Wednesday, March 31, 2010

April Fools

On this bright and hopeful April 1st morn I’ve just thought of some great ways to fool myself so as I can stagger on through another week or so:

I do currently have a career, it just hasn’t got a name yet.

I have mastered the Romanian language, and being informed, as I was recently, that it’s sometimes necessary to use the dative and accusative cases together should not disabuse me of this opinion.

I am a witty and fascinating personality, and if only the cat seems to recognise this then that will suffice.

My country - from which I am so painfully estranged - is still run by noble paragons of the Bulldog Breed – people like Churchill, Gladstone, Cromwell, Alf Garnett.... – and to be born an Englishman is still to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life.

I will leave something to posterity after I’m gone, maybe not in the shape of offspring or revolutionary ideas that have changed the world, but Battersea Dogs Home at least can expect a little something from my estate.

Happy Passover/Easter/Vernal Equinox everybody!!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gadjo’s Video Jukebox #9: The Road to Rebetiko #1

Yes, the ethnic music orgy continues for one more round :-) But it’s a welcome break from our Manele journey, and is by popular request from Nikos and Pat. Rebetiko is sometimes described as “the Greek Blues”. I love this music - as indeed I love most things Greek - and pride myself on being something of an expert as I’ve quite a large collection (having lived near reputedly Europe’s largest rebetico music shop, in Haringey, North London) and have read a book on it – Gail Holst’s excellent Road to Rembetika. Due to the Rebetico milieu's low-life reputation some reactionary Greek governments banned the music. This rather compounded the as miserable as sin aspect of it. But the sound of the bouzouki sends me, particularly a good taksim* – the extemporising before hitting the tune proper – but skip it if it’s not your glass of tea:

Here’s a short clip – and here’s a longer one, should you find you like them - of the two biggest names of old-time rebetico: Vasilis Tsitsanis** and Sotiria Bellou. He’s hardly an exciting performer to watch and she doesn’t have a perfect voice, but that’s not the point. They’re totally “inside” the music, and you’re requested to be so also: just wag your head, knowingly, philosophically, in sympathy with the ongoing Greek Tragedy of being shafted by Turks, your own governments, the Earl of Elgin and, now, overly complacent EU central bankers. Sotitria has the additional glamour of being a drunk, a gambler, a lesbian, and of having once served time for throwing acid in her husband’s face; but she's a legend, and somebody who helped many of her fellow musicians:

* I’m pretty sure this word is from Turkish. In fact, early Rebetico, having been in quite large part performed by the Smyrna Greeks who were forced to leave Turkey in 1923, can sound surprisingly "oriental".

** A Greek musician told me that Tsitsanis is mainstream and that Markos Vamvakaris is The Man. I’ve got some of the latter’s music but frankly his voice is so lousy that to “get it” I guess you have to understand the words, which I don’t.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gadjo’s Manele Journey #2

WARNING: This post contains yet more Popular Culture, (and other people’s Popular Culture at that). Normal, boring, service will be resumed as soon as possible.

There are still many other splendid genres of music to look at - from Turkey, former Yugoslavia and most certainly from The Gypsy Side of Town - before we reach the musical apotheosis that is proper Manele. We’ll have to wait a bit longer before we can gaze upon the fine young men with their gelled hair and expansive grins, their short-skirted girlfriends and their regulation all-white Mercedeses. But first here is a small glimpse of what’s to come: Babi Minune, a name which means “Amazing Baby”. He may still be just a lickle baby but he’s already got the voice, and the attitude – I'm not sure I'd want to be one of his teachers... I wouldn’t even want to be the woman who comes in once a week to teach them raffia work... and if I was his headmaster I suspect a strong letter to the parents might be in order. But whoever’s handling him has at least some appreciation, sometimes, as here, of the traditional instruments of Romanian gypsy music, instead of just employing the usual cheapo synthesiser. Students of Latin, a language dangerously close to Romanian (...and we don’t want any Oxbridge classicists coming over here and taking our jobs and sweet-talking our women, so naff off), will be able to decipher that he’s singing about The World Economic Crisis, which I think is laudable of him. In the second verse he clearly mentions Lehman Brothers and the risks inherent in sub-prime loaning, and in the third verse he has some really quite caustic things to say about Milton Friedman.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gadjo’s Manele Journey #1

I want to take you on a journey. (I want to go on it myself, see, and taking you with me seems as good an excuse as any...) The current, popular, Romanian gypsy music is known as “Manele”, and is nearly always heartily derided by anybody with whom you might conceivably want to spend any length of time, as in e.g. “Ach, the beach was covered in beer cans and used condoms and there was manele playing all the time!!” But I maintain that despite everything it's not entirely without merit, and that it takes its inspiration from some pretty worthwhile sources. By looking at these other genres of music I shall lead us at last to the Xanadu that is Manele, and hopefully play some music of interest to you on the way.

