Thursday, December 04, 2008

Northern Moldova: Lautari and Klezmorim, The Other Europeans

We're back from Moldova now, and aside from some Transnistrian cognac I seem to have come home with a cold and my life has become one big cycle of kleenex and chicken soup. And Transnistrian cognac. But I'm beginning to piece together some of my impressions of the trip. First of all, visiting the Republic of Moldova was a fantastic experience - both as an ethnomusicologist and as the descendant of Bessarabian Jews who emigrated to America in the 1920s. Moldova was nothing like I had expected. The music tradition was rich and alive, the food was great, the people open and friendly in a way you just don't find in western Europe. Moldova is probably the least known nation in Europe - most news coming from there isn't good news, which obscures the reality of a nation of gracious, hard working people struggling to integrate into a new Europe. Moldova is hampered in this by the status of the district of Transnistria, a sliver of land across the Dniester River which broke away from the newly independant Republic of Moldova in 1992 in a short but nasty civil war. (On the map below, the breakaway Republic of Transnistria is bordered in blue.) With about two thirds of Moldova speaking Romanian, Russian is still the dominant language in the cities, and not long after the declaration of Moldovan Independance on August 27, 1991, the Russian 14th Army - helped by paramilitary Russian nationalist Cossack units - split off and created the internationally unrecognized state of Russian speaking Transnistria (which is split, linguistically, into almost perfect thirds: 30% Russian, 30% Romanian, 30% Ukrainian, and the other 10% wisely keep their mouths shut.) Today, Moldova's attempts to gain EU membership are stymied by its inability to guarantee human rights within its own borders. How long this state of affairs will last is anyone's guess, but until then Moldova's economy is held back (much of the industrialised part of the country is in the east) and much of the country's income comes from Moldovans working abroad. They do send a lot of their earnings home, and the cities, especially Chisinau / Kishinev are lively and bustling with developement.Our first stop was in Edinets, in the north of Moldova. Ethnomuscologist Diana Bunea, whom we met last summer in Weimar as part of the Other Europeans conference and seminar, had done her historical research on Moldovan lautari traditions here - and her husband, violinist Marin Bunea, has family roots in Edinets as well. Musicologist and Klezmer historian Zev Feldman's family is from Edinets, while Alan Bern's family is from Vertujeni, not far away to the east. Toss in my family's roots in Telenesti and Criuleni, and we had... well... can you ever have too many Bessarabian musicologists in one room?The Lautar tradition in Edinets area is multiethnic as well - while some musicians are Gypsy, most come from Ukrainian and Romanian families, and there were Jewish musicians working in this millieu as well - trumpeter Voinisha Popov, for example, is part Jewish and has relatives in Israel as well. The dynastic nature of the profession, however, is common to both Jewish Klezmer and Roma Lautar traditions. The mix of instruments - brass alongside strings, for example - is rarely found in western (Romanian) Moldavia, but was common in early Klezmer ensembles, and the cimbalom is unique in an ensemble alongside brass (usually the cimbalom is replaced by a keyboard when doing contemporary weddings. The hall we see in the photos is, in fact, the wedding salon of the Hotel Paradis in Edinets, where we held most of our music sessions.) [All photos except this one (of Fumie Suzuki, obviously) taken by Fumie Suzuki.]During the four days we worked with the musicians we asked ourselves a lot of questions about the co-territorial musical relationship between local Moldovian music and Klezmer. There isn't really any clear dividing line - Jewish musicians used a lot of the same melodic and rythmic elements that modern Moldovan lautari use, and surprising snatches of melodies were recognized in each repetoire. If anything, this mixed ensemble Moldovan "fanfara" brass band is the most developed form of the Moldavian brass tradition most widely known by the commercial success of the musicians from the Romanian Moldavian village of Zece Prajini known on the world music circuit as "Fanfara Ciocirlia." But in Edinets the use of valve trombones leads to a richer background of improvised counterpoint. Here's a bit of a session in which the trumpeters trade solos (led by the frighteningly talented multi-instrumentalist and accordionist Anatol Ciobanu, who teaches music in the local schools) against a steady rythym provided by the valve trombones.. and stay alert because at around 5 minutes in there is some fine dancing by a friend of the band - a restaurant manager from Czernowitz, in Bukovina - whose dance style is as close to old style klezmer solo men's dancing as I have seen.And here is a Moldavian "Hangu" - also known as a "Honga" in Yiddish dance tradition, in classic form, a manic stream of sixteenth notes usually danced in conga line formation.Being a fiddler I fell head over heels for the music of one of Edinets' oldest lautari, Aurel Gada, who was also one of the most knowledgeable sources for information about the older traditions. This is how I like my music: simple, direct, home cooked folk music, untempered by the training of the music conservatory.If any particular thing can be said to have been gained from our experiences, it is the cultural access between Klezmer musicians and Lautar that seems to have been cut off by war and politics many generations ago is now again open. Bessarabian Jewish musicians utilized all kinds of musical sources in the composition of what we call "Klezmer music" - Moldavian folk, Turkish light classical, older Jewish folk and liturgical, as well as many other influences. We still have these resources to inform us. We can still create new music for our communities based on familiar forms. This first trip to Moldova was just a beginning. I for one, will be back. (Coming soon: Moldovan food, wine, and family roots!)

4 comments:

Lynn said...

Once more, Bob, a treasure trove of great stuff, and I am so glad you are sharing with the world! When one can't be there (and it will be at least a year before I can be anywhere close) at least one can check it out via Dumneazu... though the name is perhaps a bit much :)

Max mickle said...
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kiss said...
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ELYARI said...

Just want to say Hello from Denver, Colorado where we came to be on 03/18/1993 from that small town of Rezina, Moldova. My great grandparents from my mom's father side last name is Garber: Mendely & Soyble (Sonya)lived in Rezina-my great grandma was a tailor there, they had some very close relatives living in Chernovtzi, & they came to US right after the WWII, but there 're so many Garber families in USA - that I'm lost...in all my efforts trying to find some connection.
My grandparents on my mom's side 're from small village Alcedary (pronaunced Alchedary) 30km north (pass Sholdaneshty) from Rezina (very scenic drive every day of the season); it used to be a jewish shtately before WWII, after WWII & after Stalin's repressional forced immigrations to Central Asia & Syberia, my Gma family (Roshkovan)was the only one left, with my Gma the last resident untill 1993. In the center of that village right by the Izvorul (natural water spring - water source for everything) you'll find Baba Elyka Garber's usadyba (my Gparents (David & Yela Garber) land & 2 houses): old one (made with adobe style briks) housed 4 generations of my family & newer one that was built when my parents got married located on 25 acres of 100 year old vinyard surrounded by fruit (sour cherries/rustic pear/ June Cherry/ White Mullbery) & wallnut trees planted by my granfather. Maybe if you'll get a chance you can check it out....Best time July-Early September.