Maria Buza,
with Taraful Ciuleandra,
The Gypsies of Wallachia
(ARC, 2001)

We think we know what Gypsy music will sound like. We don't know. All we know is what we see on television or the movies and read in books: Gypsies playing violins. And much of our impression of Gypsy music comes to us from the strains of Hungarian rhapsodies. Still, there is truth in some of these stereotypes.

Gypsy music uses violins, cymbaloms, accordions. There is ecstatic dance, whirling and so forth. While Maria Buza's work with Taraful Ciuleandra is the stuff of National Theatre, restaurant and cabaret performances and TV shows, aside from seeking out a campfire in the woods of Romania or some other rustic setting, it's as authentic as you're going to get today.

The music of this release is feverish and frenetic. Reminiscent of Hungarian rhapsodies, it has long resolves, is characterized by fiddle fever, acoustic bass and clarinet. Buza's voice rises above it all. A wandering clarinet, like a spider dashing across a crowded floor, adds to the flair. The music is punctuated by rhythmic fiddle intervals, and Gypsy clarinet is played like flames of fire by Adrian Chiriac, who graduated from the military Music School and started playing the instrument during his military service in the Romanian army.

More than anything, the CD reveals that Gypsies are still out there and making music in a big way. Buza's hypnotic voice and obvious talents are just the thing to pierce the velvet blanket of night, with its violin blue, its accordion fragrance and clouds and its cymbalom stars. For those of you able to see her, she is also a talented actress and lends a bit of dramatization to the songs.

"Anicuta Neichi Draga" is almost Portuguese sounding, like Fado. Like the other music, it is rapid and melodious and ever orchestral; the thing about Gypsy musicians is, they play together, with "together" being the operative word. The track flows into an instrumental selection that increases in tempo and evokes a whirling Gypsy by the fire, a dancer in a classic step, per our mythological and iconic impression of Gypsies.

In "Lume, Lume," the cymbalom stays in the background, adding a rhythmic "plink" and marking time as the clarinet meanders. Buza's voice carries over it all as a first constant signal then a wavering and vibrato tone, evocative of the emotion of the piece. (Busa is a highly theatrical performer, a graduate of the National Theatre & Film Academy in Bucharest.)

For "Mai Draga Marie" it's the violin of George Mircea Patrascu with melody lines that skitter across the floor of the ocean like a crab, sideways here, then there. George comes from a lautari family ("lautari" is the Romanian way to say Gypsy musicians) with a strong musical tradition, and he began to play the violin at 5.

It's the accordian, as played by Viorel Gheorge, that wanders in "Mi-Am Pus Busuioc in Par" with strains of the East. In Romania he is regarded as one of the best accordion players of the day.

A ciuleandra is a very vigorous dance. The singer keeps encouraging the dancers again and again to go faster and faster. The words, the liner notes tell us, are very old. And while it is not to say "Ciuleandra" is from India, just to give you some idea of the antiquity of Gypsy culture, it is believed by many scholars that the Gyspies are the descendants of a troupe of military musicians "given as a gift" to a noble in a country afar from India. Of interest, certainly, according to books on the Gypsies is that language from as far away as Northern India can be understood by Gypsies in far Western European nations. It is both exciting and unfortunate that the words are so old that a translation could not be supplied.

The music here will not be what you think it will be. But learn to love a real and living tradition through it, forget the movies. This is Gypsy music from the heart of the Gypsy populace.

- Rambles
written by John Cross
published 19 June 2004



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