Here’s the first: Algerian raï music. With his fine, young voice, Cheb Mami was called The Prince of Raï. Unfortunately he’s gone considerably to bad, is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence in France and has worked with Sting. But his early tracks, like Lella rani ensaaf el mektoub, live on. But if Mami was the prince, Khalid (formally Cheb Khalid*) is certainly the King: a raï superstar - and exile, due to the music’s discussion of things that are not entirely endorsed by Islam. Here he is, as always looking very cheerful and slightly like one of The Scousers after a long and very satisfactory holiday in Benidorm**:

* I believe “Cheb” simply means “young man”

** I mean no insult to Benidorm or to Scousers, or to Khalid, or indeed to anybody with naturally curly hair and dark skin... quite the opposite.... for heaven’s sake this is just a blog.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Let’s Dance #2

I’m pleased to report that the discussion triggered in the previous post continues, but for most of you I feel it’s time for something more light-hearted. Mrs Dilo and I are going off to the hills today for the first weekend binge organised by our Romanian folk-dance group, and we're very much looking forward to it. So...

Carmen Amaya is still for me the best flamenco dancer who ever lived, though of course I haven't seen them all. Just look at the arms and the way she works the skirt with her legs though, interestingly, she’s as famous in trousers dancing like a bloke, a style she made her own. She was becoming a star by the end of the 1930s and, as gypsy tradition demands, had to employ members of her extended family as much as possible: she eventually had an entourage of cousins and uncles at all times performing nominal tasks.... she never became rich! She was also ill; and, they say, it was only the dancing that kept her from dying - when she stopped, she died. Here she is just two years before her death. Now, I know that not everybody here likes dance, but, don’t worry, there’s also a fair amount of sitting down in this; there now; but I’d like to think you’ll also want to wait and see her standing up, if only so you’ll know never to cross such a woman:

Monday, March 15, 2010

History Today #1

WARNING: This post contains History – yeah, like you had to learn at school. If you think it’s long, tiresome and irrelevant to you personally, you’d be right. You may of course simply scroll to the bottom and watch the video, but if you persist with this attitude you will remain in darkness forever.

Over the last months Mr Gaw has been putting me right on the subject of History. I’d never bothered much with it before: I knew that William the Conkerer invaded in 1666 and would have o’er-run us with his Mongrel Hoards had it not been for Sir Charlie Drake, The Queen Mum and a couple of late goals from Pickles the Dog. All logical, joined up, cause-and-effect thinking... but that was about it. I even shunned the subject at O-Level, preferring instead to take a long, hard squint at the pointillistic miasma of phenomena that likes to call itself “Science”. But now I live in a land where history is important and must once again put on my thinking cap...

Transylvania was once a Roman colony, but for nearly a millenium, up until 1920, was generally part of Hungary, and contained a heady mix of Magyars (Hungarian speakers), Germans, Jews, Gypsies, Armenians and (generally making up the majority for as long as there’ve been records) Romanians. Hungarians came to Transylvania at the very end of the 9th century, that much is known; Romanians came here, hmm, well, it depends who you ask. Eh? So, is history, like, relative?? Is it possible that, as Nigel Molesworth (right) always maintained, everything that skoolboys are taught is wrong?? There are two main theories regarding the origins of the Romanian people. One stuck to, particularly by Romanian communists during those times, like shit to a blanket; the other clung to intransigently by Hungarian Nationalists like pit-bulls to a Gypsy. The debate is absolutely fundamental to the very heated question of who should be in charge here, and has often descended to Newman and Baddiel levels (see below). The deciding issue is who was here first, whether "Romanians" (tradionally thought to be left over from the Roman colony) were still here when the Hungarians arrived; but unfortunately the period under scrutiny – approx. 275AD to 899AD - is “dark” here even by Dark Ages standards. I shall now try to describe the two opposing theories - plus the “compromise” theory - briefly yet adequately. I shall fail. I shall then present my own, more credible, versions of events. You, the blogging public, may then vote for the one you wish to become the official version to the exclusion of all others! :-)

