They steal horses, don’t they? (Căpitane de judeţ / To a county captain)

In Romanian, when someone gets a good beating, one can say they hit him like a horse thief. That’s what usually happened to horse thieves when they were caught. And in the rural regions of Wallachia and Moldova there were a lot of thieves and rustlers hiding out in the thickets.

Sure, the forests aren’t that shady nowadays and thieves usually get a fair trial after the beating, but the game’s still on. In fact, I’m pretty sure somewhere in Romania a horse is being stolen as we speak.

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Lie, ciocârlie

Not unlike Mr. Shelley, Romanians have always admired the skylark, a small bird often found nesting in cornfields and famous for singing while in flight. This song is a great example of a doina, a weeping, monophonic tune which Wikipedia can tell you more about.

Melancholy is brought to you by “the Gorj Nightingale”, Maria Lătăreţu (1911-1972).

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Codin (În pădure la Daimac / In the forest at Daimac)

Here’s a ballad from Gorj, Oltenia. You guessed it, it’s about death. Oh! what a surprise. More specifically, the song is about a handsome young Rudar Gypsy who has a nasty logging accident because he didn’t heed his mother’s advice.

Update: A little bird told me the author of this ballad is Oltenian folk singer Ion Dolănescu, who stumbled over the story of young Codin of Buduhala sometime during the ’70s. (He was reprimanded by the regime for describing a thieving Gypsy as somewhat of a hero).

Right next door to Teleorman, Oltenia is a region ripe with folklore and I’m pretty sure many local singers covered this pretty little song but I once again chose Ionel Tudorache‘s version. While he hails from Buzău, he’s as close as possible to what a real lăutar should sound like, without becoming poppy or academic, or falling prey to Communist-style delusions of grandeur.

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Here’s one about a river. Săbărelu’

More from folklore-rich Teleorman region. This is a song about the Sabar river, a 90-mile long lowland tributary of the Argeş, known for being completely unremarkable, except for… well, the one time it was mentioned in a folk song :). Sung here by Viorica of Clejani, but also covered by the Taraf de Haïdouks or Communist-era icon Ion Dolănescu.

BTW, the name Teleorman itself (Deli orman) is Turkish for “crazy forest”, hinting towards ancient Cumanic influence or, more recently, Ottoman expeditions meeting up with all kinds of thieves, rustlers and murderers. No vampires though.

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Lume, soro lume / World, sister world

Yet another dark, brooding folk standard about how life is so damned ephemeral. Mentioned as having been taught to famed virtuoso Grigoraş Dinicu (you can hear his Hora Staccato in music schools everywhere) by an old Gypsy called Zamfir around 1900. Here we have Bucharest-born Maria Tănase‘s clean, canonical recording (“authentic folklore” purists may sneer).

The song has been covered by countless artists, both Romanian and foreign. Enjoy, just don’t let the tempo & lyrics bum you out. Goes well with Deschide, gropare, mormântul.

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Romica Puceanu’s famous Şaraiman

Here’s a brilliant lăutăresc love song played by Gypsies in Wallachia. Hundreds of years of Ottoman overlordship have left their mark – the wailing aahs and oohs :) – on our music.

Romica Puceanu‘s 1970′s version is very well known around here, though this song has been covered numerous times by (crappy) commercial artists who saw its Oriental flavor as more of a novelty.

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Un ţigan avea o casă / A Gypsy once had a house

Cheesy ballad about a Gypsy fellow who owned a house (that’s songworthy already! – historically, as slaves to wealthy landowners and Orthodox monasteries, Gypsies lived in tents or crude hovels) and who didn’t think there was anything wrong with domestic violence. A standard of Wallachian folklore (more specifically, Teleorman and Oltenia regions), this song has been sung by such artists as Romica Puceanu and, more recently, the Taraf de Haïdouks.

But here’s the best known version, sung by Maria Tănase (known as Mary Atanasiu or “Romania’s Edith Piaf”), a famous Bucharest-born chanteuse of “polished” folklore who was active between the ‘30s and ‘60s.

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Deschide, gropare, mormântul / Gravedigger, open up the grave

One of the more abyssal songs of Romanian Gypsy lăutăresc repertoire. Best known version belongs to “Romanian Cesaria Evora” Romica Puceanu, however I chose the clean contemporary approach of Ionel Tudorache’s taraf.

It’s not only the cynical lyrics! The droning, repetitive cimbalom in the background and the weeping accordion make for one hell of a memento mori.

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