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Taraf de Haïdouks as Re-Gypsyfiers

Taraf de Haïdouks as Re-Gypsyfiers

A Critique on the Seductions of Authenticity

Julia Heuwekemeijer

“Traditionelle, traditionelle” shouts the old musician standing to the left of the stage, as he swings the bow of his violin around invitingly in an attempt to seduce the audience to stick money upon it. Meanwhile, the rest of the band keeps playing music, while he joins in briefly every now and then in between his “traditional” occupations.

This is a scene from the 13th International Gipsy Festival 2009 in Tilburg, the Netherlands, during the finishing performance of the festival by the band Taraf de Haïdouks. In the programme notes, the band is announced as “top-Balkan Gipsyband”: “Yes, that’s right! At the very last moment we managed to get hold of the famous musical vagabonds from Romania. They were in the middle of a European tour and had some spare time for us” (Programme Notes 13th International Gipsy Festival 2009). That these “famous musical vagabonds” are standing on the stage begging for money, evokes mixed reactions from the largely Dutch audience. Around me, in the middle of the crowd, I hear surprised and chuckling comments, while the growing row of banknotes on the bow of the violinist is proof of an audience closer to the stage that is participating actively in this “traditional” custom. At the back of the crowd, people are dancing exuberantly, seemingly not much interested in what is happening on the stage, as long as music is coming from it. Even though the reactions from the audience are not at all unambiguous, the old musician is using an idea, or image, that is very widespread within the world music-world in particular. This image will be elaborated upon throughout this article, but summarized, the thought behind it goes somewhat like this: The musician represents another world, a world in which traditions are a central part of life, in contrast to life in the western[1] world. Western people are very eager to catch a glimpse of this world, as to them it is a lost world. If these western people can be convinced that they will be part of a tradition, or even become this tradition, through sticking banknotes on bows, they will surely be prepared to give their money.

Asking whether sticking money on bows is or is not a “real” tradition, is beside the point. The relation between images and the existence of Taraf de Haïdouks, however, is a very central concern when making sense of this band. Since its creation in 1990, the band has been surrounded by seductive images in which authenticity plays a key role. Analysing these seductions of authenticity is therefore the point of departure in this article. This analysis, however, is not the destination of the article, but the means through which to get to it. The ultimate objective is to understand a piece of music on Taraf de Haïdouks’ latest CD, Maškaradă (2007). This piece of music, as will be argued, can be viewed as Taraf de Haïdouks’ climax in seducing through authenticity.

Taraf de Haïdouks has issued five CDs with Romanian music. On Maškaradă, however, the band turned to western classical music to “re-gypsify” it. Among pieces from Khachaturian, de Falla, Ketèlbey, Albeniz and Kosma, the re-gypsification of Bartók’s Romanian Dances is the showpiece of the album, often played at live concerts and mentioned with much appreciation in reviews. What is Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsyfication exactly? And, even more intriguing, why do Taraf de Haïdouks re-gypsyfy? These questions will be examined through a musical and cultural analysis of the re-gypsyfied Romanian Dances and responses from listeners to this music. Seductions of authenticity, as will be illustrated, play a key role: the re-gypsyfication project on Maškaradă in general and the re-gypsyfication of Bartók’s Romanian Dances specifically, and also Bartók’s Romanian Dances themselves, can only be understood if the analysis is linked to an analysis of these seductions. As a consequence, before approaching the main what- and why-questions of this article, Bartók and his Romanian Dances will be examined in conjunction with authenticity, followed by an analysis of the importance of authenticity for the existence of Taraf de Haïdouks. The last part will address Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsified Romanian Dances, asking how and why they did it. Firstly, however, I will weave together a theoretical cobweb that serves as background for the rest of the article.

A theoretical cobweb

When trying to understand the wider context which enabled Taraf de Haïdouks to be created and become famous, a wide range of interdependent theoretical issues need to be brought together. To clarify this, the following theoretical cobweb gives an overview (fig. 1). As all the issues in the web are connected to each other, twenty-one double sided imaginary arrows should be added between them.

World music discourse

Roma and Romantic Gypsies                                         


Taraf de Haïdouks

Romania on a Ladder                                       

Oriëntalism and Postcolonialism

The Time of Modernity

Figure 1: World music discourse

Taraf de Haïdouks is promoted and sold under the label “world music”. Bor describes how he once attended an ethnomusicological symposium at which, provocatively, he proposed understanding world music as “music out of context”. He wanted to emphasize that the idea behind the concept of world music is a western idea (2008: 21). While a Romanian band such as Taraf de Haïdouks is labelled as world music outside of Romania, within Romania this music is considered as Romanian gypsy music and not as world music. In fact, as I became aware during a research period in Romania in the summer of 2008, the category of world music does not even exist in Romania.

World music is not a neutral term, as Taylor states in his well-known book Global Pop: “The practices of marketing and labelling of world music…continue an old binary of ‘the west’ and ‘the rest’, putting hugely diverse bodies of musics into the same [world music] box” (1997: 14). Unequal power relations, in which the world is divided into the west versus the Other, underlie the existence of a world music category. This will return and be expanded upon later in the article.

Stokes describes how, soon after the establishment in 1987 of “world music” as a marketing tool, an enormous amount of promotion material came into being, from music journalism and consumer encyclopaedias such as The Rough Guides to CD booklets and websites. This material “quickly solidified into an identifiable, if complex and unruly, body of discourse, which, in turn, became the object of critical attention” (2004: 58). Discourse is used here in the way Foucault used it: as a collection of statements about a collective object of analysis (“world music” in this case), through a prescribed way of articulating knowledge about this object. With the help of a discourse, specific representations of the world are produced and maintained:

Discourses operate as self-policing regimes, establishing their own categories of truth…and simultaneously encouraging the production of certain kinds of statements or texts…as well as discouraging or rejecting those which violate the norms of that particular discourse. Childs, P. & Williams, P. (1997: 99).

Even though the most common contemporary use of the designation “world music” has been a commercial invention to create new markets, Guilbault points out that it is not just a “commercial scam”: “from the moment phenomena or people are categorised, the very categories that are used to refer to them become the signal of a new presence” (1997: 32). World music as “new presence” can, and does, have important meanings to listeners. These meanings are not simply determined by the ways musicians and bands are promoted. After all, promotional material is made to seduce people, and this only works successfully when people let themselves be seduced. One of the most influential and most seductive ways through which world music is promoted – and as such, it is a central aspect of the world music discourse – is the relationship of this music to authenticity.


Authenticity does not exist objectively. As Moore has written: “‘Authenticity’ is a matter of interpretation which is made and fought for from within a cultural and, thus, historicised position. It is ascribed, not inscribed” (2002: 210). Authenticity is ascribed by people and is never an inherent characteristic. Ascribing authenticity is not a typical contemporary phenomenon. Lindholm, as many others, traced conceptions of authenticity back to Rousseau, who perceived authenticity and purity in primitive cultures, in opposition to the “civilized” world (2008: 8-9). Kingston also describes the connection between authenticity and a “perceived disjuncture between appearance and essence that has been central to European thought for centuries” (1999: 340).

Authenticity is used in many and varied ways. In general, as Lindholm explains, it is a term which is “the leading member” of a “set of values that includes sincere, essential, natural, original, and real” (2008: 1). Lindholm and Kingston have made a similar, useful, distinction between two overlapping ways in which authenticity is ascribed. The first one is based on what Lindholm terms as “origin” (2008: 2), described by Kingston as follows: “many questions of authenticity relate to indexical connections apparently made to times and places beyond the immediate horizon of the audience” (1999: 340). The second one is based on content, which Kingston relates to “the indexing of mental phenomena such as intention, belief or agency” (1999: 340). The relationship between authenticity and world music will be examined through these two allocations.

Authenticity as origin: As long as we believe the Other has not kept up with time

Authenticity as origin is, according to Taylor, “perhaps the oldest assumption made by Westerners of musics from outside the West” (1997: 26). In relation to world music, authenticity as origin is of crucial importance for listeners:

What is of concern to listeners is that the world music they consume has some discernable connection to the timeless, the ancient, the primal, the pure, the chthonic; that is what they want to buy since their own world is often conceived as ephemeral, new, artificial, and corrupt (1997: 26).

Kingston points out that even though performers as well as audiences have an interest in authenticity, problems often arise because of different interpretations of authenticity:

They [performers] are still constrained to that invisible essence. This is often frustrating for the performers, they are still placed in the not quite now of nearly past tradition in comparison to the active present of the viewer… the essence, the absent presence, is never escaped. Merely deferred (1999: 347).

Likewise, Taylor draws attention to expectations of a western audience that play a decisive role in what is and what is not accepted musically: “Constructions of ‘natives’ by music fans at the metropoles constantly demand that these ‘natives’ be premodern, untainted, and thus musically the same as they ever were” (1997: 21).

Moreover, as Conklin stresses, conceptions of the authenticity of the Other, restrict cultural freedom of movement:

Authenticity implies integration and wholeness – continuity between past and present, and between societal values and individual agency, and between sign and meaning…This leaves little room for intercultural exchange or creative innovation, and locates “authentic” indigenous actors outside global cultural trends and changing ideas and technologies (1997: 715).

Frequently, a fundamental asymmetry underlies the way the Other can present himself (within the world music discourse), as western notions about the Other determine which characteristics do and do not suit him. What usually is considered as not suitable, is when the Other has kept up with time.

Kingston analyses this desire for “authenticity as timeless”, stating that authenticity and essence are considered to be in contrast with time, or even to “transcend time as sensed change” (1999: 341). The image of music as a phenomenon in which time is stagnant, is an image that will be further scrutinized in the analysis of time and modernity below, and that plays a major role in the analysis of Bartók as well as Taraf de Haïdouks.

Lastly, Stokes’ observation with regard to the relation between authenticity and hybridity is important. Even though hybridity has been stressed more and more within the world music discourse, it is not a hybridity that is in opposition to authenticity, but a hybridity that functions as new authenticity (2004: 59-60). Stokes explains how hybrid genres are still viewed as authentic, “organically connected to the social life and cultural aspirations of particular localities” (2004: 60). The point of departure within this view is that all musics are, inevitably, hybrid. The effect of this view, however, is not any different than the earlier understanding of authenticity as origin: “The perpetuation of notions of authenticity through an authenticating discourse of hybridity is one of the means by which the world music discourse continues to mediate Northern metropolitan hegemony” (2004: 60). The idea of authenticity and hybridity as new authenticity in relation to power is crucial, and will be further investigated in the rest of this article.

Authenticity in content: As long as we believe the Other is acting instinctively

The second way in which authenticity can be ascribed, through content – in this world music context – concerns the intention of the musician. “The artist performance is expected to be instinctive and unstudied, coming directly from the heart and soul” (Lindholm, 2008: 37). The audience believes, or wants to believe, in the authenticity of a performance, which is, following Lindholm, “a particularly clear expression of what E. Goffman has called the modern quest for backstage reality; that is, a reality free of artifice” (2008: 37). Lindholm observes how an unsolvable tension is part of the romantic view of “performative authenticity”; what the audience wants to hear and see as a spontaneous performance, is more often than not “a standardized act that requires considerable forethought, expertise, and practice on the part of the artist” (2008: 37). Especially with regard to “gypsy musicians”, as will be shown below, this is an important observation.

Authenticity: the importance of its deconstructions and its constructions

Van de Port has described how early cultural anthropology started from the principle of an authentic essence of each culture. As a consequence, cultural anthropology “has inherited a conceptualization of “culture” as an unchangeable bounded entity that is somehow organically attached to a particular people and territory” (2004: 5). This essentialist understanding of authenticity has been criticized fiercely within the academic world, in response to which anthropologists “have taken up the role of being the Great Debunkers of other people’s reality concepts”. Whenever an anthropologist hears the word “authenticity”, it causes an almost Pavlovian reaction in which he immediately begins “to unmask it as yet another “invention”, “false consciousness”, “ideological construct” or “historical formation” (2004: 5-7).

But deconstructing constructions of authenticity cannot be the ultimate goal of either anthropologists or musicologists, as it does not lead to a real understanding. As Van de Port explains:

To begin with, the notion of authenticity has been very successfully “popularized”, and lives on as a fantasy and a dream in the popular imagination, informing notions of self and social life…Authenticity may have been discredited as a qualification of culture tout court, but the notion certainly continues to inform understandings of art or cultural performances…More generally, authenticity serves the task of being the Other against which post-modern portrayals of contemporary societies take shape: it denotes what was lost when “all that is solid melted into the air” (2004: 5-6).

Wherever the notion of authenticity appears, it plays an important role in the framework through which people understand and give meaning to the world. Instead of deconstructing authenticity, more attention should be paid to its importance for people. Or, as Van de Port cites Taussig: “not enough surprise has been expressed as to how we nevertheless get on with living (…) pretending we live facts not fiction” (2004: 6). What needs to be studied, continues Van de Port, is the ways through which people are able “to realize an authentically felt grounding to the social and cultural constructions that make up their lives” (2004: 6). Of course, as Van de Port also states, the deconstruction of phenomena, “showing the made-up in the taken-for-granted”, should still play a major role (2004: 8). However, the ultimate goal should be more subtle than just deconstructing. Van de Port, citing Taussig, describes that this new goal should be “to penetrate the veil while retaining its hallucinatory quality” (2004: 20).

With regard to world music in general and Taraf de Haïdouks specifically, critical analysis is needed to examine the ways in which music and musicians are being constructed as authentic. At the same time, however, serious attention should also be paid to the reasons why and ways in which listeners let themselves be seduced by these constructions.

Orientalism and Postcolonialism

So far, the line of arguing woven together in the theoretical cobweb is that a world music discourse exists in which unequal power relations between “the west” and “the rest” play a major role. These unequal power relations are created and maintained, amongst other things, through western ascriptions of authenticity to the Other. This line of arguing calls forth Said’s orientalism. Orientalism – and its extension, postcolonialism – is in fact closely intertwined with the world music discourse.

Said’s orientalism is a discourse in the Foucaldian sense. Childs and Williams have summarized Said’s orientalism as discourse: Orientalism is made up of western texts from varying disciplines, which themselves are part of discourses which can otherwise be in opposition to each other (like a scientific versus religious discourse), but do create a shared orientalism: “What unites these texts is the forms of knowledge they produce about their object of study – the Orient – and the power relations which are thereby involved…the knowledge produced by these texts invites or justifies the extension of Western power – particularly in the shape of colonialism – over the East” (1997: 99-100). Characteristic of orientalism was, and still is, in Said’s words, that it is simultaneously under- and overvalued:

The Orient was overvalued for its pantheism, its spirituality, its stability, its longevity, its primitivity, and so forth…Yet almost without exception such overesteem was followed by a counterresponse: the Orient suddenly appeared lamentably underhumanized, antidemocratic, backward, barbaric, and so forth. A swing of the pendulum in one direction caused an equal and opposite swing back: the Orient was undervalued (2003: 150).

