Reggae Beats in Bucharest

Robert Zaharia and the Kaya Foundation held the second annual reggae festival in Bucharest this year, marking a continuation towards the diversification of the musical landscape in Romania. Zaharia also collaborates with art galleries and other concert venues as an event organizer. But while he is optimistic about new genres giving music-lovers more options, he has  different feelings about one popular music style called Manele, a sort of wildly popular style of hyperbolized traditional Roma music – adapted and abstracted for a broad audience – in Romania.

L: Robert Zaharia, R: Barbara Cassioli

Can you tell me how you first became interested in organizing a reggae festival in Romania?

Nothing existed before we started this in Romania. There were just a few people doing this, not just in Bucharest, but all around the country. We started it two and a half years ago.

How are you organized? We have a group. Kaya Foundation is the name.

What kind of festivals and activities are you organizing?

We just had a festival that we organized for the second time here. We organize a lot of different things like concerts and events, as well as events out in nature. I can’t name just one activity. Some are planned and some just happen. We were not the only ones who are doing these kinds of things. Starting about two years ago, us and other people have started to do things. But still, I mean everything now, if we are talking about Reggae, in my opinion, it is all at the beginning if you compare it with what is happening in other countries in Western Europe. There, they have music industries, but here it is just the beginning. Here it is difficult to support events like this because, as I told you, we are not like in Western Europe where you can speak of industries because there are not a lot of firms that are interested in sponsoring events like this because, at this point, there are not a lot of people who are interested in attending events like this. So far, it is a work we have to do on our own.

How do you finance your events?

We finance them and from time to time we get small help. For example, we found an airline

Robert Zaharia in Bucharest

that gives us free tickets for artists. We pay only the airport taxis and not the ticket for flying the artist to the festival. We have never had one event that had even half the budget paid. We just sometimes get small help. That is just a little part of the whole production.

In the last two years, we have also been organizing events in art galleries and organizing music events there. I work with different art galleries and work in production with different festivals.

Do you DJ?

I prefer to organize the moment for other artists and people to express themselves rather than to express myself, but it has happened.

When did you first hear reggae music?

I didn’t develop my reggae culture here, rather at festivals like Sziget, in Slovenia, other festivals in Western Europe. Wherever I could afford to go, I went. I developed (my taste for reggae) it in other countries, not here, because we didn’t have it here.

How do people respond to reggae?


It depends on each different person.

Why does Romania need reggae?

Because they (Romanians) need to know about more things than they are aware of now. Someone has to show them other choices than the choices that already exist now.

(Q: Barbara Cassioli) How many people are reggae fans in Bucharest?

For any given event you can count on a few hundred, 3 or 400 in Bucharest. It is all at the beginning, but three or four years ago, nothing existed.

(Q: Barbara Cassioli) What is your opinion of manele?

It is all about money. It is a non-cultural style of music, if you can call it music. It was made created, in my opinion, just to make money. But the sad part is that I think most people – maybe not most people now – but for a lot of years this was the main type of music that was listened to here.

What kind of people listen to manele?

People generally who don’t have a high level of education. Mostly poor people because in this music you can find inspiration from poor people that want to be rich. I mean, it’s nothing spiritual or educational, it’s just about money, girls, cars…those are the topics that they generally sing about. A lot of gypsies [sic] that play this music, and many of them are very good musicians when they are not playing this music. When they plan manele, they are playing for money. There was a project, where they went into the Romanian neighborhoods, they combined their music with the vocal and percussion from the gypsy [sic] tradition (for example, Shukar collective).

What other styles of music are taking root in Romania?

For example, hip-hop, but it has been developing for many years. Now I think music niches are growing. Four years ago, the cultural variety did not exist. There are more and more people that are choosing their own way, also in music. They are all developing, but slowly.

( Barbara Cassioli) Graffiti didn’t exist four years ago, but now it is everywhere.


About Amanda Wilson

I am a freelance writer currently based in Washington, D.C.
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