“Claude Cahn has worked for several decades on Roma rights issues in Europe, including for eleven years at the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). He regularly purchased market cassettes of Nicolae Guța’s recordings from 1998 until YouTube and other electronic sources ended the need to do so.
Nicolae Guța (pronounced “Ni-ko-lie-eh Goo-tsuh”) is currently among Romania’s best-selling popular musicians, with albums and songs regularly in the top ten of the hit parade. During this 2008 holiday season, close to half of the songs in the top ten are from his latest release. His current selection is a mix of the Bucharest “manele” Balkan disco style, the orientalized and turbo-powered dance music of post-Communism in the Balkans. Never far from tongue-in-cheek, one of his latest videos features Guța, newly shorn of his trademark moustache and now clean-shaven, sitting at for a traditional village Romanian meal, while pretty girls in traditional village Romanian dress line up to kiss him. Last year’s Christmas contribution was a plaintive schlager about the plight of Romanians working abroad, far from their loved ones.
But this essay is not about Guța’s current status as king of the Romanian manele pop style. Rather, it is about the start of his recording career and early rise, via a series of recordings by Guța during the period between his first commercial recording in 1994 and around 2001, before his move to the national stage and the Bucharest sound. During this period, recording primarily with a relatively fixed formation of four musicians from the Romanian Banat (primarily Timiş County, the area around Timişoara), Guța pioneered – first tentatively and then with increasing boldness — a distinctive, original sound, combined with a battery of lyrics, describing a highly stylized Romani existence.
As a result, Guța has played a key role in constructing the idea of the “Chacho Rom” or “Chachuno Rom” — the “real Rom” – in the post-Ceausescu era. To a unique extent, Guța has created, from an existing but to a great extent concealed, underground basis, a Romani lifeworld, replete with a series of set value items and modes of being, the furniture of a particular understanding of what it means to be Romani. Via the medium of post-1989 popular culture, Guța has been instrumental in projecting this value system into the national space, influencing corners of Romanian public and popular culture far beyond the traditional Romani base from which he began. These facts have depended both on the particular genius of the man himself (and of the musicians and sound engineers with whom he has worked), as well as the particular circumstances of the time in which he has developed – the particular conditions of post-1989 Romania.
The brief study which follows sits astride several streams of intellectual inquiry. In the first place, it follows a long tradition of exploring – in print and through ethnographic sound and visual recording – Romani music as a nexus of Romani identities.2 However, distinct from the mainstream of ethnographic practice, this essay contends that technological advances taking place over the past decades – and their extension to even the most excluded Romani communities3 – have meant that today, media such as television, the Internet, and audio recordings have to a great extent wholly or partially displaced older modes of sharing and transmitting Romani music between and among communities, with the communities themselves becoming increasingly at least partially virtual. One implicit contention of this essay is that a pre-occupation with purported “genuine folk communities” or on finding “authentic folk songs”,4 combined possibly with a distaste both for Balkan popular music and/or for the more vulgar aspects of the so-called “World Music” scene has to some extent blinded ethnographers working on Roma from looking more closely at popular music and popular video forms. In this sense, Romani studies has to some extent not kept pace with other areas of Sociology or Ethnography,5 despite the key role identified of media in the theoretical literature on the development of national or ethnic
Secondly, this study follows an anthropological tradition of focusing on ritual events as central for the enactment of the content of particular ethnicities. Writing particularly about Roma in Bulgaria and Macedonia, Carol Silverman has noted,
The sphere of community and family … is of primary concern to Roma, for it is here that Roma achieve recognition and reputation. Families regularly come together to celebrate various rituals, both life cycle — such as circumcisions, weddings and funerals — and calendrical, such as Bajram and Ederlezi — St. George’s Day. In a sense, family members symbolically enact their roles and obligations to each other in ritual. Ritual is not an idle realm of entertainment — it is the cement of the community and accomplishes the work of making people into Roma.7
In this tradition, as Silverman observes, “men have a virtual monopoly on instrumental music”.8 Although no particular ritual events are documented here, the visual and textual material examined owe the ardour9 aspects of their preparation to the specific context of the Romani wedding. In addition, a number of the song texts presented below focus particularly on the ethics of Romani weddings and their participants, as well as Romani marital roles more generally.
