The family Taraf: Listening to them, you could pick out the influences of the Roma's journey, from India through the Middle East to the Balkans.


Gypsy Jazz, From the Source
Taraf Of Clejani (Taraf de Haidouks)
By Mirela D.

The story begins in the tiny village of Clejani, southwest of Romania , a place populated by the Lautari, a caste of Roma (Gypsy) musicians. Like most villages, it had its musicians who played for weddings and celebrations.

All my childhood I spent there, in a village not so far from Clejani. I remember my parents’ discussions about them, how they liked the band’s music and enjoyed it at weddings they were invited to.

All that changed with the arrival of two musicologists from Belgium, Michael Winter and Stéphane Karo, who'd stumbled across village music while researching in Brussels. They were amazed at the poverty they saw—many of the residents lived in turf houses—but entranced by the music, and made rough cassette recordings of some of the players. They returned a year later, following the revolution that toppled Nicolaie Ceausescu, spending an entire summer in Clejani, recording and listening to the instrumentalists and singers—all 200 of them in such a small place—before organizing a European tour. Forced to choose, they originally selected half a dozen musicians, but, pressured by villagers, eventually settled on 11, ranging in age from a 13-year-old cimbalom (hammered dulcimer) player to musicians and singers in their late 70s. Karo and Winter named the group Taraf de Haïdouks—Band of Brigands. The tour—a surprising success—led to a deal with Beligan label Crammed discs, and their debut, 1991's Musique des Tziganes de Roumanie, topped the European World Music chart.

Taraf de Haidouks, ‘Ostinato’—a music video for the Romanian gypsy jazz band’s interpretation of a Bela Bartok piece, featured on its album, Maskarada. Filmed in Romania by Yves Mora.

Their sound, anchored by accordions and double bass, with fiddles and cimbaloms in dizzyingly fast improvisations, is based around tunes ancient and modern, which undergo hairpin changes at incredible speed. The songs, featuring singer Ion Manole, spotlight the Romanian vocal technique of constricted-throat singing (akin to Bulgarian singing). Everything they did was virtuosic, and filled with the history of Roma music. 

Listening to them, you could pick out the influences of the Roma's journey, from India through the Middle East to the Balkans. It was the first time Western Europeans had heard this Romanian village sound, and many were captivated. 

Part one of a two-part interview with Johnny Depp discussing the beauty and mystery of Taraf de Haidouk’s music.

The band appeared with the legendary Yehudi Menuhin, and with Swiss pop star Stephan Eicher, before being featured in the film about Roma people, Latcho Drom. They recorded their sophomore disc, Honourable Brigands, Magic Horses and Evil Eye, in Romania in 1994 (expanding their membership, which now numbers 13) before hitting the road even more extensively and becoming the subject of a documentary film (eventually released in 1998).

Part two of the interview with Johnny Depp

But it wasn't until 1998 that they returned to the studio, to make Dumbala Dumba, bringing in a number of guests like Valachi Gypsy Rosioru, Romanian diva Viorica Rudareasa, and Usari (bear trainer) Napoleon. The new disc brought them fans like the Kronos Quartet and actor Johnny Depp (who reportedly flew them to Los Angeles for a party at his night club and paid them $10,000, after they appeared with him in the film The Man Who Cried), fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto (who invited them to be models-cum-musicians for his Paris and Tokyo shows) and many more.

Meanwhile, the band members seem to have been relatively unaffected by all humdrum; they've retained their sense of humor and their way of life (they still reside in their modest village of Clejani, in the Valachian countryside).

Taraf de Haidouks in concert

The band's latest release is the Maskarada album, in which they re-interpret and "re-gypsyfy" pieces by classical composers from the 20th century (such as Bartok, Khachaturian and others), who had drawn inspiration from national folklore and often borrowed from Roma styles.

Here you can hear many songs of Taraf de Haidouks at

Taraf de Haidouk’s Maskarada album, and others, are available at www.amazon.com

Romania correspondent Mirela D. can be reached via email at mirelabica@yahoo.com

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