One day, Marcel Stefanet’s parents left the five year-old boy in the care of his grandparents. Everything seemed idyllic until Mom and Dad stepped out of the yard. Suddenly, Grandpa got indignant about the indecency he sensed in the length of this grandson’s hair. He then grabbed the huge sheep shears, sat the boy on a small stool in the middle of the yard and cut his hair. “It seemed to me that those shears were half my height”, Marcel recollects.
As he carried out his undertaking, Grandpa decided to comfort little Marcel, who was crying his pain and surprise outloud. He took out his violin and started playing some magnificent wedding music, commanding Grandma to dance around their grandson and clap her hands. And it seemed that the three of them entered a state of trance. So the whole thing took a while. In the evening, when the parents returned, the three of them were still dancing.
It may well be that Grandpa thus determined Marcel’s future. He was the one, out of all the musical sons and grandson, who inherited fiddles from both grandfathers. “I can’t figure out why it so happened and why it was I who got them“, Marcel Stefanet said, shrugging his shoulders.
Grandpa’s four sons used to play with him at wedding parties since they were very young, about 7 or 8 years old. They were like a family orchestra. One winter, they played for 9 days and nights on end at some wedding party in the neighboring village. Grandma would bring them exchange clothes in the sleigh. One of the brothers, who was playing the drum, was stolen in the middle of that party. The kind village women stole him and put him to bed, to catch some sleep.
Marcel’s father remembers that, as he grew old, Grandpa would fall asleep in the middle of the song, especially during the winter wedding feasts. But all it took was one of the boys losing the rhythm or playing a false note and he would wake up immediately and start shouting: Play, y’all! Don’t stop!!!
Grandpa was a fiery man. In those times, musicians used to play at weddings from Monday till Friday. They would play ceaselessly, days and nights on end. They only rested on Saturdays and Sundays. In their Northern Moldova village, there were three wedding orchestras, so the competition was fierce. All the three wedding processions, each with its own band, would meet near the only church in the village. Then every band would try to play better than their rivals.
The brothers would often get confused, as their band was the least numerous. But Grandpa, who was holding his violin as if it had been a weapon, would attack his contestants, go right in front of them and sing, sing, sing with all his might, never deviating from his own melodic line. And thus he would drive them away. He kept on following them, playing as he walked, and shouted: “Your music doesn’t have the heart that mine has!”
One day, the envious contestant musicians even used the knife. And they used it to cut the leather off the drum. The Stefanet family has kept this drum up to this day as well.
During the war, Grandpa was the conductor of the Balti Military Commissariat Orchestra. All his sons became musicians and continued playing. Their sons also became musicians: Marcel’s three cousins. But only Marcel graduated from the conductor faculty of the Conservatory.
Marcel remembers how, as he was a child, his other grandfather, the maternal one, used to give him 25 rubles (which was a considerable amount at the time!) in order to hear him play the violin. He was a violinist as well.
There is always some kind of secret knowledge in traditional music. This cannot be described in words. Could this be knowledge of the way in which souls can survive in this terrifying and at the same time fascinating world?
Being placed at the crossroads of all possible and impossible roads to Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean area, Moldova became a unique pot of history. Ever since ancient times, the vibrating spirits of countless peoples would melt and enter an unpredictable mixture here.
According to the data of the population census, this small republic is populated by representatives of more than one hundred nations. Moldovans, Ukrainians, Russians, Armenians, Poles, Gagauzi-Turks, Gypsies, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, Kurds, Albanians, Czechs, Germans, Azeri, Chechnyans “Of course, there is a long way to go till the New Nationality Day, which is celebrated in Brazil! But the carnivalesque of daily life here is as natural as in Latin America. How else could it be?”
Ever since the Soviet era, Marcel?s father had been doing tours in Algeria, Ethiopia, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. And he brought new tunes and rhythms from everywhere he went.
During the last years, Marcel himself has worked a lot in Spain, France, Bulgaria, Belgium, Germany, Romania, Russia, Tartarstan, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Turkey, and Finland.
He did not only bring songs from these countries. For example, he brought an incredible instrument from Transylvania. It is a violin that has a bugle-trumpet inside, which resembles more that of a gramophone! In each of the countries he visited, he and his fellow musicians played a lot of local folk songs apart from Moldovan tunes.
The ensemble Transbalkanica was conceived by Marcel Stefanet. He chose the players, wrote the music and coordinated the entire scheme. This is how the Transbalkanica album started to take shape. The debut album includes 13 songs (14 tracks) taking the listener on a cruise through environments as diverse as gorgeous rural Moldavia and the bustling metropolis, to inspire unexpected nostalgia and unanticipated joy.
Transbalkanica is the most ample musical project launched by MediaPro Music in the Romanian music market. Transbalkanica is not a band and it is hardly an orchestra. It is a concept. One cannot speak of Transbalkanica before having listened, lived, and breathed in their music. It is a mixture of Romanian folklore and electronic music.
Why the name Transbalkanica? It’s easy: the musical show of violins, percussion and unconventional instruments played by a fifteen-virtuoso orchestra simply did not admit of a different name.
Transbalkanica: A Balkan Ethno Fusion (Pro Video, 2005)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.