Further, a number of the observations below owe an intellectual debt to several streams of literary theory, and in particular the work of Harold Bloom in exploring the relationship of poets to their literary antecedents, set out most explicitly in his 1973 work The Anxiety of Influence.10
Finally, the inquiry is influenced by Jürgen Habermas’s writings on the development of the public sphere.11 Among other points-of-reference, at several points above and below, I use Habermas’s term “lifeworld” to describe the cultural furniture of a particular Romani existence, which is the sense in which I understand Habermas to be using the term (i.e., setting out particular forms against the (possibly false) universality of the public sphere).
In drawing these strands of inquiry together, the study looks at the artistic production of one Romani musician during a period from the mid-1990s to early in the new millenium. The study examines musical and textual material included in a series of sound recordings; images included in the physical packaging of the recorded product (in this case the cassette covers); as well as other relevant tropic materials such as the dedications included with the recordings concerned. The study further examines, to the extent possible, the impact of changing socio-political circumstances, sound recording possibilities and other externalities on the development of a particular artistic vision. Ultimately, however, it deems the particular qualities of the artist crucial to the production of the given artistic vision, an artistic vision ultimately with strong reverberations both inside Romanian Romani communities, as well as beyond them. In so doing, it hopes, among other things, to make a modest contribution to ethnographic practice by facilitating awareness of the possible role of artistic innovation in the electronic recording era in bringing about changes to cultures and within communities, as well as in the public sphere more broadly.12
As will be evident, among other things, the lyrical content reproduced below is not always promotative of the rights of women, to put it mildly. It is not the intention of this essay to glorify the degradation of women. Rather, this essay explores as holistically as possible a stylized account of Romani life – that of one popular musician — which includes elements glorifying the oppression of women, in one southeastern European country – Romania – where a number of modes of oppression of women – including the sexual exploitation of women, as well as violence against women – prevail with only weak, limited checks.
TO BE CONTINUED
Animal metaphors are not incidental to any physical description of Guța. From the reedy man in solid color polyester suits in the early videos – now recently reposted on Youtube – to the ever-more-portly incarnations of the late 1990s and beyond, Guța’s face comes increasingly to resemble a bulldog. His bulbous eyes are planted at a slightly sad angle on either side of…
Coming soon “The Missing Link” continuation of Claude Cahn’s essay on Nicolae Guta
- clau...@gmail.com. The author is grateful to his wife Cosmina Novacovici for extensive assistance with the translation of the texts of songs quoted in this essay, as well as for critical comments on a number of observations included here.
- This is a somewhat different kind of claim to the series of observations concerning “the invention of tradition” included in the volume of the same name edited by Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (Hobsbawm, Eric, and Ranger, Terence (eds.), The Invention of Traditions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
- Vaguely suggestive of brutality is Guța’s past in heavy industry in the town of Petroşani, a mining centre. On several occasions after 1989, miners been summoned to Bucharest to violently quell protests by students and intellectuals. Among many Romani fans, Guța is believed to have actually been a miner. However, his official website (http://personal.nicolaeguta.ro/, accessed 30 January 2009) identifies him as having worked for the railroad.
- See Stewart, Michael, Time of the Gypsies, Boulder: Westview Press, 1997, particularly pp.50-72 and 181-202.
- Someone has recently uploaded videos of these – featuring Romani dancing in the Timiş style and a thin Guța seemingly from a different era — onto YouTube. The direct links are provided with each song.
- Lyrics are not included on Guța cassettes, though the titles of songs are. For a number of reasons, I am not using the Romanian-language orthography used by Guța on the cassettes to render Romani. I use instead spelling more conducive to unequivocal recognition by native English speakers. Thus, for example, I have rendered “Shukar San, Shukar Kheles”, where Guța uses “Şucar san, Şucar cheles”.
- For an excellent exploration of this tension, see Sante, Luc, “The Genius of the Blues”, in New York Review of Books, Volume 41, Number 14, August 11, 1994.
- See Verdery, Katherine, National Ideology under Socialism: Identity and Cultural Politics in Ceausescu’s Romania, Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oxford: University of California Press, 1991.
- May God Grant Me Better Enemies-Nicolae Guța: The Missing Link – Part II
- May God Grant Me Better Enemies-Nicolae Guța: Esteemed Listener – Part III
- “The Greatest Living Gypsy Voice – the claim can stick
- Redefining racism: Romanian dictionary corrects anti-Semitic and anti-Roma words – National Post
- Redefining racism: Romanian dictionary corrects anti-Semitic and anti-Roma words – National Post
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A Railroad Worker from Petroşani Reshapes the Universe”
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Workshop dates for 2013
Original author of the song is Dusko Petrovic. Dusko Petrovic wrote, compose and song for the very first time Cororo at 1969. Here is the sample sing by Romanian Roma singer Nicolae Guta