Said stresses that terms as “The West” and “The Orient” do not refer to a stable reality which exist as fact: “all such geographical designations are an odd combination of the empirical and imaginative” (2003: 331). In Orientalism, his aim is not to understand the reality of the Orient, but to understand how the West represents the Orient within a discourse that confirms and maintains western power. One of Said’s main criticisms of this discourse is that “as a system of thought it approaches a heterogeneous, dynamic, and complex human reality from an uncritically essentialist standpoint”. Besides the hiding of historical dynamics, another of his significant criticisms is that the intentions of the Orientalists (maintaining western – colonial – power) are also hidden (2003: 333).

     Postcolonialism has close ties to Said’s orientalism. Childs and Williams describe this relation: The unequal Western European expansion of capitalism “has been a constant – some might say the constant – of world history, to the point where there is now no part of the globe left untouched by it – though not all are equally subjected to it” (1997: 5). This project of “globalization of capitalism” is imperialism (1997: 5). Colonialism and postcolonialism are certain phases within imperialism (1997: 5). Like Said explains, citing Shohat, the post in postcolonialism does not mean “beyond”; there are continuities and discontinuities. Postcolonialism, however, stresses “new modes and forms of old colonial practices” (2003: 350). Young compares postcolonialism’s critical points of departure with colonialism:

…postcolonialism involves first of all the argument that the nations of the three non-western continents (Africa, Asia, Latin America) are largely in a situation of subordination to Europe and North America, and in a position of economic inequality. Postcolonialism names a politics and philosophy of activism that contests disparity, and so continues in a new way the anti-colonial struggles of the past. It asserts not just the right of African, Asian, and Latin American peoples to access resources and material well-being, but also the dynamic power of their cultures, cultures that are now intervening in and transforming the societies of the west (2003: 4).

Even though Young’s analysis is restricted to areas which have been colonized, western power and the subordination of the Other are very relevant with regard to the relationship between the west, and Eastern Europe. To Young, one of the main goals of postcolonial cultural analysis is “the elaboration of theoretical structures that contest the previous dominant western ways of seeing things” (2003: 4). Childs and Williams also point to the emphasis on stories of “the rest” within postcolonialism:

[In] the imperial process…it is the west which is deemed to be the dynamic element in the relationship [with the other]. The possibility that indigenous people might be active agents in the making (if not the writing) of their own histories was something which was rarely if ever entertained by western writers, and then usually in highly negative terms…In the post-colonial period it has become a matter of some importance not only to recover the histories of native insurgency, but also to analyze them at a theoretical level (1997: 26).

The explicit aim of Said’s Orientalism was to provide insight into the ways in which the west describes and represents the Other, while postcolonial analysis stresses the role of the Other within and outside of its relations with the west.

To relate orientalism and postcolonialism directly to the world music discourse, some comments of Stokes are useful. Even though there are six major record companies which control and make huge profits over the spread of music around the world, these companies nevertheless:

have little control over copying and piracy endemic across much of the planet or over illegal internet sharing in their own backyards. They certainly have no control over the meanings, practices, and pleasures of listening, dancing, and partying at the site of consumption or the countless local forms of rock, pop, country, rap, and hip-hop to which they give rise (2004: 54-55).

At the same time, however, Stokes also stresses that it is not easy to “dismiss the charge of cultural imperialism”:

Fundamental asymmetries and dependencies in musical exchange have deepened all too evidently. European and North American rock and pop superstars are prominent in charts, music stores and cassette stands across much of the third world; the reverse is not true (2004: 55).

Stokes is right to claim that record companies have no absolute control over the meanings of music and the ways in which music becomes a part of people’s life, but a critical note needs to be added. Record companies do, after all, head for certain directions in which music can be made meaningful and this does have an enormous influence.

One of the powerful ways that the music industry shapes people’s experiences of music, including the making of music, is by the categories that it erects and polices around musical styles and genres, categories that become associated with class, ethnic, and racial groups…[T]hey perpetuate old notions of otherness (Taylor, T. 2007: 161).

The ways in which the music industry can, and does, provide music with certain meanings, will be exemplified in the analysis of Taraf de Haïdouks.

Romania on a Ladder

The Romanian background of Taraf de Haïdouks, as will be illustrated, not only plays a major role in the way the band is presented to a western public, but is also of crucial importance with regard to the re-gypsyfication of Bartók’s Romanian Dances. Despite the fact that Romania is part of Europe, and since 2007 also of the European Union, for many people from Western Europe it is a country that does not recall much more than negative stereotypes such as “corrupt” and “undeveloped”, or, to a lesser extent, positive stereotypes such as “romantic land of Dracula”. Much has been written on the Balkans as Europe’s Other: “Time and again, travellers, scholars, writers and artists have depicted this part of the continent as the very near Orient, a land of European savages, fierce warriors, archaic myths and cruel customs” (Van de Port, M. 1999: 8).

Laušević concludes in her book, Balkan Fascination, that the emergence and existence of a Balkan music and folk dance scene in the USA is directly connected to stereotypes about and idealizations of the Balkans: “The value given to the music comes in part from the ideological background in which it is contextualized as old, traditional, and proven valuable over centuries” (2007: 235). Within the larger international folk dance scene, where the “Balkan-craze” developed, Laušević distinguishes two prevailing ideas:

The first is that there exists something “earthly”, “real”, and “true” that Americans are missing, and that it is to be found not here, but far away from home, the notion that Americans have lost, through urbanization and modernization, the truth that can still be found in other parts of the world. That truth is to be regained by drawing on the “source”, from the “sacred soil”, soil uncontaminated by modernity and commercialism. The second notion is that Americans, although they acknowledge that the true, the real, and the earthly is missing from their lives, can still recognize it, and save it from destruction by people who possess it but are unaware of its value (2007: 229).

People within this scene, do not view these ideas about a “true”, “uncontaminated” life as stereotypes or fantasies, but as existing truths. As a consequence, “many in the scene do not realize that they do not love “Balkan people” but their own constructed or “inherited” images of them” (2007: 239). According to Laušević, these admirers of Balkan music are more occupied in discovering “the peasant within”, than in getting to know another culture (2007: 228). While Laušević does not explicitly refer to unilineal social evolutionism, it is of crucial importance to understand why these Balkan fans believe they have lost a true, authentic way of life through urbanization and modernization. Even more so, it is of crucial importance to understand Bartók, Bartók’s Romanian Dances, Taraf de Haïdouks and Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsyfied Romanian Dances.

A larger, all-embracing study of the relationships between social evolutionary ideas and meanings of music has not been undertaken, and I would even go so far as to argue that the importance of social evolutionary ideas to the way people make sense of the world (through, amongst other things, music) has been unjustifiably neglected within much recent scholarship in the social sciences and humanities. Therefore, I will make a start in this article with linking its subject to social evolutionism. The following brief summary of unilineal social evolutionism, with the help of McGee and Warms’ summary, will be used as reference in the further analysis.

According to McGee and Warms, two of the most crucial individuals to the development of theories about biological and social evolutionism have been (Charles) Darwin and Spencer. While Darwin has become widely known, Spencer has been at least as influential:

In fact, Herbert Spencer had been working on a theory of human social evolutionary change several years before the publication of Darwin’s work. Darwin even applied some of the concepts developed in Spencer’s work in his own theory of biological evolution [e.g. “survival of the fittest”] (2000: 7).

Spencer believed in evolution as progressive, and in development from simple to complex. Changes, leading to development, were a consequence of a “struggle for survival” (2000: 8). McGee and Warms point to a later effect of Spencer’s work, namely:

the popularization of a point of view called social darwinism. Social darwinists interpreted natural selection to mean that if evolution was progress and only the fittest survived, then it was the right of Western powers to dominate those who were less technologically advanced…This was a convenient philosophy for the rapidly expanding European powers and was used to justify their imperialism, colonialism, and racism (2000: 8).

Two other influential evolutionists, Morgan and Tylor, are known as “unilineal evolutionists”: “Both men believed there were universal evolutionary stages of cultural development that characterized the transition from primitive to complex societies” (2000: 8). An important point of departure in nineteenth century unilineal evolutionism was a belief in a universal development in which “Victorian society represented civilization in its highest currently extant form”. This belief was linked with the assumption that “contemporary ‘primitive’ cultures were like ‘living fossils’, similar to early stages of current advanced cultures”. From here, it was possible to believe that studying the history of the west could be done by means of studying contemporary “primitive” societies (2000: 9).

Unilineal social evolutionism as it developed in the nineteenth century has received fierce criticism. McGee and Warms, writing from the perspective of anthropology, observe how in early 20th century it was Boas who was one of the most prominent opponents. Boas showed that “cultures may have similar traits for a variety of reasons…Corresponding environments or historical accident may produce similar cultural traits independent of any universal evolutionary process” (2000: 131). Despite early criticism, for a long time anthropology has been attached to universal social evolutionary principles:

It has taken quite some time for anthropology to come to terms with a humanity that is equal, that is universally dynamic and changing, possibly in different ways within different projects, but which could not simply be sundered into the progressive and the traditional. (Miller, D. 1994: 59)

Within the academic world, directions have been taken into other, more nuanced ways of analyzing the world through social evolutionism (see McGee and Warms, 2000: 225). However, it is remarkable that nineteenth century unilineal social evolutionism, despite its many reasonable criticisms and refinements, is still abundantly (and problematically) present and alive in the world view of people both within and outside of the academic world. In the analysis of Taraf de Haïdouks I will illustrate how this works outside of the academic world: here I will give a clear (and quite shocking) example of the existence of unilineal social evolutionism in the writing of a musicologist.

The following quotations come from Broughton’s chapter on Romania in World Music. The Rough Guide:

Today, traditional music still flourishes throughout Romania…The isolation of the country and its almost medieval lifestyle preserved traditions that have been modernised out of existence elsewhere. As Romania now catches up with the West, just how long its amazing musical culture can survive is a thorny question (2000: 237).

If you want to experience a living European folk tradition, there is no beating Transylvania (2000: 237).

The older men and women know the old songs and still use them to express their own personal feelings (2000: 238).

Hundreds of years ago all the music of Europe probably sounded something like this (2000: 241, my italics).

In these quotations, a whole world of unilineal social evolutionary misunderstandings is hidden behind the word “still”: Traditional music “still” exists in Romania, old people “still” know the old songs, but this music is disappearing with the arrival of modern influences. Traditions have vanished and died in “our” culture, but thanks to a medieval way of living, they are “still” alive in Romania. The presumption in these descriptions is the existence of one universal unilineal ladder of social evolution, on which the whole of humanity scrambles upwards. Romanians are “still” standing on a step which modern humans have left behind a long time ago. However, Romanians are climbing up, coming closer to the top, the finishing point, of the ladder – which is, of course, the modern, civilized world. The closer they get, the more they will lose their age-old traditions.

It is obvious how Broughton’s way of describing Romanian music is directly related to nineteenth century unilineal social evolutionism. The life and music of Romanians can be understood, according to him, as a step back in time. For modern human beings, looking into Romanian culture is like catching a glimpse of their own ancestors and lost life.

However, Romanian music does not derive from stagnant time, nor has any other aspect of Romanian culture remained unchanged since some imaginary primal time. A brief look at the socialist regime of Ceauşescu from 1965 until 1989 is only one of many possible examples to show that tremendous changes have affected Romanian life. Following Soviet policy, folk music became a means “to create a shared experience of daily life and communal memory” (Slobin, 1996: 3). Colourful costumes, perfect choreographies and smoothly arranged folk music had to confirm the image of a mono-ethnic, happy, national Romania. Rădulescu describes some characteristics of folk music as it was being arranged within a national-communist ideology: “Order, submission, predictability, mystification of facts, and their [the folk music’s] presentation in a flattering, optimistic and self-justificatory light” (1997: 9). The effects of Ceauşescu’s policies with regard to music were enormous, as we can gather from Rădulescu’s portrayal:

The villagers listened with delight to the popular music [arranged folk music] of the media from every region of Romania. Furthermore, from a certain moment they let themselves be seduced by the idea that this music was the superior, noble, enriched version of their own, a version which quite naturally deserved to take priority. This idea was the fruit of a prolonged indoctrination, whose instruments were, on the one hand, radio, television, spectacles and folklore displays, all of which provided the peasants with models; and on the other hand cultural activists who came from the “centre”…who contributed explanatory speeches and practical advice about “correct style” (1997: 10).

The dichotomy which has arisen between Romanians who enjoyed the new folk music on the one hand and Romanians who rejected this music on the other hand, still has its repercussions, according to Rădulescu:

Their [the intellectuals’] attitude, which is perfectly understandable, had and still has significant negative repercussions: it discredited in the long run the traditional musical culture in all its forms – including the “original” and “true” – and hence indirectly the research devoted to it. This can be observed today, for when the Peasant Museum announced a competition for some junior research posts in ethnomusicology, no young intellectual worthy of that name showed the slightest sign of interest (1997: 10).

In connection to Broughton’s description of Romanian music, Rădulescu’s portrayal clearly demonstrates that Broughton’s unilineal social evolutionary view of Romanian music as part of immemorial, unchanged times can be challenged. Placed within the theoretical cobweb, the construction of the Other as coming from old and stagnant times is part of western projections of authenticity (as “origin”) onto the Other. The Others, in this case Broughton’s Romanians, are placed outside of modern, globalizing cultural and technological trends. This projection of authenticity derives from a longing for authenticity. To elucidate this longing, the idea of modernity is crucial.

The Time of Modernity

In this article, ideas about modernity depart from Daniel Miller’s analysis. According to him, the development of modernity started in the early sixteenth century, instigated by the Renaissance, the Reformation and the discovery of the New World. It brought about a shift in consciousness: “There is then a new concept of presentness, one which takes its sense from an opposition to the past and the future. The present is then a moment of becoming and this in turn leads to connotations of advancement or even acceleration” (1994: 62). Through this distinction between past and present, a radically different, new consciousness developed: “This new rupture stands for the end of a sense of the customary, a given tradition or order which legitimates everything that is done today simply as continuity with the way things have always been” (1994: 62). Because “the sense of the customary” was simultaneously “the sense of the legitimacy”, the transformation in consciousness has had far reaching moral consequences. From then on, people had to erect their own criteria within which they had to live, consciously knowing that they were erecting these criteria themselves:

On the one hand modernity brings self-consciousness, a refusal merely to follow custom, and a desire for self-knowledge, but at the same time this brings alienation from the criteria by which we continue our lives, and at first, the knowledge that many of these criteria are indeed our own creation, rather than merely given by some external force, is a deeply unsettling one (1994: 63).

Miller rightly stresses the fact that on its own, this consciousness is not a feature that is restricted to modernity: “many ethnographies and histories might reveal comparable concerns with the criteria of legitimacy and the reproduction of culture in other times and places” (1994: 65). However, it is its combination with the huge changes in the past centuries – brought about by industrial, scientific and communicative revolutions – which does make it a characteristic of modernity:

It is they (the tremendous changes) which finally transform the sense of change from something continuous and gradual to something accelerating exponentially, and create an overwhelming sense of the compression of space and time (1994: 66).

The sense of unprecedented modernity comes from the industrial and scientific revolutions which provide a new consciousness of modernity with novel forms of objectification such that the sense of being modern is constantly reinforced by the “evidence” of transience and innovation which are taken as characteristic of contemporary life (1994: 67).

“The sense of being modern” is, according to Miller, “constantly reinforced by the ‘evidence’ of transience and innovation which are taken as characteristic of contemporary life” (1994: 67).

