The Singapore Arts Festival is now over, but I was able to catch another performance on its last night, that of a Romanian group called Taraf de Haïdouks (Band of Honourable Brigands). This colourful ensemble of Gypsy “lautari” (traditional musicians) plays violins, accordions, upright bass, and the cimbalom (a type of hammer dulcimer - a stringed instrument where the strings are stretched over a trapezoidal sounding board) at a frantic pace, enough to put the best of bluegrass bands to shame. Every other song or so, a couple of old vocalists would come out from backstage and for a rousing rendition of some local Romanian song, all the while playing to the crowd with a twinkle in their eyes or a light dance step. They were having more fun than the audience. It may have been the subject matter of the songs: “tales of cheating husbands, unsatisfied wives, and a longing for the elixir of youth”. I know this only from the program, as all the songs were in Romanian. But, it was a fun show.
While the group is not well-known in its own country, it does have an international following, even in Hollywood. Johnny Depp, for whom they played his gypsy family in The Man Who Cried, had them play the at his club on Sunset Strip for the opening of Sleepy Hollow back in 2002. He said, “they have this gift to make you feel alive.” I can’t disagree.