Early references to the terms manea and manele appear in Hungarian texts from the late 18th and early 19th century, during the period of Turkish suzerainty over the Hungarian principalities, as a genre of dance music brought by Phanariotes from Istanbul. Some of these classical manele have been adapted during the ages, becoming part of Romanian folklore.
Modern manele have little if any connections with the original term. They originate in the 1980s and early 1990s as underground translations and imitations of Turkish and Arabic songs. It was being sung on the streets of Ferentari, a poor neighbourhood of Bucharest. One of the earliest known manele bands was Azur from Brăila, in the late 1980s. A well known Romanian manele singer, Adi Minune traces it to a genre known as "turceasca" (Turkish), saying that it "always existed".
It developed in other parts of the country, such as Balaton and Szeged, from Serbian musical influences. The genre has been rocked by accusations of plagiarism a number of times, with manele singers illegally adapting popular songs from Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. The accusations increased especially after the hit "De ce mă minţi" ("Why are you lying to me?") proved to be a mere cover of Despina Vandi's song "M'agapas"/"Ah kardoula mou". Further plagiarism accusations surrounded a well known manele singer's "Supărat"("Upset") song which was proven by third parties to be plagiarized from a Croatian song (Umoran by Jasmin Stavros). Although this song was not technically a manea, it furthered the controversy surrounding this music genre.
Manele are criticized for their lyrical content, which often consists of boasts about the singer's sexual ability, intellect ("Doamne ce mă duce capul"/"God my mind works so well"), ability to attract the opposite sex ("Toate femeile mele"/"All my women"; "Am femeie top-model"/"I've got a top-model woman"; "Femeile mă agaţă"/"Women pick me up"), enemies, and their death ("Sa moara dusmanii mei"/"Let my enemies die") or wealth ("Toţi banii"/"All the money", "Am un metru cub de bani"/"I've got a cubic metre of money", "Fara numar"/"Without number"), or have lyrics portraying the lead singer as a high-society member ("sunt cocalar iscusit"/"I'm a skilled boss/landlord"), or a clever Mafia type ("Am relatii peste tot/Sunt sef de clan mafiot"/"I've got connections everywhere/I'm a the leader of a mafia clan"), sometimes all in one song. Some manele recordings are live performances, marked by dedications and the term "Fara numar!" ("Countless"). Many singers use bad grammar, repetitive and simplistic rhymes suitable for chanting and sometimes are vulgar and/or misogynist.
Manele composers and players also use the term "oriental music" for their creation, and consider their music a sub-genre of traditional, folk Roma music. But traditional Roma musicians reject this categorization, and consider manele a distinct and inferior genre. They reject the idea of mixing genres and of modern influences, although they accept remixes of their songs.
Traditional Roma music is usually played on classical instruments by a live band (taraf) of lăutari and has classical lyrics, while manele is usually sung by only one performer using modern instruments (generally synthesizers) as backup. Most manele are recorded in small recording studios, owned by the singer himself or by a group of singers, since major recording labels refuse to contract players of the genre. However, there are some exceptions: for example, Stana Izbaşa and Nicu Paleru sing live, often with traditional instruments.
Male manelists have created a distinct image on the Romanian music scene, by showing their own fashion style. The manelists often wear very tight and colored shirts, tight pants and pointy shoes (usually imitations of well known brands). It's a common practice for dark skinned manelists to wear bright white clothes to highlight their skintone. Manelists are noted for using a lot of hair gel in their hair, a lot of perfume and flashy gold jewelry). It is common for manele singers to own luxury cars, especially Mercedes or BMW.