Miller’s analysis of modernity provides the context in which the misconception of considering the time of the Other as age-old and stagnant could develop. Fabian’s analysis of time and the Other provides further insight into this misconception. Even though Fabian is writing specifically about anthropology, his analysis can, and should, be used much more broadly. His main argument is:

Nineteenth-century anthropology sanctioned an ideological process by which relations between the West and its Other, between anthropology and its object, were conceived not only as difference, but as distance in space and Time (1983: 147).

Ideas about the Other as distant in space and time, are closely interconnected to social evolutionary ideas, as Fabian shows:

…evolutionary anthropologists made difference “natural”, the inevitable outcome of the operation of natural laws. What was left, after primitive societies had been assigned their slots in evolutionary schemes, was the abstract, merely physical simultaneity of natural law (1983: 147).

Despite attacks on social evolutionary conceptions, “the temporal conceptions it had helped to establish remained unchanged” (1983: 147). That this is so, has already been demonstrated with the example of the Other in another time in the writings of musicologist Broughton. In the analysis of Taraf de Haïdouks it will become clear that Broughton is certainly not alone in understanding Romanian music through a unilineal social evolutionary point of view.

A direct line can be drawn between Miller’s analysis of modernity and the presence of Fabian’s different time of the Other. A characteristic of modernity is the combination of a consciousness that humans live within criteria they have constructed themselves with a sense of transience and continuous innovation. The Other is projected against this and placed within an imagined, natural (non-constructed) culture of ongoing traditions in a past and/or stagnant time. This will be illustrated partly in the analysis of Bartók and more extensively in the analysis of Taraf de Haïdouks.

Fabian’s book is a plea against the different time of the Other and I entirely agree with him: “This ‘petrified’ relation is a scandal. Anthropology’s Other is, ultimately, other people who are our contemporaries” (1983: 143). Fabian proposes to place the concept of “coevalness” in the centre of a new way to approach Others:

Coevalness aims at recognizing co-temporality as the condition for truly dialectical confrontation between persons as well as societies. It militates against false conceptions of dialectics – all those watered-down binary abstractions which are passed off as oppositions: left vs. right, past vs. present, primitive vs. modern. Tradition and modernity are not “opposed”…nor are they in “conflict”, in fact, locked in antagonistic struggle, are not the same societies at different stages of development, but different societies facing each other at the same Time (1983: 154-155).

However, despite the importance of Fabian’s arguments, a critical attitude towards placing the Other in another time runs the risk of neglecting to pay serious attention to the fact that this is simultaneously a way for people to make music meaningful. Therefore, Fabian’s argument should be combined with Van de Port’s argument about taking claims of authenticity (in which, after all, the time of the Other is crucial) seriously, instead of  just deconstructing them.

Roma and Romantic Gypsies

The last linkage in the theoretical cobweb, is “the gypsy”. This is not just a crucial issue because of the main subject of this article, Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsyfication, but also because ideas and images about the “gypsy identity” of the musicians of Taraf de Haïdouks are closely intertwined with authenticity.

Van de Port describes that in practically all European cultures, a “gypsy motive” can be found:

the Gypsy world as the refuge for all who wish to escape from the claustrophobic clutches of their regulated lives, a haven where people can quench their thirst for the wilder pleasures of life…The Gypsy Camp was Europe’s erogenous zone, the closest wildness, invested with the unfulfilled desires, impossible yearnings and unsatisfied passions of bourgeois civilization (1998: 6-7).

Despite some bizarre elements[2], Malvinni’s book The Gypsy Caravan also contains some sensible comments on the relationship between imagined and real gypsies in connection with music. Malvinni demonstrates how the world music industry uses romantic stereotypes about gypsies excessively, in which “improvisation” has a prominent role: “The image of this wild, seductive (equals sexy, perhaps even sexual), improvising Gypsy has appeared also in films intended for an intellectual and international audience, most notably Latcho drom, Underground, and The Red Violin” (2004: 52). Improvisation within gypsy music is frequently understood as a natural virtuosity – in opposition to, for example, the intellectual capabilities of the improvising jazz musician (2004: 47). “The cult of the natural can easily be grafted onto Gypsy music. In this view, Gypsies represent the ‘noble savage’. Their music functions as a bridge to the innocent and lost world of the primitive” (2004: 61). Improvisation in music, however, is not “natural”, as Malvinni also points out: [Improvisation] “can be proven to be based on rules, strict rhetorical codes, and highly sophisticated sociological contexts for listening and appreciation” (2004: 49). The image of natural and spontaneous improvisation has a direct connection to authenticity as content, as will be made clear later.

Combined with this image, another major image surrounds the gypsy: endless freedom. “Nostalgia for the freedom of life on the road is the vortex for marketing contemporary Gypsy music CDs” (2004: 207). According to Malvinni, “gypsiness” can be defined as “a set of ideas, both real and imagined, about Gypsies; its most common tropes are the road, journey, caravan, fire and the outdoors, sensuality, and nature” (2004: 213).

Besides romantic stereotypes, the harsh reality of many Roma has recently started to attract more attention. Frequently, however, this reality itself is elevated to something romantic: “The marketing of this music by concert promoters has begun to consider the political and economic plight of the Gypsies, but perhaps only in the name of how the suffering and persecution of Gypsies has deepened their capacity for emotional performance” (2004: 16). In the liner notes of the first CDs of Taraf de Haïdouks, a harsh life is also used in this romantic way, as will be demonstrated below.

Despite romantic stereotypes in the promotional material of gypsy music, Malvinni also points out how “music as a proud emblem of achievement is increasingly playing a significant role in the creation of the modern, trans-national Roma community” (2004: 203). Romantic imagined gypsies and real Roma have a complicated connection with each other. The International Gipsy Festival 2009 in Tilburg, with which this article began, offers a nice example to finish off the theoretical cobweb. The introduction of the programme notes starts with “real Roma”: “For the 13th time, Sinti and Roma from the Netherlands and far beyond will come to Tilburg”. Following this, the text turns to imaginary gypsies, mentioning the music as a “gipsy mix”, recommending “tasty gipsy snacks” and pointing to the line-up of six authentic gypsy caravans on the festival ground. The concluding words draw the real and imaginary together: “The Roma and Sinti community has come to regard this festival as a yearly reunion”. When real human beings are addressed, the terms Roma and Sinti are used; and when the content of the festival is praised, the romantically loaded term “gipsy” is used. Even more so, the romanticism of “gypsiness” is justified and confirmed as reality by means of pointing out the importance of this festival to, and with that the approval of, “real” Roma and Sinti.

The fact that Taraf de Haïdouks performed at a festival that (partly) derives its popularity thanks to images of romantic gypsies, is not unusual for this band. Even more so, Taraf de Haïdouks cannot be understood without these images. These images, the world music discourse, authenticity, orientalism, postcolonialism, Romania, unilineal social evolutionism and the time of modernity are all intertwined in the context in which Taraf de Haïdouks was created and became famous in the west. Before entering into that story, however, I will first look at the relationships between Bartók and the theoretical cobweb.

Bartók and authenticity

Rural folk music

Béla Bartók, together with Zoltán Kodály, is well-known for being a modernist composer who gave Hungarian classical music its own character through the use of Hungarian folk music. Writing at the end of his life, Bartók looks back upon the use of folk music in his compositions and reflects on its effects:

The renaissance of musical art, founded on unknown, unfaded and unspoiled treasures of folk music has almost become a new musical outlook in Hungary. Some Western Europeans make the great mistake of classifying this manifestation in musical works as a “folkloristic” tendency, minimizing its importance. The accent is not on the insertion of a “folkloristic” fragment into alien material, but rather – and this is much more significant – on the unfolding of a new musical spirit, rooted in the elements of music springing from the soil (1943/ 1976: 33).

This citation immediately exposes the importance of “authenticity” when discussing Bartók. He believed that his use of Hungarian folk music gave classical music a “new spirit” because of the authentic characteristics of folk music: it is an “unspoiled treasure” and it is music “springing from the soil”. The qualities in folk music which he especially admired, come to the fore in the following citation:

One of these characteristics is the complete absence of any sentimentality or exaggeration of expression. It is this which gives rural music a certain simplicity, austerity, sincerity of feeling, even grandeur…(These) qualities apply to all musical performances of unspoiled rural people. (1944/ 1976: 395)

While Bartók believed authenticity could be found in folk music from rural regions, he did not consider all folk music from these regions as authentic:

The more promising villages are those in which less foreign or urban influence has been felt…Village people who travel often or who are pedlars are not recommended as sources of folklore supply. The oldest settled villages are the very best – especially those in which village life has been going on for centuries and still continues according to the unwritten laws of the locality…Here is an absolute restriction: it is not permitted to accept educated persons as informants. (1936/ 1976: 13)

These passages are saturated with links to authenticity, unilineal social evolutionism and the time of the Other. However, before making these links explicit, it is interesting to present an additional, lengthy, citation from Bartók with regard to Romanian folk music:

It was there [in Ardeal, Romania] that as recently as twenty years ago the folk music researcher was elated by the opportunity of coming in contact with pure, uncontaminated material. It seems that this situation has changed today, except in those areas where special circumstances have prevented the country folk from experiencing the consequences of “happy” intercourse with modern urban culture. These special circumstances consist mostly of a scarcity of schools and transportation, and the unpretentiousness of the inhabitants. [This is] a wonderful state of things – from the point of view of the folklore researcher interested in uncontaminated material…For miles on end…there are entire villages with illiterate inhabitants, communities which are not linked by any railway or roads; here, most of the time the people can provide for their own daily wants, never leaving their native habitats except for such unavoidable travel as arises from service in the army or an occasional appearance in court. When one comes into such a region, one has the feeling of a return to the Middle Ages. (1933/ 1976: 119-120)

In all of the above citations, Bartók sketches a picture of villages where time has not changed throughout the centuries and where life consists of age-old, unchanged traditions which have been handed down from one generation to the next. Clearly, Bartók places the Other (rural villagers) outside of his time and into another, very old time.

A striking paradox with regard to Bartók’s Other in another time, can be derived from the footnote he added after having written:” Fortunately, at the time of collection whole areas were still almost completely illiterate”:

The reader is asked not to take this enunciation as being directed against civilization. As a human being, I understand the importance of and completely agree with the expansion of schools and other tokens of urban civilization in “backward” villages, even if it may lead to the entire destruction of folk art. As a folk music student, however, – quasi extra-humanly – I cannot help having enjoyed perhaps the last possibilities of studying folk music, at least in some restricted areas as yet entirely unspoilt by the “blessings” of urban civilization (1967: 5).

Bartók justifies this paradox by stating that he does understand the importance of civilization – that is, western modernity – for humanity in his role as human being, but that he enjoys “backwardness” in his role as “quasi extra-human student”. The fact that he did not regard himself as a “ordinary” human being in his role as folk music collector, reveals how he understands peasant societies as existing in “another” time. By constructing himself as “quasi extra-human student”, he places his contacts with peasant society outside of “ordinary” human life and time.

Unilineal social evolutionary ideas are clearly intertwined with Bartók’s outlook on folk music and culture. He believed the “wonderful state of things”, the unspoiled, authentic life, would come to an end with the arrival of influences from modern city culture. Moreover, he considered life in rural communities as a “natural” state of being, even linking peasant music with nature itself:

 Peasant music…must be regarded as a natural phenomenon, the forms in which it manifests itself are due to the instinctive transforming power of a community entirely devoid of erudition. It is just as much a natural phenomenon as, for instance, the various manifestations of Nature in fauna and flora. Correspondingly it has in its individual parts an absolute artistic perfection, a perfection in miniature forms which – one might say – is equal to the perfection of a musical masterpiece of the largest proportions. (1920/ 1976: 321-322)

According to Bartók, peasant music had reached a state of perfection because it was a natural, authentic phenomenon. Authenticity as natural already came to the fore in the theoretical cobweb. Lindholm, tracing this link back, shows that Rousseau experienced a tension between “the rules of civilization” and being able to express an “authentic, natural self”. As Rousseau believed in the evolution of humanity from “primitive purity to modern corruption”, he was convinced that traces of the true, authentic character of human beings could be found in “simple” cultures, as these were “closer to the state of nature” (20008: 8-9). The similarities with Bartók’s writings are striking. To him, peasant life offers a glance at how life used to be for western people once upon a time. He wanted to use the “primitive” – and therefore the valuable – characteristics of peasant musics in his western classical music, in order to bring a lost authenticity back to western people.

Within the framework of unilineal social evolutionism, frequently it was (and is) believed that reaching the top of the ladder, modernity, is what all cultures should strive for. However, as will have become clear, Bartók appreciated rural societies positively thanks to the absence of signs of modernity. Before I clarify Bartók’s sense of modernity, I will first expand on his belief in authenticity by looking at his relationship to hybridity and gypsies.

Hybridity and Gypsies

In her article about Bartók, gypsies and hybridity, Brown describes how Bartók’s views on gypsy music and hybridity shifted throughout his life. She bases this description on the many letters and essays Bartók wrote. According to Brown, Bartók made a distinction between good and bad hybrid musics in his early years: his own fusion of western classical music with elements of folk music was a good hybrid, while music played by gypsies was a bad mix of musical elements. Brown places this distinction within the context of social darwinism:

In wider European culture in this period, racial and evolutionary thought served as new, scientific proofs legitimating long established prejudices against Jews and Gypsies…To read Bartók’s representation of Gypsy music within this context is to understand the “contaminating” Oriental influence as contributing through inauspicious hybridization to a degeneration of Hungarian musical “stock” along Darwinian lines (2000: 125-126).

Social darwinists, as Brown explains, thought that “wrong” racial mixtures caused the decline of culture, while a “right” racial composition led to higher evolutionary development. Influenced by this way of thinking, Bartók understood gypsy music as contaminated music, causing decline, and rural music as creating “replenishment and healing” (2000: 127-129). However, Brown perceives a shift in Bartók’s way of thinking from the 1920s onwards:

Although Bartók maintained his original judgement here (namely, that peasant music possessed a certain purity compared to Gypsy music’s impurity), his rhetoric has shifted from one of contamination as a result of undesirable ethnic confrontation…toward one of natural beauty [rural music] versus commercial vulgarity [gypsy music] (2000: 129-130).

From 1931 onwards, Brown sees a third, more radical, re-orientation. As social darwinism started to develop further along fascist lines, Bartók came to understand the ultimately racist consequences of his ideas. He realized that purity, as he had imagined it as a crucial characteristic of rural folk music, did not exist. Rural folk music, just like any other music, was a hybrid, which had developed out of a complex web of influences. At the end of his life, Bartók even wrote that “racial impurity…is definitely beneficial”. Brown understands this as a fierce reaction to the ever more threatening development of racial issues in Europe. She argues that it shows that Bartók, at the end of his life, had come to the insight that all music is hybrid and that he had come to appreciate this (2000: 132). There are three important issues in Brown’s description that need to be criticized.