#1: The “Daco-Romanian Continuity” Theory (Romanians)

Romanians are descendants of the Dacians, present when the Romans arrived, who then learnt Latin, and stayed here. There’s archaeological evidence that communities did survive after the Romans departed, and tiny indications that Latin may have still been used here (perhaps as a lingua franca) and that the Dacians were Christianised and therefore Latinised (some current church Romanian supposedly comes directly from a Roman source). Early Hungarian stories also follow this line! Transylvania is Romanian!!

#2: The “Immigrationist” Theory (Hungarians)

Romanians are descendents of Latin-speaking pastoralists migrating from Southern Europe, probably ancient Illyria – some Romanian words can be traced to similarities in Albanian – and arriving here after the Hungarians. The Dacians were supposedly killed or removed en masse when the Romans left – reports at the time support this - and after then archaeology appears to give no indication that communities here spoke any version of Latin. Early Hungarian stories are about as credible as Jeffrey Archer! Transylvania is Hungarian!!

#3: The “Admigration” Theory (Appeasementists, Intellectuals and Homosexuals)

Two groups of Latinophones coalesced: one in southern Europe (say, Illyria) and one in what’s now Romania. Migrants from the former joined up with latter, greatly increasing their numbers and forming “the Romanian people”. No contradictions, everybody goes home happy.... you’d think.

#4:The “Dracula” Theory (Right-Thinking People)

The un-dead and therefore timeless Mr Dracula was based on Vlad Ţepeş (Romanian), his most famous screen incarnation was Béla Lugosi (Hungarian), and Bram Stoker (who never set foot here) had him down as a Székely. He therefore unites all the major ethnic groups... nice... and if you disagree he’ll shove a stake up you.

#5: The “Zsa-Zsa Gabor” Theory (Wrong-Thinking People)

With all her marriages and chat-show appearances, Ms Gabor is supreme commander of the shock-troops of Magyarisation, the natural successor of Árpád and Attila the Hun (not a Hungarian, but that doesn’t stop every 2nd Hungarian boy being named Attila...) It was clearly her ancestors who raped the honest, noble Romanians peacefully minding their own business in the Carpathian Basin!!

#6: The “Blake’s 7” Theory (Left-Thinking People)

As detailed in episode 13 of the second series (1979), but which was never shown for fear of destabilising the Warsaw Pact and precipitating a Third Word War. Blake, Avon et al. travel through a wormhole in the space-time continuum and arrive in Dacia just as Emperor Aurelian withdraws his colonists and transports Dacians to lives of slavery elsewhere; they cop off with some of the local skirt and hole up in the hills; it is their offspring who are the true progenitors of all Romanians. Hurrah!

Conclusion: Frankly, having looking at the arguments, there’s virtually no evidence for theory #1, though the paprika-botherers can’t really prove theirs either. (Archaeological evidence here is feeble... and there’s no trace of Blake’s ship The Liberator; linguistic “proof” however is much more interesting, involving Aromanians, Istro-Romanians, Proto-Romanians and the Balkan sprachbund, and will be the subject of a future post – ha, suffer!) So, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that the Romanians are largely arrivistes, bolstered maybe by returnees, and only just possibly joining up with a few Romanised groups who managed to survive here during that period. I’ve now got to break it to my (Romanian) wife....

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gadjo’s Night at the Opera #2

WARNING: The following contains misogyny, vulgarity, decapitation, nastiness and, ultimately, more Country and Western music than it does actual Opera.

To continue the classical music theme, I’m very glad that my singing teacher enjoys Lieder as much as I do, but he also likes opera. I respect his opinion, but I do feel it’s high time that we at Gadjo Dilo addressed the task of extracting the Michael from The World’s Best-Loved Arias:

La Donna è Mobile (from Verdi's Rigoletto): Women are like furniture*: you’re excited when you get your hands on a new piece, but after a while you’re content to leave it in the kitchen and forget about it.

