Yes ladies and gentlemen, time to learn about Nicolae Guţă (NEEK-OH-LIE GOOTSA), the man who was King of All Romanians before I came along.
To understand Romania, you must understand who this man is and the kind of music he sings, known as manele.
If you walk up to any normal Romanian and say “hey that manele song is really catchy. It’s got a beat and I can dance to it” they will immediately scowl, spit in your face and most likely never speak to you again as long as you live. They will disinherit you, scratch out all the cartouches with your name on them in the family tomb and tell everyone you are “dead to them”.
Yet at the same time, manele music is EVERYWHERE in Romania, it has its own superAWESOMEmegaFUN TV channel and CD sales are super brisk. And yet absolutely NO ONE will ever admit to liking it or listening to it. What gives?
To begin with, you need to understand what a rroma is, aka a “gypsy” in ordinary English. I’ll write another blog post about that later.
Long story short, gypsies are everywhere in Romania. And before the modern era, one thing they specialized in was called muzica lăutărească. You can click on the link but essentially bands of gypsy musicians would amble around the countryside of Romania and sing and play music for weddings and other festivals.
Note: Many Romanians will freely admit they like muzica lăutărească. Nothing shameful about it.
So what’s manele? Well essentially some gypsy musicians (and Nicolae Guta among them) decided to blend old-school muzica lăutărească with some Balkan type music, add some electronic synthesizers and “jazz it up” a bit. Just imagine a metaphorical blender where you take violin-heavy wedding music, cheap 1980’s synth rhythms, Turkish/Middle Eastern wailing and BZZZZZZ make a musical smoothie out of it. That’s manele!
Or the musical part of it, which is half the fun. The other half of the “fun” is the lyrics, which are essentially EXACTLY THE SAME as “urban rap” in the United States. You know, fast cars, getting wasted, lots of chicks, I’m a bad ass, you name it.
So to most Romanians, manele is a “cheap” and “corrupted” form of traditional music (the muzica lăutărească) mixed with very vulgar and trashy lyrics. All true. No doubt about it.
Fun fact: Most other Balkan countries, especially Serbia (called “turbofolk”) and Bulgaria, also have their own kinds of manele.
Nicolae Guta is the king of Romania because 1) he was one of the first modern manele singers in Romania and 2) he pumps out literally 5,824 songs per year, YEAR AFTER YEAR AFTER YEAR. The guy is a singing machine.
To truly understand Guta and manele, you absolutely MUST watch this video EVEN IF you don’t speak one word of Romanian! It has all the classic elements of a manele song. Follow along and sing if you know the words :P
1- Boastful lyrics – the name of the song translates to “If you’re lucky, you’re lucky” meaning he was born a lucky son of a gun and he doesn’t care if you know it. So in your face with a can of mace!
2- Throwing money – obviously vulgar but no good gypsy band can resist showing money being thrown around. This video is a personal favorite of mine because the notes on the floor are all EUROS ;)
3- Weird fat VIP kid – every rich honcho throwing a party in Romania inevitably has a little fat-faced boy. Always. It’s like a law. Don’t ask why!
4- Crappy dancing – even though people genuinely LOVE this song, the dancing looks stiff and awkward. Why? Because it’s essentially a weak copy of traditional dancing but the music’s wrong so people kind of shuffle a bit and try to look like they know what they’re doing.
5- Girls dressed up to the nines – and beyond! MANDATORY at all Romanian functions. Trust me ;) Even if to YOU it looks like they’re stuffed into semi-prostitute type clothes, THEY DON’T CARE. So shutta ya face!
6- Shiny gold sax – no Romanian party can exist without at least one shiny gold saxophone. It’s in the Constitution.
7- Singer wearing lots of “bling” – Gypsies have their own internal codes and it’s a mandatory requirement to wear lots of GOLD. Rappers in USA wear lots of diamonds. Gypsies prefer gold ;)
8- Boastful lyrics – Basically the entire song is “damn I make so much money and yahoo I’m awesome”
9- Low video budget – 99.9% of all manele videos cost around five bucks US to produce OR LESS. These guys are MASTERS at doing the whole thing in one take – cinematic GENIUSES I tell ya. You can see this video was shot inside a club, complete with an unintentional pan to a Marlboro logo. Think the Marlboro people know about this? I SINCERELY DOUBT IT LOL
10- Ugliest girl dresses the “sluttiest” – harsh but true. Another Iron Law of Manele Videos. Learn them all!
Now when you hear this song/watch this video you will have one of two reactions:
Puke! It’s horrible! Sounds crappy and stupid and I hate it
This will win you many smiles and hands of friendship from your Romanian associates and they will breathe deep and smile and consider you a wonderful and enlightened person and give you the password to their super secret but awesome salon where you can sit by a fire in leather chairs and sip fine brandy out of a decanter brought to you by a butler in “coat and tails” and debate philosophy and just be loved by everyone.
Wow! Catchy tune! I like it. Where can I get my hands on more examples of this finely crafted musical genre?
Run for the hills! The only Romanians who will ever speak to you again are filthy bums with two teeth in their mouths who constantly cadge cigarettes and drive burnt-out scooters at 5 kph up hills and wear ugly track suits and put tons of gel in their hair. And they’re just being nice to you so they can wheedle money or smokes from you. Even they don’t like you!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!!!