Firstly, Brown tries to sketch a straightforward line of development in Bartók’s way of thinking about gypsies, hybridity and music. However, in reality it was not a straightforward development. I will demonstrate this by introducing one aspect of Bartók’s Romanian Dances, the same music which would be re-gypsified ninety-two years later by Taraf de Haïdouks. For this composition, Bartók made a selection out of hundreds of melodies which he had collected before the First World War in a part of Romania that was at the time still Hungarian territory. Many of his transcriptions can be found in books which were published both during and after his life. In these books, each transcription is accompanied with a short note on the place where Bartók had heard the melody, the name of the musician, his or her (estimated) age, whether it was performed by a man, woman or gypsy and which instruments were played. In his book on Romanian instrumental music, Romanian Folk Music Volume 1, I have found five out of the seven melodies of the Romanian Dances. The information which Bartók noted down is interesting, as it contradicts Brown’s line of development. Bartók had heard the melody of the first dance, Joc cu bâtă, in 1912, played by “doi ţigani” (1967: 364 melody 425) and the melody of the fourth dance, Buciumeana, in 1910, played by “un ţigan” (1967: 181 melody 175). Brown argues that Bartók, in his early years, had a completely negative opinion on music played by gypsies, as he viewed this as opposed to the pure and authentic music he believed to be the most valuable. Only after 1931 did he begin, according to Brown, to let go of the idea of purity, and with that, of his negative attitude towards music performed by gypsies. However, the fact that Bartók already transcribed music performed by gypsies in 1910 (his early years, according to Brown), and even used these to compose his own music (in 1915, still in his early years within Brown’s division), is contradicting Brown’s argument that Bartók rejected gypsy music altogether in his early period. While it would go too far to argue that Bartók had a truly positive view of gypsy musicians during these early years, the Romanian Dances show, at the very least, that he has always had an ambiguous, instead of entirely negative, attitude.

The second criticism on Brown’s article regards her argument that Bartók’s initial limited search for and appreciation of “pure (rural) music” developed throughout his life towards a point of view in which Bartók understood and appreciated hybridity as fundamental characteristic of all musics, including of rural music. Brown bases this argument on an essay Bartók wrote in 1942, titled Race Purity in Music. The following two quotations from this essay support Brown’s argument:

Comparison of the folk music of these [East European] peoples made it clear that there was a continuous give and take of melodies, a constant crossing and recrossing which had persisted through centuries. (1942/ 1976: 30)

[The greater the difference is between two melodies]…the greater the changes that fortunately may occur in the “emigrated” melody. I say “fortunately” because this phenomenon itself engenders a further increase in the number of types and sub-types. (1942/ 1976: 30)

Clearly, Bartók states here that outside influences, and with that hybridities, are a positive phenomenon. However, Brown overlooks the fact that Bartók had a very limited appreciation of hybridity in mind: he only valued the influences between rural musics as positive hybrids. In the same essay, he writes:

…the survival of folk music in the near or distant future [is] a rather doubtful outcome considering the rapid intrusion of higher civilization into the more remote parts of the world. (1942/1976: 31)

This quotation makes clear that Bartók considered influences of “higher civilization” a threat to rural music. These influences could not lead to the positive transformation which he wrote about in the other quotations from this essay. On the contrary, folk music did not have much chance to survive when confronted with these influences, according to Bartók. Brown’s conclusion, that at the end of his life, Bartok had come to acknowledge and appreciate the hybrid nature of all musics, needs to be nuanced. With regard to rural music, it was only the influences which occurred between different rural musics which he appreciated. He viewed other influences, for example from urban areas, still as threads and contaminations.

The reason for Brown’s mistaken analysis is due to the context in which she places Bartók’s opinions on gypsies, hybridity and purity. The third criticism of Brown’s article is that the context she uses – the racial aspects of social darwinism – is too narrow and one-sided to draw a well-fitting picture. When reading Bartók’s essays, it turns out that modernity is a much more present context in which his ideas and opinions on purity, authenticity and hybridity took shape.


In the following quotations from several of his essays, Bartók’s fears for modernity come clearly to the fore. In an early essay written in 1911, he speaks of a feeling that modern time destroys valuable things:

[The phonograph is a] splendid invention, unlike those others which have been responsible for the destruction of beautiful things, [it] has seemingly been given us by way of compensation for the immensely great devastation that has been the consequence of this age of inventions. (1911/1931/ 1976: 239)

In 1937 Bartók wrote an essay with the title Mechanical Music. In it, he describes further his fear of losing important qualities of life, and music, because of the ongoing development of modern inventions:

…broadcast music (radio) is, from a higher aesthetical point of view, a kind of substitute music which, for the time being, at least, can by no means replace listening to live music on the spot…The radio and gramophone, therefore, will sooner or later develop into a calamity equivalent to any of the seven Egyptian plagues, even topping them, because the spread of these devices is infinite. (1937/ 1976: 295)

It can also be presumed that the average person who does much listening to radio music becomes so accustomed to the distorted tone colours that he gradually loses his sense for the tone colours of live music, to the extent that he might not even enjoy the latter. (1937/ 1976: 296)

All that has been said here does not mean to imply that there should be no mechanical music, only that mechanized music cannot be a substitute for live music; just as a photograph, no matter how artistic, cannot be a substitute for a painting nor a movie for the stage…Trouble would begin, however, if mechanical music were to flood the world to the detriment of live music, just as manufactured products have done to the detriment of handicraft. I conclude my essay with this supplication: May God protect our offspring from this plague! (1937/ 1976: 298)

In these quotations, Bartók displays a worried feeling towards modern inventions as the radio, especially as he does not know where the “infinite spread of these devices” will lead to. His greatest fear becomes clear in the following passage:

Here in the West it is hard to imagine that in certain parts of Europe practically all objects for everyday use, clothing as well as tools and implements, are home-made. There is no trace of mass production or standardized articles manufactured in factories. The smallest articles have individuality, changing their form and style in every district, frequently in neighbouring villages. The delight offered to the ear by the variety of folk tunes is paralleled by the visual pleasure over the divergence in the shape and colour of objects. These are unforgettable experiences, painfully unforgettable as we realize that this artistic aspect of rural life is doomed to perish. And once extinct, it will never flourish again and nothing similar will ever take its place. The vacuum left in its stead will be filled by misinterpreted urban culture and the scraps of mechanized civilization. (1943/ 1976: 34)

This passage nicely shows the importance of understanding Bartók’s concern with authenticity within the context of modernity: in it he shows concern for the development of mass production, a characteristic of modern society, as he expected it to lead to a further disappearance of a real, authentic life in the west. Returning to the explanations of the theoretical cobweb, Bartók projects the Other (peasant culture) against modernity and places him within an imagined, natural (non-constructed) culture of ongoing traditions in a past, stagnant time.

The Romanian Dances

Bartók considered collecting and classifying peasant music as a scientific activity which needed to be done as accurately as possible. He recorded the music that was performed for him and transcribed it on the site. Later, he would check and improve his transcriptions with the help of the recordings. Besides these scientific motives, Bartók was also interested in the melodies of peasant music to study and use them for the benefit of his own compositions. The musical characteristics of peasant music which especially appealed to him, were, firstly, the existence of old modes which he experienced as “robustly alive”, and secondly, modes with raised seconds which were unfamiliar to him. He also discovered a rich variety of rhythms (1928/ 1976: 334-338). In 1921, he wrote that these attractive characteristics of folk music freed him from the “tyrannical rule of the major and minor keys” (1921/ 1976: 410).

Bartók’s point of departure in using melodies of peasant music in his own compositions, was his aversion to adding simple I-V chords; “monstrosities” as he called them. Connected to this was his opinion that the simplest melodies were particularly suitable to be accompanied by the most daring chords (1943/ 1976: 374-375).

In an essay from 1941, based on a lecture he gave at Columbia University, he distinguishes three ways in which he uses his transcriptions of peasant music for his own compositions.

In the first category, the main aspect of his composition consists of the transcription of the melody itself. The added accompaniment and eventual prelude and postlude, “may only be considered as the mounting of a jewel”. The second category covers compositions in which the importance of the transcription equals the importance of Bartók’s additions. Within the third category, “the added composition-treatment attains the importance of an original work, and the used folk melody is only to be regarded as a kind of motto” (1941/ 1976: 351-352). During his lecture, Bartók played the fifth dance of the Romanian Dances as an example of the first category. He could have played any of the dances, as all of its melodies correspond with Bartók’s transcriptions for the greater part. Nevertheless, he nowhere uses these transcriptions literally. Some notes have been changed, some motives or bars have been added or removed and some ornamentations or rhythms have been simplified.[3]

Bartók composed the Romanian Dances in 1915 for piano and arranged them for small orchestra in 1917. The original version consists of six dances and the arranged version of seven, as Bartók notated the second part of the sixth dance as a separate dance in the orchestra version. The transcriptions he used for the dances do not have a direct relation with each other; Bartók collected these melodies in diverse parts of Romania. In the musical analysis, more will be said on the techniques which Bartók used when composing the Romanian Dances. Before turning to this, however, an analysis of the relationship between Taraf de Haïdouks and authenticity will be made. Even though the life and musics of Bartók and Taraf de Haïdouks are separated by many years, many similar issues and concerns play a role when analyzing the contexts within which they exist(ed): modernity, the Other in another time, unilineal social evolutionism and romanticizing peasant culture.

Taraf de Haïdouks and authenticity

Taraf de Haïdouks comes to life in the west: discovered or covered up?

The managers

Many of Taraf de Haïdouks musicians come from Clejani, a village 60 kilometers southwest of Bucharest. This village is renowned for its music, as Rădulescu describes: “the village is an old ‘music school’ of Muntenia which trains its disciples by requiring their total implication in the art of their choice”.[4] In 1969, a book was even devoted to the famous repertoire and performing style of Clejani’s musicians: Lãutarii din Clejani. Repertoriu şi stil de interpretare[5] by G. Ciobanu. Considering Clejani’s fame, it was no coincidence that Swiss musicologist L. Aubert found himself recording musicians from this specific village in the 1980s. In collaboration with the Romanian musicologist S. Rădulescu, this recording was released in France in 1988.[6] Two Belgian men, the later managers of Taraf de Haïdouks, stumbled upon this recording by chance and became so interested that they travelled to Clejani. There, they picked out the musicians they thought to be most suitable to sell in a western market and named them Taraf de Haïdouks.

This, however, is not the story that is told in the promotional material about the band. In the liner notes of the third CD, Dumbala Dumba, issued by the Belgian managers, an adventurous discovery-story is told, in which the two men from Belgium travelled to a village in a faraway, other, communist world, where they discovered a street full of amazing gypsy musicians. Reinforcing the image of explorers who do not shrink from the great unknown, Winter and Karo (the managers) have told in interviews over and over again how hard it was to find the village, because maps of Romania did not exist at the time. This discovery-story is not exceptional within the world music discourse, as Taylor asserts: “Often these Westerners who become involved with recording remote musics tap into the explorer narratives: they are heading off to mysterious places looking for mysterious music” (1997: 28).

In the story of the two Belgian men as discoverers of the musicians of Clejani, there is no space for the earlier life of the musicians. Instead, this earlier life is depicted as a stagnant time in which continuous misery and poverty dominated, as the following story in the CD booklet of Dumbala Dumba illustrates. First a sad story is described about the poverty-stricken situation and the bad health of violinist Nicolae Neacşu, but after the arrival of “a Belgian man” the story suddenly takes on a heroic character:

Out of the window he has seen a very tall man walking along the tracks of Gypsyland…It seems to Nicolae he heard the man pronounce his name: “Neacsu Nicolae”. Is it possible? A foreigner, come to this god-forsaken hole to bring him, Nicolae, back from the dead?…The foreigner is from “the land of Belgium”. His arrival marks the beginning of the incredible saga of the “Taraf de Haïdouks” and their travels throughout Europe.

Besides painting a superficial, one-sided story about the life of the musicians before their “discovery”, the earlier recordings which had led Winter and Karo to Clejani in the first place are never mentioned, as if they want to make sure everybody understands the musicians were their, and only their, discovery.

Besides creating and managing Taraf de Haïdouks, Winter and Karo established Divano Production in 1989. Through this association, their main purpose was “to promote traditional music from all over the world”( A link on their website refers to Freemuse (freedom of musical expression) as “our partner for free movement of artists in the world”. Freemuse describes itself as an independent international organisation that strives for freedom of musical expression for musicians and composers ( The fact that Divano Production introduces an organization like Freemuse as partner, is not unusual within the world music world, as the following quotation illustrates:

The desire to advertise a democratic vision of world music is central to its industrial success in the West…The advertisement of this democratic and liberal vision for world music embodies idealism about free-flows, sharing, and choice. But it masks the reality that visibility in product choice is directly related to sales volume, profitability, and stardom…In the end, no matter how inspiring the musical creation, no matter how affirming its participatory dimension, the existence and success of world music returns to one of globalization’s basic economic clichés: the drive for more and more markets and market niches (Feld, S. 2000: 167)

Just like the advertising of a democratic vision on world music can hide a reality of pursuit of gain, the introduction of Freemuse is also a concealment, or at least a deception, of a somewhat other reality. As one of the Belgian managers, Winter, tells in an interview:[7]

Technology is a problem, too. People today want pop. Romanies are using synthesizers, and just two people can form a group. The synthesizer plays the bass, accordion and cimbalom parts, and the other member usually sings and plays the violin. This kind of thing is happening quite often now, and so part of our work is to convince Romanies to go on playing their own music, and to keep the beauty of the traditional instruments alive.

Apart from what the musicians would want themselves, Winter thinks the band should play on “traditional” instruments. This is a gross contradiction with the freedom of expression for musicians which Winter’s “partner” Freemuse supports, and a striking example of the west deciding how the Other can present himself, as was discussed in the issue of authenticity in the theoretical cobweb. And just like Bartók understood modern influences on traditional musics as contaminations of authenticity, Winter fears the influence of technology on traditional music for destroying its authenticity.

To finish this section on Taraf de Haïdouks’ managers, a short comment will be made with regard to the name of the band. In Romania, a common way to name bands like Taraf de Haïdouks, is to call them “taraf de” (meaning “band from”), followed by the name of the village or city where the musicians come from. The managers chose to emphasize the Romanian origin of the band through giving it this common name, but instead of calling the band “Taraf de Clejani” they decided for “haïdouks”. A “haïdouk” is a legendary, romantic figure in Romanian folklore and it calls up three images. Firstly, it calls up an exotic image, as it is an unknown word to most western people. Secondly, the figure of the “haïdouk” has a clear link with western images of romantic gypsies: the “haïdouk” symbolizes “freedom and social justice, the smartness of the people as opposed to the naivety of the lord”, as he steals from the rich and gives to the poor.[8] Images of freedom and reversal of social hierarchies closely intertwine with images of gypsies on the road, living outside the law. Thirdly, the “haïdouk” is a figure from Romanian ballads and is thereby intertwined with medieval associations. Consequently, the “haïdouk” in Taraf de Haïdouks also calls up an image of “very old” and rooted in tradition. As a result, the name which was chosen by the managers clearly demonstrates how they wanted to present the musicians: as exotic, romantic gypsies, coming from a faraway Romanian past.

The packaging of the CDs

Taking a close look at the packaging of the CDs which were released under the management of Winter and Karo, will lead to further insight into the relationship between the images through which Taraf de Haïdouks has been marketed and the issues from the theoretical cobweb. First a short description of the make-up of each booklet will be given, followed by an all-embracing analysis of the described elements. The last CD, Maškaradă, with the re-gypsified Romanian Dances, will be discussed later.

