Oana, I think I can say that you re-introduced people in Europe with the Romanian tango. The tango style is most often linked to Argentina; how did it end up in Bucharest?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "During the interbellum, Bucharest was a very cultural and vibrant cosmopolitan city. Apart from the tango, jazz and café-concert were also very popular around that period. But the tango was also popular outside of Romania, in countries like Poland and Finland for example."
What about the content of the music? Are Romanian tango lyrics similar to those in Argentinian tango?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "Yes, just as in Argentinian tango, most songs talk about love and the tragedy that often comes with it."
Even in Romania this music has been largely forgotten. How did you rediscover the genre?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "My father had a very nice voice and he used to sing some of these old songs and told me a bit about their history. When I moved to Berlin, the first music project I was involved in was a project playing gipsy music from the Balkans, but I couldn't get these Romanian tango songs out of my head and wanted to turn that passion into an actual project. When I visited the Berliner Romanian Cultural Institute (Rumänisches Kulturinstitut Berlin, red.) a couple years back, I decided to pitch my idea to them and they were very receptive. At one of the first concerts I gave, Helmut (Neumann, red.) of Asphalt Tango Records turned up and promptly offered me a record deal. I have to add, though, that I also perform a number of traditional Romanian songs. When I was listening to those old tango songs, after a while I started to feel very nostalgic and sad and I didn't want people coming to my concerts to go home feeling that way as well."
In the liner notes of the 'Bucharest Tango' album you mention the names of a number of tango artists from that era. I'm afraid their names will unfortunately not ring a bell with many people. Can you tell us a bit about them?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "Even in Romania the people have largely forgotten their names; only old people still know who they were. The tango artists of that era - most of them were men - were very passionate about their art and there was a lot of competition. For example, there's the story of Zavaidoc killing the girlfriend of Cristian Vasile simply because he was jealous of the success he was having. An exception to the rule was Maria Tanase, a beautiful female singer who's often referred to as the "Romanian Edith Piaf". Her repertoire only consisted of traditional Romanian songs, though, she never experimented with tango. My personal favorite is Cristian Vasile because I really adore his voice. After years of communist regime, the Romanian people are now slowly rediscovering the music from that past era."
The songs on the 'Bucharest Tango' album are all cover versions of old Romanian tango and folk songs; wouldn't you like to compose some songs of your own for a future project?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "Well, it's not that I don't want to try that, but at this moment I feel there are still too many great songs from that era that need to be rediscovered. The music from that era is so emotionally intense - something that is a bit lacking in today's music - and I want to re-acquaint my audience with those emotions and that intensity. For now that's what I want to focus on."
You're Romanian and sing in your native tongue, but apart from that, your music seems to have little or nothing to do with the whole Balkan scene that's been sweeping over Europe the past few years. Nevertheless you're often put in the same box with these artists. How do you feel about that?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "What can I say? After I did my first concert in Germany they told me I sounded like Edith Piaf, others compared me to Maria Tanase. If people need to compare me to have a certain reference, that's ok with me. On the one hand it's flattering, but on the other, I'm not these artists; I'm Oana Catalina Chitu. To answer your question about the comparisons with gipsy music, to the untrained ear the traditional songs from the repertoire of Maria Tanase sound somewhat similar to gipsy music, so I understand where that misunderstanding comes from. Personally, I love gipsy music, so it doesn't bother me that much."
As a tango singer, have you also experimented with the dance part of the music?
Oana Catalina Chitu: "Oh no, the way I perform my music is very intense and takes a lot of focus and concentration; I couldn't do both at the same time. And to be honest I'm not really all that fond of that theatrical side of the tango."