Tuesday, June 12, 2012
As we strolled into the venue I was taken back to the first time I laid my eyes on such a scene. It was a dusty gray yard surrounded by red brick buildings degrading in front of your eyes. The level of activity on the ground was far less then the speakers would care to indicate as they were pumping out tunes from Romania's oldest DJ. This was the opening scene of a festival much like one I attended at the very same venue months before. Looking out from the stage the performer sees a medium sized field of grey dust, the remains of the degrading foundations surrounding the area. One of those very foundations toward the back was where some other concert goers happened to be waiting, eating, drinking. Atop the foundation to the right is a brick building with a much larger whole in it than what I remembered from my last visit. The main permanent feature of the grounds is a large brick tower in the center whey they were serving beer in September but since then they must have realized the roof could come down at any moment because this time the beer was located under a tent next to the tower. The grounds were dead but it was only the beginning and we knew it would pick up once the DJ exited stage right to allow some actual musical instruments to tune up and get the show started. In the meantime I decided to look at a photo exhibit installed on some graffitied walls to the left of the stage.
The photo exhibit was enough to get me into the cultural event at hand, more so than the film it followed anyway. The day began with a showing of a film about the Roma Holocaust. The topic of the film was more interesting than the film itself and I blame that on the setting. The viewing took place an hour late in an dark underground bar on a nice summer afternoon. Subtitles in English didn't exist and the ones in Romanian I couldn't see anyway as the statues of my eyesight continues to degrade, especially in dark places. The photo exhibit on the other hand was located out in the sun where I could actually read its good amount of text. The photos depicted a group of nomadic Roma from Transylvania. If you've ever seen Roma in movies, pictures, or listened to songs romanticizing their life then these are probably the ones you've heard of.
Vojasa, pronounced voyasa, was the first band to go on and from the start they proved not to disappoint beginning the show with just two of there members on stages playing a unique percussion opening. From start to finish the container playing musician spat beats into the microphone bringing back memories of Ternipe on the same stage in September. The music, very similar to Ternipe, consisted of traditional Roma tunes with more of a rock feel supporting it from behind. Suddenly the dust pile in front of the stage was being kicked around by a good sized crowd unable to stand still in the presence of such an energetic sound. By the end of their show, a word unknown to much of the ex-pat crowd, "Vojasa" was being chanted loudly throughout the venue.
The energy was pushed up a notch by the nights headliner band out of Belgium, Antwerp Gypsy Ska Orchestra. A couple of days earlier I listened to one or two of their tunes online and I wasn't all that impressed by the music but I could see the energy they brought to the stage and knowing a bit about ska music from my younger punk rock days I was confident that in the moment I would dig it. Sure enough the music just intensified my own dancing and the entire group I was with moved right up to the stage to get the full effect. The combination of the brass section, dancing onstage, and the charismatic front man made for a show that you want to last all night. Unfortunately they were cut off shortly after 11.
Once again Roma music at Gradina Uranus proved to be a great show and a great experience that I hope to catch at least once more before I leave this part of the world. Last year's Balkan Fest was in September and in the September to come I just may be roaming back through the area to catch round two of that show. Either way I am sure to be bringing this music along with me wherever I go as music by bands like Ternipe and Mahala Rai Banda never fail to put a smile on my face and a jump in my step.
Location: Bucharest, Romania