If you're new to her charms, this will be quite a revelation.
Jon Lusk 2008
Now that Romania is part of the EU, few feel nostalgic for the decades under the brutal Soviet-backed dictator Ceaucescu. But at least the state-owned Electrecord studio recorded the country's Roma (Gypsy) musicians, whose passionate, soulful music must have done more than almost anything else to ease life under his iron rule. The singer Gabi Lunca was one of these, and this fifth instalment in Asphalt Tango's excellent series mining the Electrecord vaults cherry picks her recordings from the 60s and 70s. Four selections here have already appeared on the pioneering compilation Gypsy Queens (Network, 1999), but if you're new to her charms, this will be quite a revelation.
Lunca's rich, melismatic wail is less feral and idiosyncratic than that of her contemporary Romica Puceanu (the star of Vol. 2 of this series), but has its own silky beauty that sinks in nicely after a couple of plays. She's masterfully backed on accordion by husband Ion Onoriu, who echoes and answers her phrases, almost constantly trailing her like an attentive – perhaps even a little possessive – lover. Not all the other instrumentalists could be identified, such as the wonderful fiddler who introduces Da, Mama, Cu Biciu-n Mine! with a short but spectacular solo, or the double bass player booming away resonantly throughout. But it seems the tzimbal (hammered dulcimer) player is Toni Iordache (Vol. 4) and the muted trumpet quacking and chattering away in the background of tracks such as Ma, Gandesc, Neica, La Tine and Neicuta, Mi-Aduc Aminte is by Costel Vasilescu.
On Rau E, Doamne, Bolnavioara, there's an engaging contrast between the racing clatter of tzimbal and Lunca’s long, cooing notes, and the near-epic Suparata Sunt Pe Lume is another obvious highlight, set to a slow, lurching rhythm. The sequencing is intelligent too, breaking up the nine vocals with a couple of instrumentals, the best of which is the nifty tune Hora, featuring Ion Zlotea on cobza, a stringed instrument. These days Lunca only sings in church, and trashy manele pop dominates Romania's airwaves, so these really are sounds from a bygone age.