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Blending Old and New Sounds of Romania


Since the overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, Romania has been trying to establish its musical identity. The country has strong folk and Gypsy traditions and a group called Shukar Collective is blending those sounds with modern influences. Chris Nickson has a review of the group's debut CD called "Urban Gypsy."

(Soundbite of music)

CHRIS NICKSON reporting:

When generations collide, occasionally something magical happens. It certainly has for Romania's loosely knit Shukar Collective.

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NICKSON: Young musicians from Bucharest's dance and electronic scene teamed with a band of Gypsy performers in the arcane rural usari or bear tamer tradition. It's a style that originated centuries ago when the Tartans and Mongols invaded the country. The results of this collaboration can be startling, a mix of electronic beats and samples, traditional percussion and soulful, guttural singing.

(Soundbite of man singing in a foreign language)

NICKSON: The three usari musicians, the oldest of whom is 62, used to make their living in the villages. They sang and played spoons or hit wooden barrels with rocks while a declawed bear danced around them. While no longer working with the bear, they're still playing barrels and spoons, staying true to their roots in a thoroughly modern setting.

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NICKSON: That's perfectly illustrated on "Malademna," where pain-stripping vocals careen over a tense rhythmic bed until the total effect becomes hair-raising.

(Soundbite of people singing in a foreign language)

NICKSON: Sound shapers Lucian Stan and Dan Handrabur deserve credit, and they've treated usari music with the respect it deserves, but they've also made it relevant to a generation whose gathering place is the dance floor rather than the village square. Together the members of Shukar Collective have created something distinctive. With the CD "Urban Gypsy," Romania's folk music has firmly entered the 21st century.

(Soundbite of people singing in a foreign language)

BLOCK: The music is from Shukar Collective, our critic is Chris Nickson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Chris Nickson