Asphalt Tango Records - the leading voice in Gypsy and Eastern Music

Oana Cătălina Chiţu

 

Oana Cătălina Chiţu

"Da-mi gurita s-o sarut" (give me your mouth, so I can kiss it) was sung by the Romanian tango star Jean Moscopol in the thirties. The ladies of interwar Bucharest who fell for his charms were many. Moscopol lived for some years in Berlin where he entertained the wealthy clientele of the Romanian casino together with the George Boulanger Orchestra and sang in UFA films. And yet, he returned to his homeland again and again to perform. When Romania's King Mihail was forced to abdicate in 1947, many artists left Romania, crossing the green border to the West. The voices of the elegant tango and foxtrot singers were gone, Jean Moscopol had emigrated, the Gypsy singer Zavaidoc had died and Cristian Vasile had fallen silent: There was no place for "decadent tango" in the Socialist People's Republic of Romania.

"Da-mi gurita s-o sarut" is also sung by Oana Cătălina Chiţu who lives in Berlin. Although she does perform in sequined dresses and costume jewellery true to the style of the era, she has done more than just don the melancholic tangos and songs from the repertoire of Maria Tanase as if they were a costume to wear on stage, perfectly mastering the passionate gestures of the tango performers from back then. While the singer and her band have mainly ventured through the music of the Balkans up to now, she has recently come back to the songs of her childhood. Even thought tango classics like "Mina Birjar" by Jean Moscopol were not played on Romanian radio in the seventies and eighties, Oana Cătălina Chiţus' father sang them every evening on his way home from the village pub where he worked. Snatches of music from another time Oana only knew about from the tales she had heard, but which aroused her curiosity. She learned more from relations in Bucharest who ran an antique lottery shop from the thirties and owned countless old gramophone records by the tango stars. Oana Cătălina Chiţu grew up in the backwaters of Romania in rural surroundings and she sang in the church choir of her home village as a child, already learning guitar in her early years. She arrived in Berlin in the nineties, after having made many stops along the way, and studied piano, jazz and opera singing. In 2000, she formed the Balkan band 'Romenca' with the accordian player Dejan Jovanovic who comes originally from Serbia. However, her yearning for the elegant Romanian tangos never left her and, when the Romanian writer Mircea Catarescu wrote an article about the beautiful Gypsy girl Zaraza, triggering off speculation about dramatic jealous scenes between the singer Zavaidoc and his rival Cristian Vasile, this finally urged Oana Cătălina Chiţu to give all of those old tango melodies their rightful place and bring them into to the present. In the autumn of 2007, supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute in Berlin, she brought her musical and theatrical performance "Bucharest Tango" to the stage. The theatre was not only filled with Romanians living in exile, but also tango fans who had never previously heard of the tango metropolis of Bucharest. Oana Cătălina Chiţu interprets the texts, which mainly deal with love and were mostly written for the tango stars by male composers, with the same sensitivity as the songs of the unforgotten Maria Tanase. Chiţu has been a great admirer of Tanase for a long time and her songs have been part of Chiţu's repertoire for years. During her concerts, the Romanian singer proffers spontaneous and charming translations of the highly poetic texts of the Tanase songs again and again to the audience.

Oana Cătălina Chiţus' warm and sonorous voice does justice to Tanase and to the tangos; the arrangements are original and yet remain in touch with tradition. No other singer of the younger generation from Romania has been able to approach the tangos à la romanesque so authentically and yet so freely. Only a few musicians have attempted to perform the old music, and the unlovingly arranged tango versions with keyboard accompaniment that can be heard in Bucharest restaurants are best forgotten. Although Romania is a country with a rich musical tradition, everyday life there has been dominated since the revolution by cheap pop music. Factory-produced Manele squeezed out the virtuoso music of the suburbs into existence on the cultural periphery, although there has recently been growing interest in the muzica lautareasca.

     After the overthrow of the old regime, the almost forgotten tangos turned up on CD again, reaching the - in the meantime old - afficionados and a young, urban audience. The music gives satisfies several generations who want to quench their thirst for the dazzling night life of the years between the War and offers something to their nostalgia for the elegant, multicultural Bucharest which died in 1941, even before the post-war dictators came to power, when the fascist Iron Guard marauded through many of the Romanian capital's Jewish quarters. The Bucharest of the interwar years lives on in the yellowed photographs and scratched gramophone recordings of those years. Tango singers like Cristian Vasile, Jean Moscopol and Zavaidoc drew mass audiences back then into the garden establishments on the Calea Victoriei and those surrounding Cismigiu Park. At that time, Bucharest was not yet situated at the edges of Europe and was well integrated in the mainstream of European culture. This manifested itself not only in the avant-garde artistic movement, but also in the affluent economic relations with Central Europe. The Orient Express travelled from Berlin to Istanbul, stopping off at Bucharest's Gara de Nord. Nowadays it is hard to imagine how sophisticated the Romanian capital must have been - in the vibrant centre, not in the rather poor suburbs. Tangos could be heard in the best restaurants, such as the Berbec or the Lafayette, in hotels like the Lido or the Astoria round about the Calea Victoriei. Maria Tanase, born in 1913, was a rising star in Bucharest's night life at the end of the thirties, becoming an icon of Romanian music who, because of her dramatic interpretations, left her mark on the old Doina or dance songs of an entire era. Up until her death in 1963, she recorded mainly folk songs and songs of the suburbs, such as "Marie si Marioara" (Marie and Little Marie) or "Un tigan avea o casa" (A Gypsy had a House), both of which have now been rediscovered by Oana Cătălina Chiţu. The Romanian singer, now resident in Berlin, and her virtuoso Eastern-European Balkan tango orchestra bring the Tanase songs back to life with a suggestive potency and lend the rather melancholic tangos a different emotional nuance. Oana Cătălina Chiţus' musicians combine tango hits with Jazz, Sinti Swing and Flamenco, take a look at the period between the Wars without a false sense of nostalgia and open the doors to tangos and songs from Bucharest, the grubby Paris of the East, which were up until now only known to insiders.