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.

Un ţigan avea o casă, mama mea,
doi copilaşi şi-o nevastă –
ţiganca era frumoasă
de-i făcea lumină-n casă,
ţiganu’ cam urâcios,
urâcios şi mofturos…

Mai venea şi noaptea beat, mama mea,
şi-şi bătea nevasta-n cap –
ţiganca s-a supărat,
şi-a luat drumu’ şi-a plecat,
şi-a plecat la Calafat,
c-un boier s-a măritat.

Plânge Leana şi Tincuţa, of of of,
plâng mereu dupã mãicuţa,
ţiganul s-a întristat,
după ţiganc-a plecat,
ani de zile-a colindat
şi-a găsit-o-n Calafat.

Trecând pe lângã o poartã, mama mea,
copilaşii-au chiuit:
uite-o, taică, pe măicuţa,
uite-o colo pe terasă,
uite-o colo pe terasă,
stă cu boierul la masă!

Ţiganca când i-a văzut, mama mea,
tot părul din cap şi-a rupt!
n-a mai vrut nici avuţie,
nici un fel de bogăţie
că s-a-ntors cu ei acasă
şi de-atunci e mai frumoasă.

A Gypsy once had a house, mama,
two little kids and a wife –
the Gypsy woman, she was beautiful,
she lit up his house,
he was rather peevish,
morose and fastidious (like my English? :) ).

At night he’d come home drunk, mama,
and beat his wife right in the head –
the Gypsy woman got mad,
took for the road and left,
and left to Calafat,
married a boyar*.

Leana and Tincuţa are crying, alas!,
they’re crying for their mother,
the Gypsy felt saddened,
he left to fetch her,
he wandered for years
and found her in Calafat.

As they passed by a gate, mama,
the children cried out:
look, daddy, there’s mommy,
there she is on the terrace,
there she is on the terrace
sitting at the table with the boyar!

When the Gypsy woman saw’em, mama,
she pulled out the hairs from ’er head!
She didn’t want wealth anymore,
she didn’t care for abundance,
she returned home to them
and is even more beautiful ever since.

* Back in the days, a boyar was a nobleman in Moldova and Wallachia. You’re still called a boyar if you live a life of luxury, but this song is so damn old it refers to the original meaning.

Alright, here’s the version by the Taraf de Haïdouks. Note the instrumental (less orchestra, more taraf) and Romani-language interjections. Definitely more authentic. The lyrics are more colorful as well. Fun to hear the Gypsy addressing the wealthy gentleman: “If you speak Gypsy language, take her as she is / If you speak like a boyar, I’ll decapitate you like a fish”. Classy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *