One type of music that you might hear a lot while in Romania (or not hear at all, depending where you go) is manele. This genre is an extremely controversial one here in Romania, one that reached its popularity peak in the late 90’s and early 2000s, but one that is still very popular today, although due to the public’s pressure, it’s no longer as mainstream as it used to be…
Have you ever heard about manele music? Any Romanian would probably find it extremely difficult to believe that you haven’t, but fortunately they didn’t manage to poison the world as they did to this country. So let’s find out first what’s the deal with these manele in Romania!
What is “manele”?
The genre has origins in traditional party music, called mahala music (or “lautareasca” music – the original manele) which started in the late 18th century. Usually played by Roma people with a live band, the old manele had Turkish influences and were considered Oriental Music. This type of music was usually played at parties and in bars.
They have slowly evolved (or at least changed), being influenced by other Balcan genres, as well as traditional Greek and Turkish music with pop influences. In other words, a strange mixture that usually sounds good and has a great rhythm.
This is what made the genre extremely popular, but apparently that’s not enough to keep it that way. The problem with manele is that their lyrical content is extremely weak and filled with grammatical errors. These are unintentional, being a result of the authors and singers being uneducated individuals with a good voice.
In all manele songs, the singer either boasts about their wealth, social status, superiority over their “enemies” or their sex appeal, or sings about how difficult life is or how much they’ve suffered in love.
The lyrics themselves are extremely childish, but not suitable for children, as many are vulgar. However, with their repetitive elements, generally good rhythm and the promotion of values that lower class people consider extremely important (women, money and all-night partying) as well as hitting the soft spots sometimes with their love songs, the Romanian manele have become extremely popular and they still are.
However, followed by a huge opposition from upper class citizens and intellectuals who criticized all the bad elements of the manele music, the popularity of the genre has dipped and now some cities no longer allow them to be played in public transportation vehicles, while most restaurants and bars in the country won’t play them either.
Since they are no longer played at radio and most TV stations, their appeal is slowly going down, partially encouraged by the Trap music (which is almost the same thing lyrically) and the natural lifespawn of an otherwise weak genre.
However, there are still places dedicated to manele only and many Romanians still believe that you can’t have a real party without manele music – so weddings, birthdays and other similar events “must” have manele performers invited or at least some manele music played.
(Of course, this is just a generalization. We had no manele music at our wedding or at our child’s Christening party and nobody died of boredom. There are many people like us who never listen to manele and can still have a great time without them.)
After all this talk, you’re probably curious to hear how this controvertial genre sounds like. Of course, unless you speak Romanian, you won’t really understand what they’re all about and how wrong some of these lyrics are, but you’ll probably enjoy the rhythm. Who knows? Maybe you won’t!
Either way, it’s time to do some listening! Below, I will share with you a few manele songs from when the genre started to hit the mainstream media to more recent days when they have changed quite a bit.
We’ll start with THE one song that marked the entrance of Manele in the mainstream media and is one of the most famous manele songs ever. Its rhythm is not that great, but they lyrics were spot on for many as the singers complain about their difficult life (the chorus is something like: “ooooooooooooh, my life, oh, my heart, oh, I can’t stop crying, I am very unhappy”). Also note the huge crowds! This is how big they were (and still are in some areas):
Now we’re moving on to a guy whose name can be translated as “The Fantastik Romeo, the king of love-making.” His main thing is to copy famous beats and music, then turn them into manele.
In this case, we’re talking about a song whose original title I can’t remember, but we’ve had manelized versions of Rihanna’s Man Down, the classic Informer from Snow and many, many more. In most of these cases, the lyrics themselves are hilarious – sometimes without it being intentional.
The song we’re listening below is called “The professor” and is filled with sexual innuendos which are not as subtle as the author probably thinks they are. Some of the lyrics go like this: “Let’s go to Morena (the black-haired one), let’s go to Morena, she always fixes my engine, always fixes my antenna. Let’s go to Morena! Let’s go to Morena! Go down, you Morena, so we can see your trunk.” Ah, the brilliance!
Now moving to more recent manele songs, we can notice some tries for improvement and updating to more modern times. This is obviously a broken heart song, with lyrics like: “Your burned my heart down. Why did you do it, you destroyed me. You promised you will never leave me, you swore to always love me”
These are actually written by a composer and the song is veeery different from regular manele music and can be considered more of an experiment by the artist (which is one of the most popular manele singers at the moment). Still, it has painfully simple lyrics, but the type that others can easily relate to.
Note: the video can no longer be embeded, so you can check it here on YouTube.
But they can’t be serious for too long, so they decide to mix it with some rap (kind of). In terms of the chorus, it’s pretty simple: “Move, move your bellybutton, move, move your bellybutton, let me help you just a bit. Come on, a little bit, do it when I say it, move, move your bellybutton”. So it’s obvious that in many cases it’s not the lyrics that matter, but the rhythm which is, I must admit, catchy.
So, that’s what manele are all about. I am sure that you can’t understand the lyrics, but in terms of sound… are they enjoyable? Could you see yourself dancing on one of these songs (maybe the last one?)