Nessun Dorma (from Puccini's The Best of The Three Tenors): The monster of the Loch, it sleeps; see if you can wake it up, Luciano.

Recondita Armonia (from Puccini’s Tosca): I’m going to try to repair this mouth organ, I want to have go at Freight Train.

Habanera (from Bizet’s Carmen): (Oi!) Have a Banana.

Che Gelida Manina (from Puccini’s La Bohème): Your tiny hand is frozen. If medical science improves by the time we get to the final act of this then we’ll take it out of the freezer and try to sow it back on again. In future I’ll be more careful not to sing in Italian and shave at the same time. Sorry about that.

Votre toast (from Bizet’s Carmen): Here’s your toast.

Tutto e Deserto (from Verdi’s Il trovatore): ...and there’s fruit salad for afters.

Glitter and Be Gay (from Bernstein’s Candide): I’m not usually a vindictive person, but I’d like to restage this – more a happening, really - using this Otis Lee Crenshaw song** with Gary Glitter in the submissive rôle.

Sorry to end on such unpleasantness, but there you go. Speaking of Otis, I think I’m going to take matters in my own hands and write a whole Otis Lee Crenshaw opera; heck, it practically writes itself:

* “Mobile” means “furniture” in Romanian. I’m pleased to report there's actually an astonishingly vulgar Romanian version of this song, which goes (when translated) like this: Women are changeable, as the crows shit, sometimes is hard, another is more soft.

** If you have trouble with accessing this video, try this (ignore the visuals, I've no idea what they're all about).

Friday, March 5, 2010

My Life in Song Titles...

Don’t worry, there’s some totally hilarious posts coming soon, but I’m in a reflective mood right now. Scarlet Blue kindly tagged me to do this. One has to choose an “artist”, and then answer questions about one’s interesting life using only the titles of his/her songs. I thought back to my formative years and wondered which of the great performers might help me – The Jam had perhaps the best lyrics, The Clash had more power, and The Sex Pistols somehow typified the zeitgeist. But no, I’ve simply chosen the best songwriter who ever lived (no, I don’t mean Max Splodge of Splodgenessabounds):

1. Choose a band/artist: Franz Schubert
2. Answer ONLY using titles of their songs.
3. Are you male or female: Was Ist Silvia? (Who Is “Sylvia”??)
4. What do you do for a living?: Der Lieirmann (Hurdy-Gurdy Man)
5. Describe yourself: Ganymed (Ganymede)
6. How do some people feel about you: Des Mädchens Klage (The Maiden’s Complaint)
7. How do you feel about yourself: Der Musensohn (The Son of the Muses)
8. Describe your ex boyfriend/girlfriend: Die Forelle (The Trout)
9. Describe current boyfriend/girlfriend: Lachen Und Weiner.(Laughter and Tears)
10. Describe where you want to be: Am Meer (By the Sea)
11. Describe how you live: Täuschung (Illusion)
12. Describe how you love: Der Wanderer (The Wanderer)
13. What would you have if you had just one wish: ‘Av a Maria
14. Share a few words of Wisdom: Liebe Schwärmt auf allen Wegen (Love Wanders on Every Road)
15. Now say goodbye: Gute Nacht (Goodnight)

Ah yes, Viennese wunderkind and all-round gent Mr Franz Schubert. (A man whose visage, with its rather cherubic looks and unruly hair, always reminds me of Harris off of Porridge). So it’s Gute Nacht from me and it’s Gute Nacht from him. And, fittingly, this is the song that I'm (probably) going to sing in a small amateur concert soon:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Queen Elisabeth III

I feel I don’t bang my own gong too much on this blog, and I feel in need of boosting myself a bit, so I'm going to tell you how proud I was of this. It was my mother-in-law’s 70th birthday last weekend; we arranged a party for her, and I made her a crown. Her name’s Elisabeta. It was actually simpler than it looks, assuming it looks complicated, requiring a couple of plastic hair bands, some of Mrs Dilo’s jewellery, and cotton thread and wire. She was so happy that, to my surprise, she chose to wear it all day!! Oh, and here’s a tulip that we “brought on” quickly to be able to present to her in flower on the day.