating from 1936 to 2004. From Maria Tănase, through Gypsy lăutari stars to the popular manele hits like Mahala Rai Banda’s ‘Eşti Sexy’ (You’re Sexy). This is a history of Bucharest’s Gypsy music scene on one album.

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