Roma singers and lute players have been a constant presence when it comes to different celebrations and festivals. Today, few are the ones still singing this type of traditional music. Thus, it is important to understand the history of such artist through the lens of famous lute players and bands.


No matter if we speak about celebrations organized by the nobility, weddings, baptisms or funerals of peasents or the parties that were taking place in the most famous restaurants in Bucharest, such as „Capșa„ or „Caru cu Bere”, Roma lute players were a mandatory presence because of their native musical talent and the way they knew how to entertain. ”There was not such thing as a party without Roma singers,” says Viorel Cosma in his book, Roma Artists from present and past.

Barbu Lăutaru or Vasile Barbu as it was his real name, is considered the first big traditional Romanian artist and was born in a family of enslaved lute players from Moldova. He started playing in the nearby areas where his father was already known when he was young, but built his fame because of the numerous instruments he knew how to play such as the fiddle, the pan flute or the kobsa, and his unique style of singing different traditional songs and dances. Unbeaten by any other artists of his time, Barbu Lăutaru was invited to play at inns, different social gatherings and even at balls or in public gardens.

În such place, he crossed paths with Franz Listz, the famous Hungarian pianist and composer, whom he impressed by his native talent. Many sources cite Listz as saying to Lăutaru, ”You are a true artist!”.

Dona Dumitru Siminică arrived in Bucharest because he needed a place to work. His family was composed from singers and lute players, but he moved to the capital in the 40s to look for work on the many construction sites. Dona learned how to be a bricklayer at the same time as learning how to play the violin from his father. Soon, he formed his own band with whom he used to play in different bars in Bucharest.

His unique androgynous voice is what made Dona Dumitru Siminică different from any other artists of that time, especially when it came to singing sad ballads. Maybe that is exactly why all of the big restaurants and bars from Bucharest wanted each week to have him play on their stage. He is also the first lute players to record songs in the Romani language.

Johnny Depp described Taraful Haiducilor din Clejani as a very fast train, „It’s gone before you know what is happening in front of your eyes”. Internationally, the band was known as Taraf du Haidouks and are considered one of the best Roma lute players of all time. They made appearances in movies such as „The Man Who Cried” alongside Johnny Depp and Radu Mihăilean’s „Le Concert”, were given by BBC World the World Music Award and used to be an international phenomenon. But all of these will come later, so let’s start at the beginning.

The band was formed as a traditional Roma band from Clejani, a village where almost all families are of musicians or artists. In Clejani, it was known that if you are a musician, money will not be a problem. But the band had the luck to sing not only at local weddings and events but in international concerts like in Geneva and Paris too, an unusual occurrence in communist Romania. Their true success though came at the beginning of the 90s, when two Belgian managers who saw them play in Paris came to Clejani with the thought of signing them in. That was the beginning of Taraf du Haidouks, as they will be  internationally known, a band of 12 Roma singers from Clejani who made such waves in the music industry that they played in almost each corner of the world.

While the Romanian public didn’t have much interest for the band, the foreign press wrote about their improvisation skills, the way they transformed once on stage and their free and vibrant way of singing traditional songs. All of these while none the players had any official musical studies.

Currently, Taraful Haiducilor is still an active band, playing in different concerts around Romania, but many of the original members are not part of it anymore. The old ones went and the young came to replace them, while some other members such as Ioniță Manole (known today to the Romanian public as Ioniță de la Clejani), met success with their own bands and projects.

Depending on whom you ask, people can tell you that Damian Drăghici is known for either his very famous band, Damian & Brothers, that has collaborations with many other successful Romanian artists or for his self-titled podcast that gathers millions of views and where Drăghici has guests from a variety of industries and domains.

He escaped communist Romania at the age of nineteen and ran to Greece, where to survive, he played the pan flute at tables or in different bars. That is where he was discovered and offered a private scholarship for Berklee Music College, one of the most prestigious private music colleges in the world. In America, Drăghici signed for Sony Music, starting his string of collaborations with artists such as Joe Cocker, James Brown and Cindi Lauper. His collaboration with Paul Winter Consort is what earned him a Grammy.

Back in Romania, Damian Drăghici kept adding successful projects to his portfolio. He starts Damian & Brothers, a traditional Roma music band, and then has multiple collaborations with big Romanian artists such as Smiley, Delia, Andra or Dan Bittman. He had a short political career to then he focused on music and business. He also starts a self-titled podcast, where diverse guests discuss a plethora of subjects.

Traditional Roma songs that are still being played today are decades, if not even centuries old, having universal messages of love, sorrow, betrayal or sadness. The singers who sing them changed though. We are no longer talking about enslaved lute players, but of artists who are also businessmen, have concerts all over the world and use technology to create and promote a different type traditional Roma music.

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