Manele music is still one of Romania’s most popular genres, mixing traditional Roma music with modern pop, dance and hip hop elements, including influences from Turkish and Arabic music (and lately – Reggaeton)
With catchy tunes, Romanian manele usually feature fast-paced rhythm and synthesizers, with lyrics generally related to heartbreak and love, but also partying and high status.
This genre is an extremely controversial one here in Romania, one that took the country by storm in the late 90’s and early 2000s, and one that is still popular today (unfortunately, I might add).
Just look at the Romanian trending videos on Youtube, screenshot taken today when I am writing the article. All of the videos in the trending category are manele music:
This proves that, sadly, Romanian manele music are still extremely popular today, even though you will never hear them broadcasted on radio station or on TV.
They are very catchy, that is true, and the genre has evolved since launch, keeping up with the trends and topics of the new generations.
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 this country.
But in case you’re curious to find out more, let’s start exploring!
What is “manele music”?
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, as well as weddings.
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 and lately Latino/Reggaeton beats. In other words, a strange mixture that usually sounds good and has a great rhythm.
Being so incredibly catchy and making you wish to dance even if you don’t normally do so was one of the main reasons why they became such a mainstream success.
The lyrics are repetitive and extremely simple, usually adopting themes that resonate well with the listeners.
The songs vary from heartbroken/love tunes to lyrics praising the “value” of the singer/listener, as well as their achievements and ton of enemies they have (which is apparently a good thing).
Other songs are just “brag music” or music made for people to dance, with no real message.
The main problem with the manele music in Romania is that the lyrical content – which is already of questionable quality – is filled with grammatical errors and nonsense.
These are usually 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.
Followed by a huge opposition from upper class citizens and intellectuals who criticized all the bad elements of the manele music, the genre has been banned from bein broadcasted on radio or TV stations.
They are also no longer allowed to be played in public transportation vehicles and you will never hear them in most bars and restaurants throughout the countries. Although those dedicated entirely to playing manele are, as you can imagine, insanely popular.
The genre seemed to decline in popularity a little bit following the mainstream ban, but as you saw in my example above, the internet saved the genre, which is now thriving and probably doing better than ever.
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 here in Romania, nor 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.)
But still, the genre is extremely popular, even in its modern form which has also changed a lot from the “early days” in the late 90s.
Listen to some Romanian Manele Here
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, sand or cringy 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.
But, as you saw already, if you are curious to hear the latest and the best, just head over to Youtube, change your location to Romania and check out the trending videos there.
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.
This was basically the one song that put manele music on the map, although few of the younger listeners even know about it (and I doubt they would find it appealing).
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). Maybe even bigger.
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 unintentional.
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, the poetry, the metaphors!
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.
And since I don’t really listen to this type of music and I am not familiar with who’s popular these days and who’s not, I wend to the aforementioned Google Trends.
I am sharing below the top trending video in Romania today, which is a manele music video:
I wasn’t really patient enough to listen to the song entirely, but I can see that the approach has changed a bit.
If several years ago, the manele singers were not the best looking people (to say the least) but had amazing voice, it seems that now things have changed and physical appearance is something they care about a lot. This guy is really fit and the girl is just the same!
Here is another example, taken from the trending videos, this time with Tzanca Uraganu (Tzanca The Hurricane), which appears to be one of the most popular artists of the moment:
As I was saying: very catchy rhythm, repetitive tunes and nice ladies dancing in the background. The recipe for success nowadays.
The manele music genre is part of the mainstream once again, despite the fact that you can’t listen these songs on radio or TV.
Just in the past few months this year, a few pop artists with relatively huge followings released songs featuring manele artists.
Such examples include a girl whose music I did enjoy, Ruby who sings with Florin Salam and Costi – two of the icons of the manele music genre.
Another popular Romanian singer, Alex Velea had a feature with the apparently popular Jador on a track titled “Burn me, Baby!” I guess you can imagine the quality of the lyrics already.
So, that’s what manele are all about. As you can see, I am not their biggest fan and I don’t listen to this music because I understand the lyrics.
They are generally backwards thinking, superficial to say the least and sometimes even pathetic. But the rhythm is catchy, I’ll give them that!
After all, I have to admit that I enjoy the rhythm of Reggaeton music although I don’t understand Spanish and I do believe that it’s something very similar to manele.
So in terms of sound… do you consider manele enjoyable? Could you see yourself dancing on one of these songs (maybe the Mr Juve or Tzanca Uraganu one?)
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