In the texts and visual layout of the CDs, the message of authenticity is spread with the help of four themes: the various generations which participate in the band, the relationship of the band with the rituals of peasant life, the gypsy origin of the musicians and the relationship of the band with the figure of the “haïdouk”.

The first CD, Musique des Tsiganes de Roumanie, was released in 1991. The CD booklet is illustrated with drawings and photographs. Drawings of eight-headed beasts and prehistoric woodlouse-like insects resemble rock drawings and call up associations with the primitive. The photographs of children with musical instruments (which are either too big or play-acted) and the old, toothless violinist Neacşu are there to show us how music is handed down from one generation to the next. In the text, and related to this, is the division of the musicians into two camps. On the one hand “old and toothless gypsies still sing the ancestral ballads” and on the other hand, the young ones enjoy Turkish, Bulgarian and Yugoslavian rhythms, play on new instruments like the accordion and are musically inspired by radio and television: “In the present composition of the taraf…every generation is present: the old tunes are at each moment contrasted with the innovations of the younger members”. In the text, the music and musicians are placed within a rural environment in which music accompanies the rituals of village life. Also, a reference is made to a specific “gypsy style” which is indissolubly connected with folk music: “Like the traditional song…, the gypsy song fits into the time of life: it is listened to whilst eating, drinking, talking, dancing”. As it is the first CD, an explanation is given about the figure of the “haïdouk”: “Brigand of feudal Romania, the Haidouk is the great heroic character of traditional ballad. In the countryside, he still symbolises today a certain freedom and social justice, the smartness of the people as opposed to the naivety of the lord: in all these tales, the Haidouk, by his force but also by his mind (he disguises himself, he plays tricks, etc.) ends up outsmarting the lord”. This underlines my earlier argument that the haïdouk is used as symbol to remind one of a faraway, Romanian past, as well as of romantic gypsies.

In 1994, Honourable Brigands, Magic Horses and Evil Eye was released. The background of the first and last page of the CD booklet consists of a map with arrows and question marks, referring to the route the gypsies would have followed from India to Europe. On the other pages, there are photographs of musicians with their instruments in a rustic, poor environment. All of the pictures are yellowed, as if they are very old. In contrast, the last photograph is a richly colourful picture of diverse people (like an old violin player and a small boy with a huge accordion) sitting in a room with multi-coloured tapestries and pictures hanging on the walls.

The text of this CD booklet consists of conversations between “the old rhapsode” and “the young virtuoso”, as in the following conversation about a dance, the “Geamparale”:[9]

Caliu: We have modernized the Geamparale. Before, we played it in the old-fashioned way, Neacsu’s way, and we, the young, have arranged it in a new style full of virtuosity. It’s very different.

Neacşu: That’s right, in the old days we played the Geamparale in a way which is no longer appreciated.

Caliu: The old style was mostly appreciated by the Romanians.

Neacşu: It was the old tradition, the ways of yesteryear. The young have modernized the dance, and instead of playing like us, the old ones, they do it their way. No, they don’t want to play it like us anymore. But I like both versions.

Caliu: Gypsies dance more readily to our version.

Neacşu: It’s different.

Caliu: Even the Romanians don’t dance to the old versions anymore. If you play the traditional style Geamparale, they say you’re having them on.

Neacşu: No, the young don’t play it the way we used to.

I will come back later to the “permission” given by Neacşu to perform the Geamparale in a new way (“I like both versions”). Lastly, in an explanation of old violinist Neacşu on a ballad he sings on the CD about a famous haïdouk named Corbea, the image of the “haïdouk” also shows up in this CD booklet.

The third CD, Dumbala Dumba, was released in 1998. On the photographs we see fragments of a poverty-stricken village life: an old woman cooking outside, a mother (grandmother?) holding a naked, dirty girl on her arm, a dead woman in an open coffin surrounded by mourning people, a bride, shabby, miserable looking families. Among these pictures, another photograph shows up of old Neacşu and a young boy, both holding a violin.

The text refers to the traditional music and dances in “this lost corner of the great Romanian plain”, which “amidst the clamour of the modern life” still “obstinately survive”, thanks to the lautari, the gypsy musicians. Again, attention is drawn to the old generation, “masters of rhyme and guardians of the old storytelling tradition”, and the musicians of the new generation, who have turned “their backs on the traditional haïdouks, princesses and village dances” and instead have started to play music with “more of a Gypsy feel”.

The last element of this CD booklet consists of “biographies” of poor village people, leading a miserable life, as in the following passage:

Last night, an excess of plum brandy turned into a torrent of sadness, and Mitica sang the tunes from his lost youth. At first he sang quietly, heartbreakingly, then at the top of his lungs, caring little if he woke the whole damned village. He bellowed his despair at the ink-black sky. He bellowed at the plains and the oil wells where he lost his health. He bellowed at the sodden earth wherein rots his daughter, the most beautiful girl in the world. He would have cried if he could, but his tears were all dried up. Gypsy destiny, devil take you!

Besides a tough, but, because of that, “real” existence, this passage also paints a picture of the gypsy who expresses his deepest emotions through a passionate song.

Band of Gypsies, the fourth CD, was released in 2001. What stands out immediately is that the CD booklet is much less about the themes of generations, traditions or haïdouks and more about the “gypsy”. The CD is a live recording of a concert that was given in Bucharest in collaboration with other musicians. The front of the CD is a group photo of all the musicians, dressed in proper black clothes. Inside the booklet we see photographs of the musicians during the rehearsals and concert, accompanied by the names of the individual musicians. A black-and-white photograph of the band sitting on a trailer pulled by a tractor, whilst playing music, almost lures us back into a feeling of rural authenticity, but we are pulled out of this when we read the text, as it states that this was a staged happening for a movie. The last photograph, also in black-and-white, shows us the end of the village: a road sign on which the word Clejani is crossed out, and behind the road sign a long, narrow road leading into bare plains.

The text is in contrast with the fragmented pieces of text in the previous CD booklets, as it is a continuous story. The preparations and performance for the live recording of the concert are described, followed by a description of a day together with the musicians in Clejani, which was organized for the international journalists who would be attending the concert. The only reference made to traditions and old and new generations, occurs in a criticism addressed to Romanian musicologist Rădulescu. A description of the diverse audience which came to the concert leads to the following comment. Romanian academics are also present, like Rădulescu,

the ethnomusicologist who first recorded the Taraf elders in the late ’80s. She explains that she prefers the medieval ballads sung by the older generation to the modernist drift of the young. Ionitsa, the group’s spokesman, says “To create the old musicians of tomorrow there have to be young musicians today”.

This is a clear statement that has been developed since the first CD: innovations are an indissoluble part of traditions. Rădulescu is being attacked here for linking traditions to “no change”.

In the text, the gypsy aspect of Taraf de Haïdouks is stressed mainly through pointing out the discriminating attitude of Romanians. For example, the text tells us that Taraf de Haïdouks, who had given more than 1000 concerts abroad at the time, had never given an official concert within Romania, because the musicians “always [have] been dismissed as ‘ragged Gypsies’”. The concert was almost cancelled, according to the CD booklet, when the management of the concert hall found out they had hired it to a group of gypsy musicians. An image of the sly gypsy – and the haïdouk – is painted in a description of two Taraf-musicians who tried to pinch money from two journalists through a shrewd joke, resulting in sympathetic laughter on both sides.

The four main themes which are used in the packaging of the CDs – the various generations which participate in the band, the relationship of the band with the rituals of peasant life, the gypsy origins of the musicians and the relationship of the band with the figure of the “haïdouk” – are based on the idea of authenticity. Firstly, authenticity as origin is amply present. An image of an age-old, and, consequently, authentic life is constructed through referring to “rituals of village life”, “old and toothless gypsies” who sing “ancestral ballads” and “traditions” which are handed down from one generation to the next. Photographs of old musicians and young children with an instrument are especially effective in strengthening this last image. Remarkable is the fact that it is not solely a static image of stagnant time which is put up, as the innovations and hybrid musical influences of the younger musicians are simultaneously stressed. However, this image is not as liberating as it seems to be at first glance, as the approval, or even permission, of the old generation is emphasized whereever the innovations are mentioned. For example, in the conversation between Caliu and Neacşu about the way a dance is played (in the booklet of the second CD), the old violinist approves of the new version of the younger generation, “I like both versions”. What is happening here, is Stokes’ hybridity as new authenticity, as described in the theoretical cobweb: in this image, there is no conflict between the old and new generation, between tradition and innovation. Thanks to the approval of the old generation – which is a symbol for authenticity, for what Taylor described as “the timeless, the ancient, the primal” – the innovations in the music are not a danger but a guarantee for the continuation of the authenticity of the music.

The image of music which has been handed down from one generation to the next as a continuous, unbroken tradition, does not do any justice to the dynamics which are inevitably part of human life and music. In a video clip that can be found on YouTube, one of Taraf de Haïdouks’ musicians also tells a different story:[10] “Apart from the money, you can also show other people your culture and music. When this is appreciated, this is a good thing for the village, because the people in the village then see that the music is alive. It is a good motivation for the youngsters to study, so that they will be able to replace the old musicians.”

Because the music is played at western venues, so the musician reasons, the Romanian people in the village see that it is alive. But in the west, the music is imagined as an important aspect of daily, traditional Romanian life. According to the musician, the youngsters in the village who study music, do so because they see that Taraf de Haïdouks is successful and earning money in the west. This is a radically different reason to study music than is put forth in the image of the son learning from his father just because life is made up of the continuities of tradition.

Much world music is packaged through a romantic imagining of the original location of the music. The photographs in the CD booklets of Taraf de Haïdouks – on the one hand: of a poor, miserable, hard life, on the other hand: of a colourful life – are an example of what Stokes has called a “fetishization of the local flavour” (2004: 53).

The image of a poor and miserable life is part of authenticity as content. The toughness of life makes this life “real”, as is suggested in the booklet of the second CD. Authenticity as content is further called up through the image of the gypsy. This was done explicitly in the second CD, with the story of the suffering gypsy who sang passionately about his misery. More implicit are the constant, vague, references to a “gypsy feel”, “gypsy style”, “gypsy song” and the route which gypsies have, supposedly, taken from India to Europe. In the fourth CD, a gypsy identity was emphasized mainly by pointing to the discrimination of Roma in Romania. The connection between gypsy and authenticity comes to a “climax” with Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsification project and will thus be explained later in the article in an analysis of the project.

The above description of the packaging of the CDs will be explicitly linked to the theoretical cobweb later, but to finish off this description, it is interesting to briefly enter into social evolutionism. A quite striking picture appears when the content of the CD booklets is placed in a successive row, as it resembles a social evolutionary development. In the first CD booklet, direct references were made to the primitive; among others, through “rock drawings”. In the second booklet a suggestion was made of life in far-off days with the help of yellowed photographs of the musicians. In the third booklet the central point was a miserable and poor village life. The fourth booklet shows a much more “contemporary” image than the image of a very different Other in the first three booklets: a story is told about the realization of a live recording in the city, photographs show the musicians as musicians; they are dressed properly, their names are mentioned on the photographs, they are rehearsing and giving a concert: they are no longer shabby, anonymous villagers. Even more so, the last photograph of the road leading out of Clejani is a clear message: the musicians have transcended Clejani, village life and poverty. On the last CD, yet to be discussed, the western, civilized world is reached through what is imagined to be one of its most extraordinary achievements: western classical music. In short, the content of the CD booklets follows an unilineal social evolutionary development, as it develops from primitive, to very old, to the traditional village, to the modern city, to western civilization. Unilineal social evolutionism also plays a significant role in the following discussion of the DVD about Taraf de Haïdouks.


In 2005 a DVD was presented, also under the management of the Belgian managers: The continuing adventures of Taraf de Haïdouks, of which I will discuss the most important points. The main documentary, No man is a prophet in his own land, consists of an interview with the managers. This interview is alternated by fragments of video material of the musicians, but the musicians do not speak themselves.

In the first shot, the musicians are standing outside on a sand road in a village, playing music around a campfire. Through this first shot, images of a faraway past and romantic, free gypsies are immediately associated. These two images are strengthened when the shot is alternated by shots of the managers, each separately sitting in a scenery of richly coloured, flowery cloths and chairs. Whilst the managers are telling their “discovery story” against this cheerful background, contrasting, ash grey shots appear of village poverty such as ragged children smoking cigarettes, shabby women with headscarves and a “traditional” baptism ceremony (0.00-4.38). In the conclusion of the first part of the documentary, the following text appears: “That was the beginning of the adventures of the Taraf de Haïdouks” (4.39-6.25) whilst a yellowed short movie is shown of the musicians playing music. The message is clear: these musicians come from another, faraway past.

Strikingly, even though the managers have close contacts with the musicians, they still consider them as Others from another time, as the following quotation by Karo unambiguously demonstrates: “I was with the Taraf, watching my own contemporaries, Westerners, Belgians, French etc, from the Taraf’s point of view. It was a huge discovery, because everything was much stranger, the world became strange, and very funny, too” (39.08-39.26). The musicians come from another (older) time, Karo has his own contemporaries (western people): this is a more than obvious case of Fabian’s other time of the Other. After having spoken about the many prestigious places throughout the world where Taraf de Haïdouks has given concerts, Karo finishes off by stating: “It always comes back to the same phenomenon. Wherever they’ve been, they always end up back in the same place: beaten earth, Clejani, the village, the family, the children, the old ones growing older, the young ones growing up and life takes up where it left long before the tours started” (42.48-43.05). This is followed by a suggestive succession of colourful shots of Bucharest, shots of a long road through barren plains, to ash grey shots of poor villages with shabby huts and shabby people, until, in conclusion, a yellowish shot appears of a dancing woman dressed in a long skirt (the “gypsy”) (43.22-44.42). No misunderstanding is possible about the message: Notwithstanding any of the places in the world where they have travelled to, nor the influences which they have come across, the musicians of Taraf de Haïdouks will always and ultimately, in essence, be musicians from another time; they will always stay authentic (as origin). At the end of the documentary, we hear the voice of old Neacşu who says (in Romanian, with English translation): “Music flows in the veins of all gypsies” (48.23-48.26). Authenticity as content, gypsies have music in their blood, in their physical make-up, is the obvious message.

It is only in a bonus track of 23 minutes, entitled The Taraf speak to you…, that the musicians are called upon to speak themselves. They mainly talk about how they have learned to play their instruments. The old musicians also describe the poor circumstances of their youth and later life.

Taylor has stated that much world music, once it has ended up in western markets, needs a western “interpreter” in order to be presented (1997: 28). In this subsection of the article, it has been demonstrated that the Belgian managers are the interpreters. In the documentary, the managers explain where the musicians come from and what their music is about, and even throw some light on what it has meant for the musicians to become part of a world-famous band. The musicians do not say – or are not given the word to say – anything about these issues. The DVD and the CDs, including the CD booklets with their constructions of authenticity, have all been made under the management of the managers. The images about Taraf de Haïdouks which are part of selling the band in the west, are western images in which the musicians are considered as Others. It is in this sense that the “discovery” of Taraf de Haïdouks, which resulted in packaging the musicians as authentic, has meant a covering up of the musicians as contemporary human beings. But how did the western public, for whom this package was made, respond and give meaning to the band and its music? This question will be scrutinized in the following subsection.

