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Taraf Bucurestilor: keeping the Lăuteri troubadour tradition alive

By Alison Hird

Taraful Bucureştilor are one of the few remaining lăutari bands able to interpret the traditional, accoustic lăutari (Romani troubadour) repertoire as it was played in its hey-day in Romania from the 1960s to 1980s. The five-piece band talk to RFI about inheriting this musical tradition from their fathers and why, despite the trend to electrify and amplify the sound, they believe it will survive.

Lăutari refers to both a class of Romani musicians and their accoustic instrumental and vocal repertoire.

The tradition developed in the early part of the 20th century, notably in the province of Muntania around Bucarest, at weddings between two lautari families.

"What is special is that they play for themselves and their families," ethnomusicologist Speranta Radulescu told RFI. "This music is part of Romani identity. They often cry when they perform."

The five band members were less given to emotion as they prepared to give a rare concert at the Maison des Cultures du Monde as part of the Festival de l'Imaginaire.

"We're all the sons of lautari," says violinist Nicu Ciotoi. "The tradition goes back more than a century. There are no scores, the melodies are handed down from father to son."

"We play by ear," adds cimbalum player Gheorghe Raducanu, "mainly at weddings, for up to 24 hours. Once I played for three days, but admittedly that was 20 years ago."

An uncertain future

Lautari's golden age was between the 60s and 80s when other musicians, including Yehudi Menuhin, and Romanian intellectuals took an interest.

Radulescu says while Taraf Bucurestilor "continue to make a good living for themselves and their families" the advent of synthesisers and bass guitars over the last few years means "the music is changing" and poses a challenge to the accoustic tradition the band defends.

"This music's disappearing," Gheorghe comments with a shrug. "It's less fashionable."

The band's accordionist Ionel Ioinita Cinoi refuses to be brow-beaten.

"I don't think this music will disappear, it will last forever because it's original and extraordinary."

Taraful Bucureştilor (left to right): Ional Ionita Cinoi (accordion, vocals), Nicu Ciotoi (violin), Gheorghe Raducanu (cimbalum), Gicu Petrache (vocals), Ghită Petrescu (double bass).


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