Good old manele, ya either love em or hate em. Really. Well, provided you are Romanian that is.
Pie… what the bloody hell are you talking about? Well… Dixit Wikipedia:
The manele can be divided into “classical manele” and “modern manele”. The “classical manele” are a Turkish-derived genre performed by lăutari in a lăutărească manner, while the “modern manele” are a mixture of Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Bulgarian and Serbian elements, generally using modern (electronic) instruments and beats.
So manele is a type of singing. I dumped a bunch of links in this post, which I do not expect people to click on. They are not in a particular order because that seems like to much work and this is a lazy post. – yes it would have made sense to fit the links to the text. But life does not always make sense. All the links are music and none of them are rick rolls. So I dunno click one or more. See how many you like, if any. Let’s just start with one.
Few musical genres created so much division in the Romanian cultural landscape. For some, it was the music for parties and gatherings, fun and unpretentious; for others, a sign of low culture, no class, little education, low standards and poor taste. In many circles listening to manele got you immediately douchebag status. There were few in the middle on this issues, although the saying goes everyone likes manele after the second bottle of wine. The hate was particularly prominent among fans of heavy metal and folk music.
Now is there some truth to the previous snobbish stereotype? Like in most cases yes. Listening to manele is somewhat correlated with low socioeconomic status, drinking wine mixed with cola and being functionally illiterate. Although, a few years ago, the phenomenon did go full circle when some hipsters started listening to manele ironically. Usually after the scared hipster got out of a cab in the bad part of town, to enter a local seedy dive bar which had a special, safe, but vaguely authentic manele party going on.
Manele are sort of an eclectic mix of sounds sang originally by Roma / Gypsies (depending on preferred nomenclature) singers at parties and events. The have a very similar style and lyrics, grouped around the main aspects of a human life – money, love, loss, money, women, enemies who hate you but are not as good as you so you always come on top, ass shaking and money.
The classic manea was a fairly slow paced mostly instrumental love song of Turkish origin during the 1800s. The modern manea as we know it started to appear in marginalized communities and had – like many such musical origin stories – an element of protest to exclusion in general and the high-brow culture of the more intellectual elite, if you will. Intellectuals which promptly criticized it eclectic mix of Balkan sounds, the crude language and sexual and violent elements of the lyrics. With the obvious laments of the effect on the children. So the protest factor was a success on that front, all things considered.
Further opposition came from mainstream Lăutarii – singers of drinking and party music – which though it brings their profession – a rather lucrative and privileged one during communism – in disrepute. This is probably part of the source of the division caused by the music. The other part being it kinda sucks.
Who critiques the critics though? Well other critics usually… And so it happened. Some came to the defense of the manele, simply stating that like in all forms, there are good ones and bad ones and it can be a valuable p[art of the cultural landscape. The music was studied at the University level both a cultural and melodic point of view. There is some truth, off course, to snobs piling on popular music. The history, the communities and conditions that generate it generally are worth studying. Although just because something came from a marginalized community does not make it good, or opposing it racist.
The modern form is seen by some proponents of the genre as a degraded version that focuses to much of money and sex and lost some of its roots, which I think can be seen as somewhat paralleling some criticisms I hear of hip-hop culture in the States. This has probably something to do with the fall of communism which brought a new found freedom for artists and a possibly to get rich (or die trying). Capitalism man, it ruins everything by excessive commercialization. The change of the manea, like all music in fact, can be seen as a chronicle of the changes in society, for people who study these sort of things.
The honest truth is that singers of manele are, generally, not bad singers. They have a good voice and quite a bit of practice. And there were cases when prominent manele singers sang different styles of music and did a damn good job at it. So it is mostly the form that is disliked.
There are also parodies in the genre
While the 1980s manele still had the classic instruments like accordion, violin, dulcimer, bass and cobza, after the 90s electronic instruments became more propeminent, although some of the classics are still kept.
In the end, keep in mind the humble manea your next American party. Alternatively, sit on your American porch, drink your American whisky and listen to manele – in order to be culturally appropriate and respect the Romanian tradition, this should be loud enough for your neighbors to hear (and I realize your neighbor may be quite some way). Also eat roasted sunflower seeds and spit the husks on the ground.