A Brief History of Romanian Rock Music

Romanian Rock music, which rapidly expanded in the 1960s’ Communist Romania, was a rather controversial topic, mainly because of the regime’s propaganda against Western culture. In 1971, this fear culminated with the famous July Theses (see the next paragraph). Due to its growing popularity, rock music was regulated, but allowed to flourish in Romania, often triggering a generation gap not dissimilar to that of the West or other Eastern European countries.

All through the 1960s, Romanian rock bands were permitted to sing in English or other foreign languages; moreover, covers of Western music were requested by Electrecord, the state recording label itself, in order to increase disc sales. We are talking about vinyl, of course.

Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Restrictions

In 1971, President Nicolae Ceauşescu issued the above-mentioned July Theses setting out specific cultural targets for the new Socialist man. These included a reorientation of all cultural interests towards national values and treasures. In fact, the July Theses inaugurated a miniature cultural revolution: the Romanian rock scene was suddenly confronted with many nascent issues that they had not faced before. Essentially, Romanian music had to be limited in its borrowing of external influences. Singing in foreign languages was restricted to other Romanic languages, such as French and Italian, or to fellow socialist bloc languages.

Following is a short and by no means exhaustive list of the most popular Romanian rock or metal bands:

Phoenix – Famous for emigrating illegally to Western Germany hidden in the speaker cabinets in the back of a truck.

Sfinx – Band leader Dan Andrei Aldea is arguably the best guitar player Romanian rock ever had. Also a complex musician with formal classical training, Aldea emigrated to Western Germany during the dark 80’s of Communist Romania.

Celelalte Cuvinte – The band’s name Celelalte Cuvinte (“the other words”) itself was a declaration of dissent with the regime, even if the censors of the time did not notice.  They rocked the 80s with their blend of hard rock, elaborate passages and lyric interludes. Still an active band.

Pro Musica – Progressive rockers from the vibrant music scene of Temesvár (Timișoara), also home to Phoenix and Celelalte Cuvinte, Pro Musica’s career spans three decades from the early seventies to the late nineties.

Iris – The most beloved Romanian rock singer ever was Cristi Minculescu, frontman of Iris for 22 years. He recently left the band to pursue solo projects.

Timpuri Noi – One of their songs from the 80s goes “light bulb, please stay alive, we love you” – a tongue-in-cheek reference to the forced blackouts that Ceausescu ordered in the 1980s, leaving a nation in the dark and cold on a daily basis.

Metropol – The little known and even less talked about Hungarian rock scene in Transylvania during late seventies and mid-eighties  was quite vibrant. Metropol may have been the best-known band, but there were at least a dozen more worth mentioning.

Semnal M – Another legendary band from Romania, Semnal M hails from Kolozsvár (Cluj-Napoca) . They brought the Deep Purple sound into Romanian rock, but went well beyond that.

Cargo – Solid rockers from – yet again – Temesvár, one of the bands that successfully managed the transition from underground rock during Communist regime to freedom rock after 1989.

Survolaj – The band shocked everybody when they showed up on Romanian’s rock scene. They were the first to package Led Zeppelin, Cactus and jam rock in a Romanian rock band with a modern sound. Their few live appearances had a cult following. The operatic ambitus of frontman Daniel Petre was a unique phenomenon in Romanian rock.

For more info about the burgeoning Romanian music scene, take a look at 2019’s Electric Castle festival, one of Romania’s largest music festivals in history.

Author: Orsolya Laura Péterfy