A warm, but western[11], welcome

The relationship between commerce and consumer is characterized by interaction, as

people are not just seduced by the way the music industry tries to sell its music, but people also let themselves be seduced, as I have suggested before.

Reviews in newspapers, magazines and on the internet, and responses to videos of Taraf de Haïdouks which have appeared on, all make use of four main themes in making sense of Taraf de Haïdouks: authenticity as origin (ancient and uncontaminated), authenticity as content (the passionate gypsy), hybridity as authenticity and virtuosity and speed. These themes partly overlap with each other and with the themes which make up the packaging of the CDs and DVD.[12] Each of them will be exemplified by some representative quotations followed by a preliminary exploration of the relationships with the theoretical cobweb.[13]

Authenticity as origin: ancient and uncontaminated


This is the essence of music, passionate and earthy and filled with ecstasy and sadness (17)

[Karo was searching for] something more culturally isolated, something closer to the bone (6)

Indo-European time machine (6)

Privilege to see real musicians playing real music on real instruments with real passion (20)

What is it about these guys?! It’s not just the music, ITS THEM!! Their faces, their character, their dignity, the unity, the equality, the chaos, the desperation, the love…the secret to life!!! (21)


A corner of Tony Blair’s old borough was transformed, momentarily, into a raucous outpost of Eastern Europe. (14)

Raw, quavering voices (11)

This band of ageless gipsies (14)

Ancient musical traditions (19)

During the breaks from touring the West, the members of Taraf always return to their town, Clejani, and to their traditional style of life. They live music for music, and are present in all events of social life of the town: baptisms, weddings, etc. (18)

Although this is, of course, all “staged” with the help of Belgian producers, as you listen, you really do feel as if you are hearing music just as it would be played, on ritual occasions, back in the Romanian village. And when they’re not touring, of course, the artists of Taraf de Haïdouks are, indeed, back in the village, playing for weddings and other occasions.

Part of the intoxication of a Taraf performance is hearing music that has clearly come straight from a Romanian village harvest or circumcision or wedding and watching it roar lustily to life in a Western concert hall. (6)

Real, raw, raucous, essence, close to the bone, ageless, traditions, village; the music and musicians are understood as authentic, as “real”, because they are imagined to originate directly from traditions, from another, timeless, primeval time. For example, in the quotation which describes an “Indo-European time machine”, the suggestion is made that this music from these European gypsies has a direct link with the (presumed) Indian origin of gypsies. In contrast, the last three citations understand the Romanian village with its rituals as authentic origin. Comments like “ancient” and “ageless” do not refer to a demonstrable origin, but place the music and musicians in a past that is so faraway that it is not possible to trace it back. This is what Kingston aimed at when he commented that the Other is “placed in the not quite now” (1999: 347), preventing the Other from presenting himself in present, contemporary time and space.


[Until the downfall of…Ceausescu, the band played] in a part of Europe that until recently had remained virtually untouched by the 20th century (17)

Unbroken traditions (6)

Bands like Taraf learned their craft while Eastern Europe was still shut behind the Iron Curtain and so avoided the market forces that have weakened other folk traditions. (14)

One of the most rewarding experiences the so-called “World music” boom has brought over the last few years has been the chance to hear on record, and in the flesh, the sounds that inspired such composers as Bartok…Taraf de Haidouks bring some of the most remarkable of these sounds. (2)

Even though the quotes which have been classified as referring to “ancient”, frequently presume that traditions which are “uncontaminated” with modernity are authentic, the above quotations state this explicitly. The underlying idea is that these traditions will lose their natural qualities the more they come in contact with the “outside” world, to the final and inevitable point where they have dissolved completely into modern times. This closely relates to unilineal social evolutionism, in which modernity is also thought to be the final and universal endpoint in the development of each culture.

Authenticity as content: the passionate gypsy

The wild and untamed Romanian gypsy band Taraf de Haïdouks (17)

I love the wild place they inhabit (17)

…astonishing blend of wild emotion and artistic virtuosity (8)

…wild music (7)

Taraf de Haidouks are the musical ambassadors for a culture that has been reviled and ostracized for centuries, a fact belied by the unvarnished joy heard in every note on this disc. (10)

Such wild energy is the essence of Gypsy music (13)

…the melancholy violins seem to transport listeners to a Gypsy camp, where tears glisten like stars in the flickering light of the campfires. (1)

It is quite customary for the band to move effortlessly from the platform of the most prestigious concert hall onto the streets outside, where the members will busk for money, as gypsy musicians have done for centuries (17)

Wild, untamed, melancholy, campfire: the stereotypical gypsy clearly shines through. Malvinni, who promised to critically analyse these stereotypes, as they have no connection to reality, has let himself be seduced by images of romantic gypsies. Here are some of his conclusions after analysing Taraf de Haïdouks’ music:

Finally, through the speaking of his violin, Neacsu seems to be telling us something, but what it is remains beyond our knowing.

The mystery in this example is his [Caliu’s] seemingly mystical union with his chosen instrument, the violin…But precisely what he is saying seems overcome by the sheer intensity of his personality, and his inner attachment to and love of the violin.

Yet the true force of this intensity is perhaps its ability to disappear, close up, and varnish into the mystery or “mystic song” of Gypsy musical space (2004: 59-60).

Objectivity is non-existent, in musical analysis as well as in any other analysis, but Malvinni’s conclusions are at the extreme other end. He sets up an image of the mysterious gypsy who is, just because he is born a gypsy, naturally connected to music.

Hybridity as authenticity

The repertoire itself revelled in contrasts – world weary Gypsy ballads giving way to rollicking dances, such as the hora, that had a Turkish spin. On some of the fiddle stomps, the scales were recognizably Western…On other tunes, the intonation went microtonal, and the voices took on an eerie, keening quality – a vestige possibly of India and certainly of the Ottoman Empire, which controlled Romania for centuries. (6)

[Their music] spans cultures – Balkan, Slavic and Turkish – with a rhythm of tradition and everyday ritual. (5)

From the history of oppression and expulsion that the Gypsies, or Roma, have faced, they salvaged the music of all places they traversed. In its set Taraf de Haidouks played dance melodies rooted in Romania like sirbas and horas, dipped into odd-meter tunes that could have been Bulgarian or Macedonian and hinted at Greek and Turkish music. When Mr. Iorga sang a high, quivering lead vocal, his voice held airy inflections from India, where the Roma originated centuries ago. (12)

…sounds from Hungary, Turkey and Arabia (8)

[the music] fuses Eastern and Western influences in a uniquely Balkan blend. The ultimate in Eastern European roots music. (7)

Taraf spun out cadences that recalled be-bop, salsa, and the polyrhythms of Zimbabwe and Nigeria. At times, the four violinists’ frenzied fretwork evoked a raucous hoedown, while the vocalists, the group’s elders, unleashed melismatic wails that beckoned toward North Africa. This melange of allusions represents the music of a diaspora, in which shards of a scattered history unexpectedly emerge. (13)

The first album…introduced to westerners the rich world of the Gypsy music of Rumania, that includes medieval ballads, the Turkish style of the Balkan dances, and the characteristic vocal style, reminiscent of the roots that come from India. (18)

One of the first things that attracts attention in this collection of quotations is that the writers trace back many, and very different, musical styles in Taraf de Haïdouks’ music. Whether they are right or wrong is not of much importance, as it is not so much their goal to analyse the music as it is to show that the music is connected to traditions, to primitivity, to ancient times. Often, listing the influences of diverse musical cultures leads to the statement that traces of Indian musical culture can be found. As India is the presumed country of origin of the Roma, it is the most ultimate and exceeding origin that can be encountered within gypsy music. The writers do not actually want to underline the hybridity of Taraf de Haïdouks’ music, but they want to show that this hybridity consists of (Indian) original, authentic elements. So here we have, again, come across Stokes’ hybridity as new authenticity.

Virtuosity and speed

Breakneck violin tunes (17)

Taraf de Haidouks’ fast vivacious music (5)

A Romanian gypsy ensemble gives new meaning to vivace. (12)

The group…hurtled through tunes at speeds that would make bluegrass bands blink and then, when it felt like it, even accelerated from there. (12)

They strung together melody after melody, each more daredevil than the last. (12)

The music hurtled through history and across national borders as fast as fingers could fly. Audience members clapped but couldn’t keep up. (12)

…stuttering, breakneck lines from [the] accordionist (11)

Dizzying speeds (11)

Although virtuosity and speed are elements that have a high status in many musics and musical cultures, they are certainly connected to much East European music. The faster, the better, seems to be the point of departure for many musicians and listeners. Why this is so, has not yet been extensively researched, but what strikes me here is an intriguing (apparent?) discrepancy, which could be a starting point for further research: The western audience writes in awe and appreciation on the “dizzying speeds” and “breakneck lines”, whilst simultaneously placing the music and musicians in another, stagnant time. Musical notes are appreciated when they race through time, but the music itself is appreciated when it is imagined to be part of an ancient, non-moving time.

Taraf de Haïdouks and the theoretical cobweb

The emphasis on authenticity in the constructed images through which Taraf de Haïdouks is presented and understood in the west, is characteristic for much music that is placed within the world music category. Authenticity is experienced as an inherent feature of music and musicians, but, in fact, it is a feature that is ascribed by human beings. The authenticity of Taraf de Haïdouks is ascribed with the help of two overlapping modes. Firstly, the musicians are considered to be authentic through images of age-old, rural traditions on the one hand and images of stereotypical gypsies on the Other. Secondly, the music itself is also considered to be authentic, as on the one hand it is believed to be handed down from one generation to the next and on the other hand it is believed to consist of musical elements that directly derive from an ancient origin.

Within Taraf de Haïdouks’ ascribed authentic character, there is a limited space for innovation and hybridities; new generations are “allowed” to change the music and add new influences. However, ( the image of) the authenticity of the music is nevertheless protected through a constant stress on the approval of innovations by the old musicians, who are a symbol for “the ancient, the primal, the pure, the chthonic” (Taylor, T. 1997: 26). Through a chicken-and-egg reasoning, innovations cannot be anything else than authentic when an old musician, who is authentic in his entire being, approves of them. This linkage of hybridity and authenticity is what Stokes has termed “hybridity as new authenticity” (2004: 59-60). Stokes approaches this kind of hybridity critically, since it functions as a way for the west to allow only a limited amount of (musical) space for the Other: hybridity is permitted, but within fenced-off borders that guard authenticity.

Just as it is in the entire world music discourse, the western ascription of authenticity to Taraf de Haïdouks is a consequence of the existence of unequal power relations. Taraf de Haïdouks would not have been created nor have become famous in the west without the two Belgian managers. These managers had the power and resources to promote the musicians in a way that was attractive to a western audience, to release CDs in the western market and to organize tours. Even more so, the managers decided, at least at some points, what the musicians could and could not play: the use of synthesizers, which are very popular within Romania, was absolutely not an option. Economic, cultural and political differences in power between Western European countries like Belgium and Eastern European countries like Romania are the underlying reason for it being the west that is able to ascribe authenticity to Taraf de Haïdouks.

The Orient was simultaneously over- and undervalued, as we encountered in the description of Said’s discourse of orientalism. This also applies to the world music discourse: authenticity, with its images of past time, continuity and traditions, is positively appreciated by a western audience, but at the same time, the musicians are placed in the “not quite now”: Taraf de Haïdouks and their cultural context are not addressed as dynamic, heterogeneous and contemporary, but as static, homogeneous and primitive. The fundamental characteristic of a discourse – that it is maintained because the types of knowledge that are constructed around the subject are constantly making use of the same constructions – clearly applies to the world music discourse: Through constructions of authenticity, Taraf de Haïdouks’ presence on western stages and markets reinforces the existence of a world music discourse.

But, as was stated in the theoretical cobweb, constructions should not just be critically investigated, but also be understood, as they are important for people to make sense of and give meaning to the world. To understand the seductions of authenticity, I will relate (the time of) modernity directly to the constructions of authenticity within a world music discourse. Modernity, as described by Miller, is characterized by a combination of a consciousness that humans live within criteria they have constructed themselves with a sense of transience and continuous innovation. The Other in world music is projected against this and understood as if his culture is made up of age-old traditions in stagnant times. Through ascribing authenticity to Taraf de Haïdouks, western people can imagine, or even experience, this seductive, other world, where life is simply following the rules of ever continuing traditions.

However, even though it is possible to understand why constructions of authenticity exist within the world music discourse, or even to be seduced by them oneself, and even though these constructions are not made to bring evil upon the Other, a return to Fabian’s analysis is urgently needed. Fabian pointed out how these constructions result in an Other who is placed outside of contemporary time and space. Instead, the Other is understood within a unilineal social evolutionary world view as being at a lower stage in universal evolution – from primitive to modern – of human societies. The musicians of Taraf de Haïdouks, however, are other people who are contemporaries of western people, living their life at the same time, and should be understood in this time.

This article examines, intentionally, Taraf de Haïdouks from a western point of view. However, it should be kept in mind that its musicians are not just passive players. Without doubt, they influence their managers and the constructions of authenticity. The old musician with whom this article began, is clearly actively participating within constructions of authenticity. He tried to seduce the audience to give him money, through presenting the image of traditions. The knowledge that the Other (the western audience) can be seduced by authenticity, was used by the musician for his own good. And, eventually, the musicians themselves play the music. Through taking a close look at the re-gypsyfied Romanian Dances, we will be able to better understand how the music does, or does not, form a part of constructions of authenticity.

Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsyfication of the Romanian Dances


When Maškaradă was released in 2007, images of the authenticity of Taraf de Haïdouks had already been created and maintained for seventeen years. The appearance and reception of the CD continue on these lines and should be understood within this context. In the text of the CD booklet, the music is secured as authentic in a by-now familiar way: “It’s like a carnival feast in the Romanian countryside, with these strange pagan masks which decorate the album sleeve and set the mood.” A connection is made to age-old, Romanian peasant culture, this time through using the pagan mask as a symbol.

On the CD, the reason for the re-gypsyfication project is explained as follows:

In the early 20th century, many composers drew their inspiration from national folklore, often borrowing from Roma musicians to create their own vision of an exotic and largely imaginary Orient. Things have now been turned around, as one of the world’s leading Gypsy bands have taken hold of classical pieces and have “re-gypsyfied” them, giving them an exhilarating make-over.

It’s the logic of a region that, for centuries, was swept by the winds of Gypsy inspiration, by the violins and cymbalums which simultaneously disseminated and transformed local folklores…

Their [the Gypsies] style of playing conquered hearts and minds, and eventually became a source of inspiration for the “nationalistic” composers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, in search of indigenous roots for their work.

The claim, or reasoning, in these passages is that folk music used to be gypsyfied music, that western composers started to use this gypsyfied folk music as a source of inspiration for their classical compositions, that the resulting music had lost its gypyfication, and that Taraf de Haïdouks gives this music its gypsyness back through re-gypsyfying it. This is an over-simplified claim; even though much folk music, especially in Eastern Europe, was influenced by gypsies, in bluntly stating that all folk music was gypsyfied, a complex reality is ignored. Besides, it is far from clear what these influences consisted of.

