Dona Dumitru Siminica
ROMICA PUCEANU & THE GORE BROTHERS
Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol. 2
||"Sa te ajunga dorul meu"
||"Pleaca-o nevestica-n lume"
DONA DUMITRU SIMINICA
Sounds from a Bygone Age Vol. 3
||"De trei ani nu dau pe acasa"
||"Mosule te-as intreba"
Utterly beguiling sounds from the Asphalt-Tango label, whose
new series, Sounds from a Bygone Age, is swiftly doing
for Roma (Gypsy) music what the acclaimed Ethiopiques series did
for Ethiopian pop. That is, releasing heretofore unheralded masterpieces
that have only ever barely registered as a blip on Western consciousness,
with superb packaging, liner notes, and sound quality.
Both Romica Puceanu and Dona Dumitru Siminica were born in Bucharest,
Romania in 1926 to Roma families. Romania witnessed one upheaval
after another throughout the twentieth century; they entered World
War II on the side of Nazi Germany and engaged in the strident
persecution and annihilation of Jews and Roma before allying themselves
with the Red Army. After the war, they were essentially an annex
of the USSR until becoming a non-Soviet aligned Communist dictatorship
under the despotic rule of Romanian nationalist Nicolae Ceausescu.
Needless to say, it was nearly impossible for a Roma artist to
receive proper recognition in a state that categorically refused
to even acknowledge the existence of its Roma minority, despite
its having an enormous and prolonged impact on the cultural fabric
of Romania. The word Gypsy was banned from the lexicon while the
people themselves where shunted to the ghetto. However, for a
brief period from the mid-'60s to the early-'70s, the country
went through a (very) relatively liberal phase, and it was during
this time that Roma records began to be released in earnest --
they just couldn't have the word Gypsy written anywhere on them.
Puceanu and Siminica are generally recognized as being amongst
the most popular and talented of all the urban Roma.
At the tender age of fourteen, Puceanu was discovered by her
cousins, the legendary Gore Brothers, and they immediately began
arranging gigs for her on the wedding performance circuit. Although
illiterate, she was a singer possessed of an uncommonly poetic
depth. She excelled at the ballad, with her stunning and ethereal
voice so ably and beautifully embodying the soul and tribulations
of her people that it is no wonder she's been dubbed the Billie
Holiday of the East. Dona Dumitru Siminica was just as adept at
the slow and mournful Roma ballads as Puceanu. He sang songs of
irresolute and unrequited love at cafes and restaurants, where
he was apparently much-adored by countless female fans. His airy
falsetto is mesmerizing, bizarre even, in the way it simply floats
mellifluously over an accompaniment of cymbalom, violin, accordion,
and bass. If Romania hadn't been so culturally, geographically,
and politically isolated they'd have both been huge stars; as
music this gripping rarely goes for so long without being noticed.
There's been a burgeoning interest in Gypsy music of late, what
with the success of the faux Balkan-pop of Beirut and the tireless
efforts and proselytizing of Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz. Puceanu
and Siminica represent but one small strain in a vast and complicated
musical heritage, but for those looking for a lovingly compiled
introduction into the world of the Roma, these two titles would
be hard to beat. [MK]