Skip to main content

Romanian Culture 101: Romania's Major Lazer

Of all the habits and baggage that one assimilates by moving to a new country, embracing Culture is the final threshold before 'going native'. Someone can learn a foreign language and still remain far removed its associated culture. It takes an amalgam of shared local experiences, relationships, and a daily dose of local customs before culture is assimilated - and incorporated. But I'm just scratching the surface here. There are countless other micro factors involved. And because we're dealing with a qualitative question, measuring the 'amount' of culture is at best subjective, and this preamble is, at best, casual.

Though born here, I've been gone so long that, very often, seemingly obvious cultural references go right over my head and I have to turn to my traditions consultant/girlfriend for guidance. This is especially the case where music is concerned. I confuse Enescu and Porumbescu, I have no idea what the lyrics are to the most popular campfire songs, nor what the countless wedding celebration traditions mean -and don't get me started on the region specific elements of Romanian culture.

You can therefore imagine my appreciation when I was introduced to a Romanian sound that was both new and still very familiar. Doubly familiar even...

I was never really able to identify with a musical genre - besides Classical - until I came across rap, sometime in the mid 90s when Snoop's first album came out. I remember that at some point, still in Elementary school, struggling with English and completely lost in the world of North American pop culture, one of my classmates asked who my favourite bands were. For some reason, probably because it was the first name that came to mind, I said I liked U2. But I wouldn't have been able to name any of their songs, it was just a name I'd heard and didn't want to sound like a Classical music nerd. Truth is, I wasn't able to appreciate any of the bands that were popular back then until a few years ago. For the entirety of my teenage years and beyond, I was hooked on hip-hop.

So what could be better, for a Romanian with my history, than the deep bass and rhythmic percussion of modern hip hop mixed in with the nostalgically wistful sounds of Romanian folk music. Sounds weird? Don't worry, before I heard it I don't think there's any way I could have imagined what it would sound like.

Which brings me to Major Lazer, a music phenom that's taken the world by storm over the last couple of years. The brainchild of DJ/Producer, Diplo, Major Lazer is an act that combines elements of Jamaican dancehall, reggae, and electronic music. To say it's blown up is an understatement. Fusion may not be for everyone, but when it's done right, there's something irresistible about it.

So is the case with Argatu, a 19 year old bedroom producer from Falticeni who wants to prove that Romanian folk music is still alive in a big way. Through a series of vignettes, over a couple of albums presented by Subcarpati, we hear the familiar notes of the caval and the cobsa and find ourselves transported to the Romanian pastoral scenery we know so well - except the shepherd isn't the stoic figure of Miorița fame, and the only grass he's smoking is yet to be legalized. The story gets better though. Andrei (Argatu) says he doesn't see himself pursuing a musical career (why? I don't know), but he wants to share his creations with other Romanians. It seems to me he's thinking too small - this is Major Lazer world music. And if he would just hang in there, he could eclipse our current musical exports; Inna, Edward Maya, or Alexandra Stan. Wishful thinking maybe, but thanks to Argatu I've gone native, so I'm allowed.

Now, I'm just going to leave these here...

By the way, you can download the albums here, because these are good guys who just want to share good music:

Not bad album art either. Designed by KITRA


  1. I've just recently discovered Subcarpati and Argatu. I completely agree that the music transports you. I was born in Sibiu, but now live in the US, and am homesick often. The music is great. Great Post! Cheers!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

10 Reasons Why Romania is Better Than America

Really? Yes, really. Let me count the ways.

In America you can get everything you've ever dreamed of: GameBoy, Sega Genesis, plants that look like faces, and more.  Maybe if you work really hard long hours at the job you hate (but that you tell everybody you love lest you appear to be a miserable person), you can even get a flat panel home theater TV that takes up half your basement (on credit, of course). Awesomeness!!
In America you can always be sure to be on top of the latest fad, such as devil sticks or Tamagochi and you will be first to read bestsellers like The DaVinci Code and Fifty Shades of Crap literature. Basically there are thousands of ways of feeling accomplished -or pretending that you are - you just need to be there to catch all these wonderful trends on time!

I know what you're thinking, how can Romania possibly top all that considering America is also the land of Root beer floats and Antoine Dodson?

Everything's been done in America, that's why peopl…

Is Cluj The Best City On Earth?

It's a question I ask myself at times.

Let's put it this way; I've been around. Maybe not all around the world, but halway-ish maybe. Sailed the canals of Amsterdam, biked from one end of Paris to the other, took the train from Budapest to Berlin, drove the 405 in LA, and yeah, I even rode a hay cart back in the day. But other than enjoying all these forms of transportation, I got to enjoy the places I visited. I don't know about you, but when I visit a place I always ask myself,  'would I live here?' While the answer is often 'yes, why not', the only place I moved to was Cluj.

Cluj, how do I love thee, let me count the ways:

1. I love your smell. It's like earth, and air, and city. I will never forget my first day here, when I  walked out of the arrivals building at the airport and breathed in your smell. Spring. You're the city of eternal Spring. On a balmy day, it's what you smell like, even if it's December, or August.

2. I love your…

Are Romanian Women The Most Beautiful In The World?

More than once, I was asked to write about the beauty of Romanian women, but...

I have no words. Besides, I may be biased, but clearly it's a rhetorical question.

However, there is no shortage of Facebook pages dedicated to the subject.

Image: A typical Romanian woman, Madalina Ghenea.

10 More Reasons Romania is Better Than America

I get it. The US is special. I hate to say it, especially as a Canadian, but it is.