Of course, these passages are not meant to tell a well-researched story, but to make the CD into an attractive consumer product. Part of the attraction of the CD can be explained with the help of the theoretical cobweb. Within orientalism, the Other is represented by the west. With the rise of postcolonialist approaches, more and more attention has been paid to the story of the Other. Through Maškaradă, it is suggested that Taraf de Haïdouks responds musically to western domination: as folk music gained fame in the west thanks to its use by western composers, it became a western representation of folk music. With Maškaradă, the makers of folk music themselves provide these western representations with a counter-sound, as the CD booklet states: “It’s no neat, well-ordered symphonic interpretation but, rather, a new kind of folklore returning with a vengeance”. The idea of the Other who brings the dominating power of the west up for discussion, appeals to the world music audience:

Maskarada is an album with a much needed twist: re-Gypsification…To say that this album represented the return of the repressed would not be too far from the truth (Maskarada van L. Gray).

Re-gypsyfication is a “much-needed twist” and the “return of the repressed”: an absolute dichotomy between the west and the Other is conceived in which, initially, the west was actively dominating the passive Other. The message of the CD, so it is understood in this reasoning, is that the Other finally reclaims power. The fact that it is possible for Taraf de Haïdouks to emit this message, is connected to the images of authenticity which have been constructed around the band. The re-gypsyfied music of Taraf de Haïdouks’ is considered as real and authentic, as exemplified in this citation from the same review as the above one by Gray:

Well aware that there is a long history of composers importing “Gypsy” music into the classical tradition, the Haïdouks have used much of Maskarada to bring the music home…On Maskarada, the tunes are reunited with their original purpose.

Because composers had made folk musical classical, the folk music was broken off from its home and purpose. Thanks to Taraf de Haïdouks, the music is brought home and reunited with its original purpose, according to Gray.

On YouTube, a music video is posted of Taraf de Haïdouks playing the re-gypsyfied Romanian Dances. In the reactions of viewers/listeners the idea of authenticity also comes to the fore: “Movements 2 and 3 are so originally arranged. Quite far from the academic version but very near to the heart and soul.”[14] Instead of the classical, distant version of Bartók, the re-gypsyfied dances are experienced as touching the emotions directly. Authenticity is not only linked to Taraf de Haïdouks’ version, but also to the peasant music that Bartók supposedly had heard:

The inclusion of six tunes from Taraf de Haidouks’ own repertoire provides plenty of the group’s signature fun and virtuosity. But it also gives great context to what a composer like Bela Bartok was hearing himself when he ventured into the rural depths of his own Hungary as well as Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Croatia and elsewhere to here and collect folk music (Tsioulcas, A. A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That).

In this reasoning, a combination is made of the idea that the Romanian Dances of Bartók are based on real, authentic peasant music with the idea that Taraf de Haïdouks, after all those years of having been performed within the classical idiom, is now playing the music with its true, authentic character again. This reasoning shines through in many responses to the YouTube video of Taraf de Haïdouks’ Romanian Dances:

Yes!!!! Thanks so much! Taraf de Haidouks is divine. I think Bartok would be extremely happy to hear this!

Bartok are smiling in the Heaven!

This IS Bartok. A wonderful piece.

Amazing! They are all very gifted musicians. I suppose Bartok would himself appreciate this rendition.[15]

It’s so beautiful how this melody came full circle: Bartok collected it from Romanian peasant musicians 100 years ago and now Romanian musicians are playing it again in the original style, what a great uplifting idea! [16]

The assumption in these comments is the same as has already been described elaborately: the folk music heard by Bartók is considered to be true, authentic, ancient music, music from a timeless time. No space is left in which this music could be approached as historically dynamic. Even more so, the assumption that one can hear this ancient music back in Taraf de Haïdouks’ version, is to ignore almost hundred years during which life in Romania has seen some dramatic changes. It is impossible for seven tunes, played by anonymous peasants who lived in different parts of Romania, to have been preserved for so many years without any changes, and then somehow came up again in the minds of Taraf de Haïdouks’ musicians.

In the image of Taraf de Haïdouks as the Other who brings home the music and reclaims power, an almost ironic reality is left out: the managers thought up the idea of a re-gypsyfication project. In a video on YouTube[17], accordion player Marin Manole tells how one of the managers had introduced him to Bartók’s Romanian Dances. While he initially felt like he would never be able to play this music himself, and even though the first rehearsals were very difficult, in the end he and the other musicians managed to play all seven dances. Quite tellingly, Manole is constantly talking about “his project”; and with “his”, he is referring to the manager. Later in the video, flute player Gheorghe Falcaru is talking about the Romanian Dances. He says he does not know “mister Bartók” and that no one (he says “zero” and underlines this by making a zero with his fingers) in Romania listens to “mister Bartók”.

While many listeners experience the music as it is imagined to be in the promotional material – as a response to the dominating power of the west – it is in reality the west itself (the managers) who thought up the project and had it performed by the Other, for a western audience. The (dominating) role of the managers within the re-gypsyfication project is in striking contrast with the image of authenticity and the idea of a reclamation of power that makes this music so attractive for western listeners. Unsurprisingly, the managers’ role is well disguised in the promotional material. Whether and to what extent the musicians have arranged their version of the Romanian Dances, cannot be found anywhere either. In the CD booklet, a row of French names follows after “many thanks for coaching assistance”, making it probable that the arrangements have at least partly been done by others. More important, however, is what the music brings about.

A familiar point of departure within the social sciences and humanities is that cultural phenomena are never just a symbol of culture, but play an active role in maintaining, creating or changing culture. It has already become clear that within the promotional material and responses of the audience, the authenticity of Taraf de Haïdouks is, again, maintained. But what happens in the music itself? Does it maintain, create or change the constructions of authenticity?

Analysis of the Romanian Dances

The analysis is based on a comparison between the score and sound of Bartók’s Romanian Dances and the sound and a transcription of Taraf de Haïdouks’ version as it is played on Maškaradă. Detailed analysis and transcriptions can be found in my master’s thesis.[18] The analysis presented here can be followed for the greatest part just by listening to the two versions.[19]

Two aspects can be pointed out in advance. Bartók’s dances are performed as separate dances, each with its own ending, and a moment of silence before the next dance starts. On CDs, the dances are always put on separate tracks. Taraf de Haïdouks, on the other hand, plays all the dances successively without silences in between them. On Maškaradă, the dances have been put on one track. A second point is that Bartók has notated many changes in dynamics in his score, which are followed in performances, while Taraf de Haïdouks hardly makes any changes in dynamics.

Context of performance

Bartók’s Romanian Dances are performed within the context of classical music. This context consists of certain behaviours, as for example a “strict code of audience etiquette” (Cook, N. 1998: 35). These rules of etiquette demand silence during the performance, do not approve of eating and drinking during the concert nor of moving along with the music (the narrow rows of chairs in many concert halls help to enforce this), clapping in between parts is shameful, while clapping at the end is obligatory.[20] The bodily posture when listening to a concert of classical music is very specific, as Cook describes:

You should listen attentively, respectfully, in a detached manner (avoid being too caught up in the sensory or emotional ebb and flow of the music), and informed by appropriate knowledge…the listener – the “ordinary listener”- is positioned firmly at the bottom of the musical hierarchy (1998: 27).

The performers are tied to prescribed behaviour as well; for example, they have to dress properly and play solos by heart (1998: 35).

The behaviour of audience and musicians during a concert of Taraf de Haïdouks is very different. I will give a short description of it during the performance of the re-gypsified Romanian Dances at the International Gipsy Festival. The musicians wore tidy pants and loose hanging shirts, one of them wore sunglasses, and they all stood up while playing music, except for the cimbalom player. The audience was dressed diversely, from colourful long skirts to simple short trousers. During the performance, the audience was dancing, eating, drinking, smoking, talking and laughing together, and yelled and whistled enthusiastically. When a new dance began, the audience responded by waving their arms above their head or by dancing with renewed energy in the new rhythm. The fourth dance was introduced by solos from different musicians, and each soloist received much applause when he was finished. The violinist was even applauded during his solo, after having played some fast trills. During the solos, the other musicians sat down and talked and laughed a bit with each other. After having finished all the dances, when the audience was applauding, one of the violinists turned his back on the audience, occupied with something we could not see.

This performance completely differs from a performance of Bartók’s dances: the musicians do not have to be quiet when a solo is played, the audience can eat, drink and smoke, respond with emotions by yelling, clapping and whistling during the performance; some of them listen attentively, others don’t. The audience is an active part of the performance and the sphere is informal, in contrast to the silent, inwardly turned audience and more formal sphere of a classical concert of the Romanian Dances.


The first notable characteristic of Taraf de Haïdouks’ dances is that each one consists of an A and B part, which is not the case for every one of Bartók’s dances. Taraf de Haïdouks adds a B part in the second and sixth dance (Brâul and Mărunţel VI) and adds a long introduction to the fourth dance (Buciumeana). A second notable characteristic of Taraf de Haïdouks’ dances is that the repeats of an A or B part are always the same, while Bartók uses the repeats for variation in harmonics and different instrumental distribution of parts. The re-gypsyfications with regard to form – a continuous bipartite form and literal repeats – are summarized in figure 2:

Parts Order
JoccuBâtă Bartók: AB AB
JoccuBâtă TarafdeHaïdouks: AB AB
Brâul Bartók: A AA’
Brâul TarafdeHaïdouks: AB AA’A’BA’
PeLoc Bartók: ABC ABCBC’/A’
PeLoc TarafdeHaïdouks: AB ABAA
Buciumeana Bartók: AB ABA’B’
Buciumeana TarafdeHaïdouks: AB IntroductionABB
PoargăRomânească Bartók: AB ABA’B’
PoargăRomânească TarafdeHaïdouks: AB ABAB
MărunţelVI Bartók: A AA’
MărunţelVI TarafdeHaïdouks: AB AB
MărunţelVII Bartók: AB ABA’B’B’’
MărunţelVII TarafdeHaïdouks: AB ABA

Figure 2: Orchestration

The instrumentation differs: Bartók composed his dances for a small, classical orchestra while Taraf de Haïdouks plays in its usual line-up – as Romanian gypsy band, with violin, accordion, flute, cimbalom and double bass. This difference creates a completely different sound between the two versions.

The roles of the instruments differ substantially, too, as Taraf de Haïdouks does not change these roles while Bartók uses many changes in these roles. The violin and flute in Taraf de Haïdouks always play the melody, sometimes the accordion joins in. The accompaniment is always played by accordion, cimbalom and double-bass. The only exception is the introduction to the fourth dance, which starts with a solo for accordion. Bartók varies the roles, within the dances he often changes the melodic instruments in the repeat, and in-between the dances he varies the emphasis of the instruments. For example, in the second dance the clarinet has a solo role and in the third dance, the piccolo has a solo. Furthermore, Bartók uses a typical classical build-up of tension, as it is only with the sixth dance that finally the entire orchestra plays together.

The constant presence of the walking double bass of Taraf de Haïdouks, to close off the re-gypsyfications of the orchestration, creates a continuous pulse. Bartók’s dances do not have such an unequivocal accompaniment; often a combination of instruments fulfills the role of bass line, and this combination changes throughout the dances.

Time and rhythm

Taraf de Haïdouks uses the same time as Bartók in four dances (I. Joc cu Bâtă, II. Brâul, V. Poargă Românească, VI. Mărunţel), a different time in two dances (III. Pe Loc, IV. Buciumeana) and partly the same time in one dance (Mărunţel VII). The dances in which Taraf de Haïdouks makes use of the same time, are the dances in which Bartók’s melodic lines are followed most closely. The two dances with different time deviate from Bartók’s melodies, even though the fourth dance of Taraf de Haïdouks makes use of (fragments of) motives of Bartók’s version.

The rhythms of Bartók are changed in each of the re-gypsyfied dances of Taraf de Haïdouks, in varying ways. In the first two dances, a striking aspect is Taraf de Haïdouks’ change to dotting when Bartók’s melody is non-dotted, and vice versa. In Bartók’s dances, rubato occurs nowhere, which is partly why the rubato introduction to the fourth dance of Taraf de Haïdouks stands out so much. Taraf de Haïdouks places its syncopations differently, especially in the fifth and sixth dance, and leaves them out in the third dance. The constant repetition of the same rhythmic/melodic motive in Taraf de Haïdouks’ sixth and seventh dances is also a clear re-gypsyfication. While Bartók only uses a change in time signature inside a dance in the fifth dance, Taraf de Haïdouks also switch to another time in the third and seventh dance. In figure 3, a summary is given of the most important rhythmic variations per dance.

Joc cu Bâtă – absence of guiding notes, upbeats and repeating figures
– the end of the first motive is changed from two dotted eights-two eights to four non-dotted eights
Brâul – punctuated melody
– Bartók’s punctuated bar is non-dotted
– addition of walking bass line on each beat
Pe Loc – alternation between regular and irregular time, instead of 2/4
– melody is played on the beat for the greater part, instead of Bartók’s syncopations and accent-changes
Buciumeana – introduction in rubato: Bartók’s dances do not have rubato anywhere
– 2/4 instead of 3/4
– walking bass on each beat
Poargă Românească – bass line is syncopated, just as in Bartók’s dance, but in a different way.
– accompanying instruments playing on the beat, are part of Bartók’s syncopated bass line everywhere. Taraf de Haïdouks’ bass line is on its own.
Mărunţel VI – Taraf de Haïdouks’ melody uses only one rhythmic motive (repeating three sextuplets-two eights
– rhythm of bass line is partially syncopated (it is not in Bartók’s version) and denser (each two or three beats)
Mărunţel VII – rhythmical motives are less elaborate
– rhythm of accompaniment is simpler, on the beat, and constant
– addition in A part of alternation to 7/8

Figure 3: Melody

Some melodic aspects have already been looked at: rhythmic differences in the melody, a limited variation regarding  how instruments play the melody, and literal repeats of the melody when an A or B part is repeated. Another re-gypsyfication is that most of the time the melody is played by more than one instrument. Strikingly, and characteristic of Taraf de Haïdouks, the musicians do not play the melody in exactly the same way, which results in a heterogeneous sound. As a consequence, (sound) images of free, improvised playing are not far away.

This image occurs even more so through Taraf de Haïdouks’ additional parts. The B part in the second dance, Brâul, sounds as though the musicians suddenly wander off, spontaneously improvising. As the melodic instruments all play exactly the same melody, and as the B part of this dance is exactly the same on the CD, was also so at the concert in Tilburg and on the music video on YouTube, it is not an actual improvisation, but a pre-arranged part.

The introduction of the fourth dance is also a re-gypsyfication. This is an improvised part, in so far as the exact notes are not pre-determined. What is played, and on which instrument, differs each time. This improvised part greatly contributes to a sense of re-gypsyfication, as improvisation is never part of a classical performance of Bartók’s dances.


