Mahala Rai Banda
Shaped in the gypsy ghettos (Mahala) around Bucharest, Mahala Rai Banda (literally Noble Band from the Ghetto), combines a surprising array of trends and styles.
However, once you delve down into the history of the place, surprise gives way to fascination as all the pieces slowly fit together.
The Mahala gravitates around two poles: a family core close to that of Taraf de Haidouks, and retired soldiers originally from Moldavia.
The first are the sons of the generation that left the little village of Clejane to settle down in the ghettos on the outskirts of Bucharest, grandsons of the late Neacsu. They are between 20 and 25 years old and have grown up playing music, avoiding the pitfalls of drugs and gangs, and making a living playing at Romanian weddings. Living on the outskirts of a city, they have been doused in modern culture, which gives their otherwise traditional repertoire a pop twist.
The second, gypsy as well but from Moldavia (near the Ukraine), have been in the army all their lives. Enlisted at the age of 14, it was the only way their parents could guarantee them a decent education. Even though in Communist times technically everybody was a comrade, an equal, in reality things were quite different. A darker tone of skin, due most likely to a gypsy heritage, was enough for a quick association to be made, and these youngsters were sent into the seemingly futureless musical ranks.
There they learned to play a codified folklore of songs and dances with in-depth classes of musical theory. At the height of Ceausescu's reign, there were 30,000 musicians in the Romanian army, playing at public functions and official governmental events. Now retired and on a small pension, they were discovered playing in a German restaurant in Bucharest.
An army-trained brass band versus young city-dwelling traditional Gypsy musicians definitely guarantees for quite an extraordinary blend!
Courtesy Calabash Music