MARCEL STEFANET'S TRANSBALCANICA
Despite Dostoievski's assurances, it is not very clear whether beauty can actually save the world.
But this music can save souls. It revives the heart. This music is the sap of our millennium.
Or is it exactly music that is the new religion, that spiteless religion that all peoples have been searching for so long?
One day, Marcel's parents left the five year-old boy in the care of his grandparents. Everything seemed idyllic until Mum 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 out loud.
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.
"There are ways in everyone's plaits" is a widespread saying in this magically musical-agrarian land.
It is as though, shortly before he died, Grandpa, who was a violinist and a conductor, thus transmitted Marcel his way - the musician's destiny.
It is a destiny that asks for many sacrifices in order for the music spirits to finally agree to protect the musician and spread good luck upon him.
These music spirits, they are very jealous themselves!
Now, they are living in two violins in Marcel's house. He was the one - out of all the musical sons and grandsons - who inherited them from both grandfathers.
"I can't figure out why it so happened and why it was I who got them", Marcel Stefanet says, shrugging his shoulders.
Not long ago, he played for two presidents in Moscow: for Putin, the president of Russia, and Voronin, the Moldavian president. Besides the two, only Marcel and other three musicians were present at this concert.
A few days passed and he was already playing at weddings and baptisms.
For three whole years, during the interludes between his rare concerts, he has worked minutely to create the incredible music you can hear on this record.
Three endless years, Marcel was practically confined to home arrest!
Almost like Gabriel Garcia Marques's wife, his wife Ksenia used to lock him up in the apartment as she went to work.
Every night she would ask him eagerly:
"Show me what you did today!"
Marcel recollects with a smile that he was very nervous each time they were to listen to the passage he had written that day.
As a critic, Ksenia lacked any indulgence whatsoever.
However, her maternal instinct of preserving newly-born music exceeds all expectations. By the way, some tracks of the album came to include trance electronic rhythms at her very suggestion.
The idea of recording an album belonged to Ksenia as well. This was how the entire family decided to dedicate all their forces to the album.
Until final victory.
This regime could only be a little loosened in extreme cases, such as playing for presidents or at wedding parties.
As a composer of electronic music, Marcel started from scrap: he bought a computer and all the necessary instruments, and he learned everything in his small home studio - from the abc of programming and electronic arrangement up to multi-instrumentalism.
What he managed to accomplish in three years is a true act of heroism!
This music is lush with the finest nuances, floating with dozens of wings over an immensity of styles and traditions...
The barren term of "fusion" will not tell you anything about the unreal and distinguished way in which the songs and rhythms of an impressive number of peoples live and travel in Marcel's music.
Here, in every note beats a heart full of life.
Grandpa's four sons (among whom Marcel's would-be father) 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 neighbouring 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 Moldavia 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 (the eldest of whom is 80 now) became musicians and are still 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.
Yes, it is these two violins that Marcel inherited.
There is always some kind of secret knowledge in ethnic 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, Moldavia 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 latest population census, this small republic is populated by representatives of more than one hundred nations.
Moldavians, Ukrainians, Russians, Armenians, Poles, Gagauzi-Turks, Gypsies, Jews, Greeks, Bulgarians, Kurds, Albanians, Czechs, Germans, Azeri, Tchechnians...
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?
If the Balkans are the ethnic war reactor of the whole Europe, then Moldavia is an example of a village wedding for the entire Balkan area.
Why an example?
Because of its incredible respect and peacefulness towards everything and everybody, especially as compared to the same Balkan area, or, using a term which is now in fashion - because of an incredible degree of tolerance.
That is this land's spirit.
"Touch wood!" as everybody around says at every step. Irrespective of their education level.
But this is not the most amazing thing.
The amazing thing is that nations on Moldavian land do not lose their individualities.
On the contrary, they even get more prominent.
And the music, oh, the music!
The music reconciliates them, it thrills and heals them all here.
It is through music that the fantastic ethnic flowers get cross-inseminated with magic pollen; these flowers have grown here since immemorial times.
I have always been very eager to find out how this intermingling practically takes place - not in theory, but in musical practice.
I made it out while talking to Marcel.
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! Listen to it sound in Marcel's hands! It requires a different language to express spirit, a different kind of music - it has a different melismatic.
In each of the countries he visited, he and his fellow musicians played a lot of local folk songs apart from Moldavian tunes.
Can you understand now? They were directly exchanging consciousness on the popular level. And after such conception exchanges, each of them became richer.
That "world" music, born of musicians' creating and living together, of common emotional experience, is really interesting. Not the music that emerges as you listen to some records made by some strangers. See the difference.
"Lively" - this is the most important criterion in understanding the "world" music phenomenon, even though not considered from a musicological point of view. Thus, the civilized world's lust to engulf this music genre is perfectly explicable. The super toxic industrial "mainstream" deprives every country's inhabitants of their identities with the speed of an epidemic, without exception.
And it not only deprives them of their identities - it also barrens, "degreases" the spirit.
The emotional range of spiritual life in the population of developed countries is scarce and flavourless. Like the packing of cholesterol-free margarine, in tune with all European standards.
Recent research carried out by American scientists showed that long-term cholesterol-free diet leads to mental disability and weakness.
Here's the paradox: music coming from the poorest peoples and states in the world has the biggest success in developed countries!
An instance of this statement would be Cesaria Evora, who brings 40% of the annual revenue in her country - the Cabo Verde Isles. Or the records of Romanian bands from some isolated village in the mountains - in European music stores, they are considerably more expensive than Sting's latest album, for example.
Or the heavenly Ali-Han.
What is so special about this music, always born out of poverty and exhausting work for a piece of bread?
It is... the thing Marcel's Granpa was crying out loud:
"Your music doesn't have the heart that mine has!"
Twenty years ago, when Alan Parson was asked during an interview what type of melos would prevail in the next decades, he answered without hesitation:
Tactfully speaking, that statement seemed disputable at the time.
Still, it has not been so long and the Balkans' ethnic music gained an ascertained place among the preferences and hearts of many people in very different, very little resembling countries.
Well, that seems to sum it up!
Marcel Stefanet invites you to take a trans-Balkan trip!