But it's mostly special because of the America that it used to be. The idea of America is special.

There was, once, an American Dream within the reach of any hard working man. It was a country that offered unprecedented freedoms and opportunities unmatched by any other. The great melting pot was about inclusion towards one common goal, it was not divisive, individualistic and driven by a Bergeron-esque vision of 'equality'. Assets were not based on decades-long lines of credit, and salaries kept up with cost of living increases. I could go on about 'the way things used to be' but you can look it all up if you're interested. If you live there, you should be.

The reality in America is different now.

Sure, it's still the land of plenty. But the plenty is not all good. Plenty of debt, plenty of poverty, plenty of obesity, plenty of civil unrest coupled with plenty of heavy-hand…

10 Things Romania Does (A Bit) Differently - Part 1

A few days ago, after walking into a grocery store, I couldn't help noticing I was in a state of trepidation. The reason? I'd walked in with my gym bag, purposely avoiding the security guy at the entrance. I felt his eyes must be following me and that a loud, "Hey, you!" would ring out the moment I turned into an aisle.

It turns out that the longer you live somewhere, the more you get used to it. A truism, of course. What is not immediately apparent is that this isn't necessarily a good thing, especially when you find that you've become used to something you may have found, at some point in the past, in another place, entirely unacceptable.

This is why, now that I've crossed over the honeymoon period of my move to Romania, I find my enthusiasm for life here wanes when, for the 286th time, I  am forced to walk into a supermarket through the designated entrance point, even if an empty checkout is much closer and no less accessible. Then, upon entry, a grump…

You Can't Plan a Romania Road Trip, But You Should Anyway

I started writing this post in September 2014, not long after coming back from vacation. I dropped it because I got sick of going through the hundreds of pictures we took just to pick the perfect ones for this post. But, like a seed once planted, it needs some water and the right conditions to flourish. In my case: an email from a reader, asking me about road-tripping through Romania, and the chance to lift this weight off my back. So here it is, a summary of one Romania road trip, from Cluj and back.


2,656 Kilometers.
188 Liters of gas.
2,919 RON.

That's more or less the tally for the Romania road trip I took with my roomie/wife Roxana. We could have booked an all-inclusive vacation to Greece, Turkey, or Bulgaria at about the same cost, but how could we resist a road trip? A unique waterfall, the 'tunnel of love', the best driving road in the world, Summer …

What I Learned About Driving In Romania

I get it now. I understand Romanian drivers and their follies. It's something I thought would never happen. All it took to shape me into a Romanian road rage machine was one month of driving around Cluj and a 400 km round trip. I'm kidding about the rage part.

The idea of driving in Cluj was intimidating. Last time I'd driven manual shift was almost ten years ago when a co-worker asked me to drive her and her newly purchased, Pontiac Firefly home because she had no idea how to do it. So of course I stalled that little bastard all over the place. Little surprise that the idea of driving along busy and narrow European streets was unappealing - especially after years of driving automatic on wide, North American roads.

But I managed. Stalled an average of once per trip during the first week, and then a couple of times in the second week, and now, a little over a month later, I sometimes stall at stoplights when I forget I'm driving stick and leave it in gear when I release…

Here Is Why Romania's Future Is Bright

The festival is only in its second edition, but following last year's inaugural event, Electric Castle has stirred up enough buzz to attract visitors from beyond Romania's borders. Walking around the festival grounds I had the impression that every other group was comprised of foreigners speaking Hungarian, English, German, or French. And judging by the license plates in the parking lots, every county in Romania was well represented. While there's plenty to be said about the artists and the music, there's something else I want to discuss in this post.

When you think "music festival", the image that comes to mind is that of overly excited youth on a drug and alcohol infused rampage, laying waste to everything in their path. Maybe it has something to do with the way festivals like to promote themselves; these are basically the images that stand out on most 'Official Aftermovie' videos from major music festivals. But obviously the experience is defined b…

Why Romanians Don't Like Romanians

To my knowledge, this national self-loathing is a uniquely Romanian experience. Maybe we share it with some of our neighbours, but I doubt it. I've never seen a people dislike their own as much as the Romanians.
This is going to be highly generalized, but as with most things I write here it's rooted in personal experience and observations. Don't hate the player, hate the game.

1. Romanians like the exotic, to be Romanian is the antithesis of what it means to be exotic.

2. Romanians are often prejudiced. The thought process goes something like this: If you're Romanian you're probably bereft of interesting experiences and financially limited. You're from 'the-worst-country-on-earth', after all. If  you're well off, then you're just a rich asshole (probably a thief, too). Either way, your Romanian-ness ensures you're seen as a person with limited horizons who likely can't offer anything new or different.

If you're Western European or Nort…

Rosia Montana - An Informed Reply

It's always a pleasure to see a new email message from somebody who's been reading this blog. In this case, the message came in from a reader who first contacted me last year. He moved to Canada quite a while ago and settled in the Northwest Territories. He wanted to respond to the previous post on Rosia Montana, but given the length of the reply, I've asked him to allow me to publish it as its own post. He asked me not to share his name, but outside of that, I'm copying it verbatim.

(Edit: In Romana mai jos)

Hello Matt,

Here we go again: Rosia Montana. I got involved in this project about four years ago. I had had phone interviews with radio stations in Bucharest; I published several articles in two or three magazines in Bucharest. I hosted, guided and loaded up with data and portable computer equipment one “Romanian explorer” as the Romanian media called her: Uca Marinescu. Perhaps the name rings a bell. Anyhow she never got back to me; there was no feedback, no follo…