"Da-mi gurita s-o sarut" ("give me your mouth, so I can kiss it") was sung by the Romanian tango star Jean Moscopol in the thirties. Moscopol's fame found him living in Berlin during the 1930s where he entertained the wealthy clientele of the Romanian casino, accompanied by the George Boulanger Orchestra, and sang in UFA films. He constantly returned to his homeland to perform; amongst the women of Bucharest he was a Valentino-style icon. When Romania's King Mihail was forced to abdicate in 1947, many artists left Romania, crossing the green border to the West. The voices of the elegant tango and foxtrot singers were gone, Jean Moscopol had emigrated, the Gypsy singer Zavaidoc had died and Cristian Vasile had fallen silent: there was no place for "decadent tango" in the Socialist People's Republic of Romania.
"Da-mi gurita s-o sarut" is also sung by Oana Catalina Chitu who lives in Berlin. Although she performs in sequined dresses and costume jewellery true to the style of the era, Oana has done more than just don the melancholic tangos and songs from the repertoire of Maria Tanase as if they were a costume to wear on stage. Instead, she has immersed herself in the music of Tanase and the tango performers from back then. Growing up in rural Romania, Oana learnt many of these songs across her childhood. Even though tango classics like "Mina Birjar" by Jean Moscopol were not played on Romanian radio in the 1970s and 80s, Oana Catalina Chitus' father sang them every evening on his way home from the village pub where he worked. These snatches of music from a bygone age aroused Oana's curiosity. Her relatives in Bucharest ran an antique lottery shop and owned countless old gramophone records by the tango stars; here she got to study the scratched shellac mastery of Moscopol and those other now long vanished Romanian tango stars.
Oana Catalina Chitu grew up singing in the church choir of her home village as a child. She arrived in Berlin in the 1990s, already a student of piano and guitar, jazz and opera singing. In 2000 she formed the Balkan band 'Romenca' with the Serbian accordian player Dejan Jovanovic. Her yearning for Romania's elegant tangos never left her and, inspired by a feature written by Romanian writer Mircea Catarescu about legendary Gypsy beauty Zaraza and her baleful influence on Bucharest's tango scene, Oana became determined to resurrect the old tango melodies.
In the autumn of 2007, supported by the Romanian Cultural Institute in Berlin, Oana brought her musical and theatrical performance "Bucharest Tango" to the stage. The theatre was filled with exiled Romanians and tango fans enchanted by the idea of Bucharest as a lost tango citadel. Oana interprets the texts songs of love and written for Romania's now vanished tango stars - with a sensitivity comparable to how she handles the songs of Romania's tragic diva, Maria Tanase. Oana has long been a great admirer of Tanase and in concert she performs and translates Tanase's highly poetic songs.
Oana's warm, sonorous voice does justice to Tanase and to the tangos; the arrangements are original yet remain in touch with tradition. Although Romania is a country with a rich musical tradition, everyday life there has been dominated since the revolution by the trashiest music imaginable, both manele (Gypsy electro party music) and euro-pop. These poisonous electronic keyboard music forms have squeezed the virtuoso music Romania was once so celebrated for onto the cultural periphery (to hear the historic recordings of Bucharest's muzica lautareasca check Asphalt Tango's Sounds From A Bygone Age Vols 1 5). Here Oana is attempting cultural resurrection, bringing back to life the beautiful music that Bucharest once echoed to.
After the overthrow of communism these almost forgotten tangos turned up on CD, reaching both aficionados and a young, urban audience, offering a glimpse into the years between the wars, recalling an elegant, multicultural Bucharest, one where tango singers like Cristian Vasile, Jean Moscopol and Zavaidoc drew mass audiences back then into the garden establishments on the Calea Victoriei and the surrounding Cismigiu Park, a culture destroyed in 1941 when the fascist Iron Guards rampaged through the city's Jewish quarters. Bucharest today is a shattered city, the ugliest capital in Europe, yet in the 1930s it was a beautiful city often described as "the Paris of the East", home to avant-garde artists while The Orient Express stopped off at Bucharest's Gara de Nord. Back then tangos could be heard in the best restaurants, the Berbec or the Lafayette, and in the Lido and the Astoria hotels.
Maria Tanase (1913-1963) was an icon of Romanian music; her dramatic interpretations, of the doina (dance songs) capture a Romanian era like no other singer. She recorded mainly folk songs and songs of the suburbs, such as "M&259;rie &351;i M&259;rioar&259;" (Marie and Little Marie) or "Un tigan avea o casa" (A Gypsy had a House), both of which have now been rediscovered by Oana Catalina Chitu. The Romanian singer, now resident in Berlin, and her Eastern-European Balkan tango orchestra bring the Tanase songs and the Romanian tangos back to life. Here is the sound of a city now lost to history's misfortunes.