An entirely subjective and limited view based more or less entirely on what I’ve seen on TV, since I rarely, if ever, listen to the radio.
Popular Romanian music can be divided into two categories – Romanianised western pop music and manele. Manele is this musical style which is apparently insanely popular, for no good reason. It’s the music of the barrio (or whatever the Romanian word for barrio is) and it is based (very obviously) on Turkish music. I feel I should like it just because it is a musical style beloved of the urban and rural proletariat and sneered upon by the middle classes, and being British and therefore class-obsessed, manele should trip all my right-on buttons. But, like Country and Western, I can’t get into it at all. It’s not half as good as the Turkish music it’s based on, it’s not really what anyone with any options would choose to listen to or dance to, and it has this really weird chav-ish subculture in which all the singers (it seems) are named like wrestlers – there’s “Adrian The Wonder Child” and “Sorinel the Kid” for example - and drive Mercs or BMWs.
(The middle class hatred of manele and desire to sweep it under the carpet and pretend that it doesn’t really exist led to a movement to ban it on TV for a while, which sounds incredible. Not quite sure why it provokes such a strong reaction since it’s basically just rubbish and you could quite easily ignore it by the simple expedient of not listening to it, which is the way I manage. I’ve never been seized by a compulsion to outlaw it and boycott TV channels that dare show it.)
Romanian pop music (of the Western pop music Romanianised form) I hear a lot more of because Bogi has recently discovered the delights of MTV and has been spending almost as much time watching it as she does Minimax. Most major streams of music are covered by the top bands of the moment. There are Romanian rappers, for example, and Romanian rockers (the rockers don’t tend to make it on to MTV though, just play music festivals, like felsziget, around the country). There is also a growing number of those X feat. Y type acts, reflecting this trend elsewhere.
Then there is a strand of groups that play Romanian versions of Latin American music (I think it’s part of the “remember we’re Latin” thing that is quite big in Romania, and an obvious bulwark against the “let’s try not to think of ourselves as Balkan” thing which is possibly behind the anti-manele campaigners). One of the most popular is this bloke called Pepe, who is like a much much uglier version of Enrique Iglesias. His videos always feature him being fawned over by large numbers of beautiful women, and in so doing clearly provide a public service in upping the self-esteem of the terminally ugly. “Look, if Pepe can get women, anyone can!”. One of the others going around at the moment is quite a catchy little number called Soarele Meu by a band called Mandinga, which I’ve heard often enough now to pretty much know the words to.
But the largest proportion of MTV Romania’s airtime is given over to boy bands. This is, I’m sure, as a result of the vast pan-global popularity of O-Zone and “that numa numa song” from last year. But this, to me, presents an interesting paradox. Romania is a pretty macho country and male stars tend to be pretty Male with a capital M. But boy bands, by their very nature, are made up of androgynous a-sexual post-teenage-boys, so as not to freak out the pre-pubescent girls (and the pre-pubescent girls’ parents) who are their principal target market. To give an example, one of Bogi’s current favourites is a band called 3 Sud-Est who have this current hit with “Cu capu-n nori”. It’s a bland piece of pop pap as you might expect, but the video is as camp as a row of tents. There are women in it, but it definitely looks like they’re there because videos have to have women in them. You wonder how these blokes deal with everyday life. Do they affect gruff voices and stand on the terraces at Steaua chewing sunflower seeds as a proof of their masculinity?
This brief overview has obviously left out vast swathes of musical diversity, such as some really really great gypsy music, and I really need to one day write about the baffling affinity for a band called Modern Talking who no-one else in the world seems to have heard of, but this will have to do for now.