From The Archives 05 - Mahala Sounds of Romania


July 7, 2015

At the beginning of the '90s, after the fall of the communism regime, a distinctive but blurry map of cultural capitalism took shape in Romania, with lots of intersections, exceptions and indistinct borderlines. People started to embrace the values of a new and forgotten democracy; since the censorship was no longer an important issue, a lot of Romanian musicians and bands started to extend their audio recordings to wider audiences.

The pseudo-underground music retreated further in the 80s as isolation increased. Experimental bands disappeared or transformed, releasing only naively utopian, easy listening tunes and albums. But in partial isolation other genres emerged, unexpected mutants like proto-manele, kind of working-class party/restaurant music, or an Indian-Oriental 8-bit combination. Amongst the most significant bands of this decade are Generic, Azur, Albatros, Tomis Jr., Ingerii Negri, Real B., Novomatic and others. None of them will make it into mainstream come the end of the decade.

Most of the proto-manele bands were released on the Romanian record label Eurostar, which started producing music on vinyl records made in their factory, then diversified its activities by going to the production of audio cassettes, video CDs and DVDs. Most of the bands were produced by Paul Stanga, a young proto-manele mogul manufacturer - at that time. Since the cassette format was the most accessible, very few bands made it on wax.

The music from that decade ('89 to '99) - which is partly featured on this mixtape - is produced rudimentary, with naive orchestrations and simple (but meaningful) lyrics, often dealing with generic themes like loss, love, poverty, alcoholism, ethnic racism (especially gipsy), small illicit business, migration experience, melodramatic chants and love laments.

After 2000, the music industry got swamped by a huge number of manele bands and singers. Romanian manele - the contemporary Rroma music that has spread around the Balkans with different flavors and modulations - is living off the wedding industry. Musicians release singles and YouTube videos just to ensure the flow of wedding gigs (similar to dabke or halay artists). Sometimes the music is hybridized with pop and dance beats in an attempt at the mainstream, but local manele stars usually earn their main money at mafia bosses' family events. Around 2005, Manele music started to become a cultural issue for the masses and produced a radical schism between different generations and social layers.

This special episode of our From the Archive Podcast comprises a selection of songs from the first wave of proto-manele ('89 - '99), all compiled into a continuously vinyl DJ mix. Tune in, turn on, let the party start !
*photo credits: Bianca Chica-Ros


  • Romica Puceanu

    Ce frumoase's fetele (1982)

  • Nelu Vlad și Formația Azur

    Nu-mi dau inima (1990)

  • Dumitru Dragon și Formația Trubadurii

    La o masă mai retrasă (1991)

  • Costel Geambașu și Formația Odeon

    Lema, Lema (1991)

  • Dan Ciotoi și Formația Generic

    Adela (1991)

  • Meridian

    De câte ori am tresărit (1992)

  • Nelu Vlad și Formația Azur

    Zîna Zorilor (1990)

  • Formația Albatros

    La Malo (1991)

  • Formația Bravo

    La Malo (1992)

  • Formația Tomis Junior

    Țiganul (1994)

  • Formația Albatros

    Adio, dragul meu (1991)

  • Formația Bravo

    Aman Aman (1992)

  • Dumitru Dragon și Formația Trubadurii

    Cami (1991)

  • Dan Armeanca

    Can Maraulan (1992)

  • Formația Tomis Junior

    Luminiță, scumpă stea (1994)

  • Costel Geambașu și Formația Odeon

    Fata din tramvai (1991)

  • Meridian

    Corina (1992)

  • Nelu Vlad și Formația Azur

    Regina nopții (1990)

  • Real B

    Alba-neagra (1993)

  • Îngerii Negri

    Instrumentală (1994) cassette only

Contributed By

Dragoș Rusu

Co-founder and co-editor in chief of The Attic and allround music adventurer.

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