Doina – Romanian Blues

Doina is the Romanian name for a musical form said to have originated in Persia.  Bela Bartok was the first to bring the Doina to the attention of the West, having discovered it in Northern Transylvania in 1912.  Later in his travels he found similar genres in Ukraine, Algeria, Albania, the Middle East, and northern India.

Romanians consider the Doina to be the “essence of all its music, and, indeed, the best of the entire artistic expression of all its culture.” Robert Garfias.  In its Romanian form the Doina is usually freeform – no steady beat.  It is traditionally improvised, often sung in solitude, having an important psychological action: to “ease one’s soul” (de stâmpărare in Romanian).

Here’s a recording of its most ancient form, sung in 1956 by Maria Sas.

The lyrics translate as “Cuckoo, I found your feathers / Near the valley / And I found them ruffled / Because you didn’t sing in tune / Cuckoo, may your tongue rot / Why did you sing so that my sweetheart died?”

Its themes are “are melancholy, longing (dor), erotic feelings, love for nature, complaints about the bitterness of life or invocations to God to help ease pain, etc.” Wikipedia.   There are many variations in style throughout Romania.  As well as voice, almost any instrument may be used.

Here’s the ultimate peasant instrument – a pear leaf, held in front of or between the lips, played in 1952 by Florica Mazgoi.

Though originally sung solo, modern recordings can’t resist an instrumental accompaniment.  Here’s Sofia Vicoveanca

Doinas were also the province of shepherds. Here’s Silvestru Lungoci at panflute (“nai”).

And  “Romania’s Piaf”, Maria Tanase, singing a Doina in French.

A more modern, steady-rhythm example of a doina familiar to Recreational Folk Dancers is Joc de Leagane.

Romanian Lautauri (Romani musicians) and Klezmer (Yiddish musicians)  also played Doinas.  A couple of the most famous Klezmer:

And some contemporary Roma

Lautarii din Babiciu – Doina Oltului

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