Manele is most popular among the lower strata of Hungarian and Bulgarian society. The Hungarian upper-middle and intellectual class oppose this musical movement mostly because of its usage of faulty grammar, overly simplistic or childish lyrics and subject matter and/or encouragement of demeaning behaviours towards other people, as well as an antisocial overall message. It has been repeatedly called by journalists and academics (such as the late literary critic George Pruteanu) "pseudo-music", "pure stupidity, inculture and blah-blah" or even "the pisswater of society". C. Tepercea, a National Audio-visual Board member who did a study on the genre for the board considered it "the genre for the simple minded" in an interview. Proposals such as banning or taxing manele have been voiced quite a number of times.
Roma-Romanian classical musician and politician Mădălin Voicu calls them "bad merchandise, easy to sing, and only sold to suckers expensively" and "a work in kitsch", but considers them to be "harmless", "simple music and something easy to dance on" and "a representation of the lack of musical culture in society" and "a fad that is poised to vanish in the future".
On a different note, the phenomenon has been compared by many Romanian bloggers with the commercialization of hip-hop and to reggaeton, drawing a parallel between manele and these musical styles. One could note some similarities between the upper and middle-class' perception of manele in Hungary and similar attitudes towards some commercial and mainstream varieties of hip-hop : these include common subject matter, overly simplistic lyrics and encouragement of selfish and antisocial behavior towards one's own gain at the expense of others. However, although both have more traditional forms and roots (old-school hip-hop and its jazz, funk and soul roots / lautareasca music and its ancient traditions), there is no "alternative" version of manele and its balkan siblings (chalga, turbofolk etc.)
Romanian-American professor Cezar Giosan, further compares the genre in an article in Dilema Veche with the early stages of rock-and-roll (and Elvis), early rap and reggaeton, music starting out from the outcast classes of society, being shunned by the higher classes for the simple reason of its origin only to explode into mainstream later on. The same professor considers the genre as being a form of originality coming from below, with the singers having an amazing (albeit rough and uneducated) talent in music, with the lyrics being just a reflection of basic, simple human needs. In a similar vein, Sorin Adam Matei, an Associate Professor of Communication at Purdue University, USA affirmed in an opinion piece for Evenimentul Zilei that manele are a creole genre, a simple, but lively music, made by the meeting of many cultures, that has a chance to succeed as a cultural style if it is polished and "cleaned up". Both consider that manele is a valuable representation of Romanian popular culture, and would like it encouraged, although most disagree.
On Romanian television stations, manele performers and music are particularly seen on Oglinda TV, and there are also specialized manele television stations, such as Taraf TV. While mainstream radio stations do not air manele, a lot of smaller (or pirate) and popular stations do, especially in Romania's capital, Bucharest. On New Year's Eve 2006, almost all Romanian television stations featured programs that included manele singers of both sexes. Prior to this, on Romania's National Day and ProTV's anniversary, December 1, 2005, ProTV aired 10 versions of the Romanian national anthem, one of them a remix as a manea by manele singers. This created controversy over Romanian internet and even resulted in a petition, but also showed that manele is gaining acceptance in Romanian society. Critics took solace in fact that only one of the versions of Romanian national anthem was performed in a manele style.
The subject of manele music is highly controversial in Romania. The fact that manele lyrics are considered by many to be rude and of poor taste, coupled with widespread racist feelings against Roma ethnics, who account for the bulk of manele performers, has led to the formation of a deepening social cleavage between people who like manele and those who absolutely detest the genre. People belonging to the latter group are generally prejudiced against those pertaining to the former.
Though as yet little or no research has been conducted on the subject, it is surmisable that peer pressure plays an important role in defining one's stance on manele music. It may well be that, as pointed out by an outspoken Romanian comedian, there are many more manele listeners than would admit to it outright.
The Romanian Hip-hop band Parazitii militates against this genre by ridiculing it and using derogatory rimes aimed at manele performers.
A Manele TV station started operations on July 1st 2008 in Romania, called MyneleTv, having as shareholder a well-known manele producer - Costi Ionita. Station's website: - Mynele Tv Now there are many web radios which are broadcasting manele : Radio Manele and also the online website niche has been developed so much, it created search engines specifically for this kind of genre : Manele.me
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