Taraf de Haïdouks

Taraf de Haïdouks

album cover

What It Sounds Like When Gypsies Frolic

When it really gets moving, the Romanian Gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks makes music that borders on the frantic. Playing fiddles and accordions and bells, the group gives off a strange combination of madcap energy and coolheaded precision. The musicians slalom and swerve from theme to theme, pumping up adrenaline as they go. They could be kids embroiled in a paintball strategy game, or detectives trailing a suspect through a bustling urban market.

Some of the Taraf songs actually do immortalize the capers of common Gypsy thieves. The Haïdouks are known as Robin Hood–like characters; the band's name translates as "band of brigands." These musicians from the village of Clejani, which is south of Bucharest, range in age from twenty to eighty. They belong to a lineage of Gypsy musicians known as lăutari, who have handed down the traditional songs and dances heard at weddings, funerals, and harvest celebrations for generations. This, the group's first international release, presents that music in all its ranging glory—evidently, the Gypsies don't like to stay in one musical zone for too long.

Among the treasures are the animated "Hora ca la ursari," which translates to "The Bear-Leader's Circle Dance," and the "Hora din caval" (Shepherd's Circle Dance), which both sound as if they'd be favorites at rowdier family reunions. Other pieces favor the tempo of slow, mourning ballads that have the heavy woe of Eastern European history woven in. Still, this is living music, not "heritage museum" stuff. As David Harrington of the Kronos Quartet noted, Taraf de Haïdouks "take their listeners to the essence of music; that place where the bow meets the string and a world of action follows."

Genre: World, Romania
Released: 1999, Nonesuch
Key Tracks: "Dragoste de la Clejani," "Hora ca la ursari," "Turceasca"
Catalog Choice: The Continuing Adventures of . . .
Next Stop: Manu Chao: Clandestino
After That: Kevin Johansen: Sur o no sur
Book Pages: 762–763

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