In all dances, Taraf de Haïdouks uses Bartók’s keys or modes, although sometimes transposed. The harmonic progression, however, is completely different. Taraf de Haïdouks uses only major, minor, seventh and diminished chords, whereas Bartók used some typical chords which he had derived from his research on folk music, such as simultaneous use of major and minor, chords in which fourths are piled up and chords with additional notes as suspended fourths (1928/ 1976). Even more so, Bartók frequently used harmonies to colour the melody, which is why he changes the harmonies in repeats. This way, he shines a different light on the melody. Taraf de Haïdouks does this nowhere: the same harmonic progression and chords are used with each repeat.

On the basis of the above summary, it is possible to make a list of re-gypsyfied characteristics:

  • Two-piece structure of each dance: A-B
  • Repeats of A and B part are played exactly the same: no colouring of the melody with the help of different chordal progressions as Bartók did
  • Repeats of the melody within an A or B part are played exactly the same, whereas Bartók uses more variations
  • Different instrumentation: violin, flute, accordion, cimbalom, double-bass
  • All instruments join in from the start
  • Much less variation in instrumental roles (melody, accompaniment)
  • The time signature stays the same when Bartók’s melody is largely used. When the melody is different, the time signature also differs
  • Rhythmic differences: different syncopation, reversal of dotted/ non-dotted notes, shorter motives consisting of just one rhythmic/melodic figure
  • The melody of Bartók is largely used with variations (dance I, II, V), some motives from Bartók’s melody are used (dance IV, VI, VII), or a different melody is played (dance III)
  • The keys or modes are the same as Bartók used, although sometimes transposed
  • Only major, minor, seventh and diminished chords are used
  • The accompaniment consists of just chords, a walking bass and every now and then some fast running over the scale, instead of Bartók’s classical filling in of all the individual parts
  • Prominent presence of walking bass line
  • Associations with improvisation
  • Fewer changes in dynamics
  • Heterogeneous sound as all instruments play the same melody in slightly different ways (timing, ornamentation)
  • The dances are played one after the other without Bartók’s silences in between them
  • Different context of performance: the audience reacts expressively

While much can be said about this summary, and many aspects could be analysed in more detail[21], for now I want to look at the two most striking re-gypsyfied elements. Firstly, the frequent use of literal repeats: parts are literally repeated (harmonically and melodically), the rhythm of the double-bass is continuously the same (repeating) within each dance, the instruments have the same role almost everywhere (not much switching between the ones that play the melody/ the ones that accompany), the dynamics are not changed much (repeat of the same dynamic) and a two-piece structure is used everywhere. Bartók used a classical build-up, leading to a climax in the last two dances which is partly reached because all instruments join in together for the first time. Taraf de Haïdouks also reaches a climax in the last two dances, but it is a climax with a very different character; namely, through repetition. The presence of literal repeats, which is a decisive element in the listening experience,

seems to reach a climax in the last two dances, as there the melody consists of not more than one short continuously repeated motive (dance VI and VII).

The second re-gypsyfied element that I want to emphasize, is the widely present association with spontaneity: a sense of spontaneity is linked to the heterogeneous sound of Taraf de Haïdouks (which is a consequence of the musicians playing the same melody in slightly different ways), the addition of a B part in the second and sixth dance seem like a spontaneous improvisation and the improvised introduction to the fourth dance enhances a feeling of spontaneity especially as improvisation is never part of classical performances. Besides associations of spontaneity with regard to the music making of the musicians, another important aspect is the sense of the audience to be free in spontaneously responding to the music. In contrast to a classical concert, the audience can shout, whistle, dance, clap, laugh, talk, eat and drink during the music. While each feeling of freedom and spontaneity inevitably occurs within cultural boundaries (not all behaviour is accepted as spontaneous), this does not diminish its importance as experience.

These two re-gypsyfied elements, repetition and spontaneity, seem to be opposite poles of each other. While this apparent contradiction deserves further analysis, here I want to ask what effect they have. As has been stated, spontaneity is one of the stereotypes ascribed to the image of the gypsy and it can thus be understood as ascribing authenticity as content. Through the associations with spontaneity in the music of the re-gypsyfied Romanian Dances, therefore, authenticity is confirmed again. Repetition, on the other hand, is less clear and should be investigated further. As authenticity is also ascribed through images of age-old, continuously returning (repetitive) traditions, repetition in the music could be seen as bringing about associations with authenticity. This, however, is not more than a first suggestion.

The seductions of authenticity

Why did Taraf de Haïdouks re-gypsyfy the Romanian Dances of Bartók? After having released four CDs and a DVD with Romanian repertoire, the re-gypsyfication project was first of all a new way to attract the attention of a western audience. That it was able to do so relates to the trend in postcolonialism in which the Other is approached from his/her own perspective. In the liner notes of Maškaradă, the re-gypsyfication project is explained as a musical answer to the dominance of the west and of western classical music: Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsyfication is a counter-argument to western representations in themselves such as Bartók’s Romanian Dances. Thanks to the images of authenticity which have been constructed around the band since its creation, the claim can be made that the re-gypsyfied version makes the music real and authentic. The idea of the Other who brings up western power for discussion through authenticity, is not only presented in the liner notes of Maškaradă but also incorporated in the way the western audience understands the re-gypsyfication project. The reality, however, turned out to be covered up: the re-gypsyfication project was an idea of the Belgian managers and it is thus actually the west itself which discusses its own power. As a consequence, it is the west which decided how to discuss it, and who instigated the Other to do so. Seen in this light, the re-gypsyfication project is more a confirmation instead of an invalidation of western power.

As Taraf de Haïdouks is understood within a framework of authenticity, everything they play is self-evidently associated with the authentic. The re-gypsyfication project clearly is a confirmation of authenticity and the re-gypsyfication of the Romanian Dances can be considered as the climax of this confirmation, for two main reasons. First, the folk music which Bartók has used for his Romanian Dances, is considered as the “original” and the peasants who once performed these dances for Bartók, are seen as authentic Others from another time. The critique of western dominance, which Taraf de Haïdouks is presumably making through playing the dances in the real, authentic way again, places the musicians of Taraf de Haïdouks into another time: the western audience thinks the musicians can do so because they derive directly from this other time when life was still authentic. Secondly, re-gypsyfication as confirmation of Taraf de Haïdouks’ authenticity is not just constructed through textual and visual images, but also, and effectively, through musical images. Associations with spontaneity in the music, and, to a lesser extent, musical repetition, have a direct link with, respectively, authenticity in content (free, improvising gypsies) and authenticity as origin (connected to ancient traditions).

So, why did Taraf de Haïdouks re-gypsyfy music? The answer which is given in the promotional material and by the western audience, is that it was done to give the music back its lost authenticity. Although it is probably too far-fetched to state that the “real” answer is that it is a conscious attempt on the part of audience and managers to maintain western power, this maintenance of power is, indeed, a direct consequence of the re-gypsyfication project. That this is so, is not unique to the re-gypsyfication project or to Taraf de Haïdouks; all constructions of authenticity within the world music discourse derive from this unequal power balance. Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsyfication is unique, however, in that western power is disguised and covered up in an oppositional image in which it is Taraf de Haïdouks who is understood as reclaiming power. Western power, in this concealed shape, is maintained very effectively, as on the surface, the Other is understood as playing an equal role, while actually the Other is still placed in the “not quite now”.

Understanding the world in a dichotomy between west and Other, is not only a protection of western power, but also a disregard of the diversity of human cultures. It is, however, a persistent way of understanding the world as it is maintained and re-created constantly, as has been shown in this article with regard to Taraf de Haïdouks. Taraf de Haïdouks and the re-gypsyfication of Bartók’s Romanian Dances are part of the re-creation of a world music discourse in which seductive images of authenticity place the Other into another time than western (modern) time. A western audience lets itself be seduced by authenticity, but a more critical point of view on the part of the west is urgently required. Hutnyk has indicated “…how well-meaning Other-love…can turn out to be its opposite, can be complicit at best, counter-productive at worst, part and parcel of the evil dynamic of capitalist exploitation, more often than not” (2000: 6). As long as a world music discourse exists in which the Other is placed in the “not quite now”, unequal power relations are preserved. Only when the Other is given the space to be understood from the same time as western time, can a much needed start be made to end the existence of a world view in which a dichotomy between west and Other dominates.


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Numbered reviews

  1. Bergman, M. 1998 Taraf de Haïdouks
  2. Broughton, S. 1994  Review. In: Gramophon (via
  3. Clark, P. 2001  Titel onbekend. In: Evening Standard 07-06-2001
  4. Culshaw, P. 2002 They’re the last great rock’n’roll band – but they don’t play rock’n’roll.
  5. Gray, L. 1998  Reviews. In: New Internationalist, issue 302, p32
  6. Hooper, J. 1999  Band of Gypsies. In: Civilization vol. 6/2, p288
  7. Onbekend 1998  In: The Boston Globe maart 1998 (via
  8. Onbekend 2001  In: The Scotsman 03-01-2001 (via
  9. Onbekend. 2000 Taraf de Haïdouks. In: Studio Magazine januari 06 (via
  10. Paoletta, M. & Henderson, R. 2001  Albums: World Music. In: Billboard, vol. 113/35, p22
  11. Pareles, J. 1999  Dance; On the Road With Gypsy Song and Dance. In: New York Times 04-04-1999
  12. Pareles, J. 2004  Taraf de Haïdouks: A Romanian Gypsy Ensemble Gives New Meaning to Vivace. In: New York Times 16-01-2004
  13. Powers, A. 1998  Wild Energy, and Lots of It, as the Essence. In: New York Times 21-03-1998
  14. Purvis, A. 2002  Roma Rule. In: Time Europe 06-24-2002
  15. Swedenburg, T.
  16. Scholten, J. 2006 De therapeutische werking van Roemeense zigeuners deel 1-4. In: NRC 28-01-06, 11-02-06. 25-02-06, 25-03-06
  17. Williamson, 1998  Romania. In: Global Profiles, vol. 110/25
  20. (reactions on the music video ‘Taraf de Haïdouks – Rustem si suite’)
  21. (reactions on the music video ‘Taraf de Haïdouks – Tot Taraful’)

Other reviews

Gray, L. 2007  Maskarada  In: New Internationalist  Issue 405 p30

Tsioulcas, A. 2007  A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That. Taraf de Haidouks reimagines Romanian Music. In: Billboard vol. 119/37 p102-103

Van Vleck, P. 2007  Maskarada. In: Billboard vol. 119/42 p84 (responses to the music video “Taraf de Haïdouks at Flagey’) (responses to the music video ‘Taraf de Haïdouks: “Romanian Folk Dances”)


Bartók, Béla. 1917   Roumanian Folk Dances for small orchestra. Universal Edition. New edition 1991. Revision: Peter Bartók.


Bartok.html (interview of Peter Culshaw with Winter and Karo)


Taraf de Haïdouks      1991 Musique des Tsiganes de Roumanie. (CD 07591) Crammed Discs.

1994 Honourable Brigands, Magic Horses and Evil Eye. (7643 2)  Crammed Discs.

1998 Dumbala Dumba. (80193) Crammed Discs.

2001 Band of the Gypsies. (80252) Crammed Discs.

2007 Maškaradă. (LC 08689) Crammed Discs.


Taraf de Haïdouks 2005 The continuing adventures of Taraf de Haidouks. (DVDTDH2) Crammed Discs.


[1] In this article west and western are not seen as referring to a specific geographic area but as cultural constructions. To underline one of the aims of the article (a criticism of western superiority) I have chosen to write west and western with small not capital w.

[2] Besides many spelling mistakes and badly informed comments, one of the main criticisms is Malvinni’s disavowment of his own point of departure. His book aims at the deconstruction of romantic stereotypes and misconceptions about gypsies, as he views these as unconnected to “real” Roma. However, in his analysis on gypsy musicians and music, he falls deeply into this romantic trap himself. As he analyses some music of Taraf de Haïdouks, I will demonstrate this below.

[3] The transcriptions of the Romanian Dances can be found in Bartók, B. 1967  Rumanian Folk Music. Volume 1: Instrumental Melodies. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. I have not been able to trace dance V and dance VII. The other dances can be found on the following pages:

–     Dance I Joc cu Bâtă         (1967:364, melody number 425)

–        Dance II Brâul                (1967:136, melody number 110)

–        Dance III Pe Loc (1967:184, melody number 183)

–        Dance IV Buciumeana      (1967:181, melody number 175)

–        Dance VI Mărunțel          (1967:140, melody number 118a)

[4]  This text was written for the CD Outlaws of Yore I en II – Les “Haidouks” d’autrefois. Music for String Ensembles: The Folk Musicians of Clejani – Lãutarii din Clejani.

[5] “Lãutar” is a Romanian word referring to professional musicians. Mostly, these lãutar are male Roma.

[6] Musique des Tsiganes de Valachie: les lãutari de Clejani. Paris: Ocora.

[7] The interview appeared on It was conducted and written by Marta Bergman, who also wrote the CD booklets of the first three CDs which were issued by the Belgian managers.

[8] CD booklet of Taraf de Haïdouks’ Musique des Tsiganes de Roumanie

[9] For the argument of this article, it is irrelevant whether these conversations were actually held, just as it is irrelevant to what extent the photographs were staged. The point is that they are used as a way to package and, with that, as a way to imagine, Taraf de Haïdouks in the west.

[11] Taraf de Haïdouks has also been successful in Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan. This article, however, concentrates on Europe and the United States of America. It would be very interesting to research the band’s popularity in Asia. Laušević, for example, has stated that the huge popularity of Balkan folk dancing in Japan derives at least partially from the fact that the Japanese consider it to be a typically American phenomenon (2007:18).

[12] Many reviews also point out the authenticity of the band by stating that the musicians of Taraf de Haïdouks come from various generations, and by explaining the figure of the ‘haïdouk’. As these comments mainly repeat what has been written in the CD booklets, I do not give further examples of them.

[13] As I use several quotations from the same review, distributed over different themes, the reviews have been numbered 1-21. These numbers, with their accompanying sources, can be found in the bibliography.

[14] “Taraf de Haïdouks at Flagey”. See bibliography.

[15] “Taraf de Haïdouks at Flagey”. See bibliography.

[16] Taraf de Haïdouks: “Romanian Folk Dances”. See bibliography.

[17] Taraf de Haïdouks: “Romanian Folk Dances”. See bibliography.

[18] An elaborate comparative musical analysis can be found in Appendix 1 of my master’s thesis. The comparisons are partially based on comparing the score of Roumanian Folk Dances for small orchestra by B. Bartók and a transcription of Taraf de Haïdouks’ dances as performed on Maškaradă. This transcription can  be found in Appendix 2 of my master’s thesis,.

[19] On YouTube, a music video can be found on which Taraf de Haïdouks plays the re-gypsified Romanian Dances. Although this version slightly differs from the CD version, the differences are minimal and are of no consequence to the analysis:

[20] For the historical development of these codes, see: Smithuijsen, C. 2001  Een verbazende stilte: klassieke muziekgedragsregels en sociale  controle in de concertzaal. Amsterdam: Boekmanstudies.

[21] For the connections between Taraf de Haïdouks’ re-gypsified elements with Romanian (gypsy) music, see my master’s thesis.


  1. sw395 says:

    I really, really like this article. It seems I have been working on many of the same ideas and arguments without knowing that Julia Heuwekemeijer exists and is working on this wonderful project. Is there some way to get into contact with her? Sarah Weiss

  2. Hnk Jansen says:


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