The Rise and Rise of Romanian Dance Music

LONDON–Edward Maya and I are playing a really frustrating game of phone tag. Or more precisely, I am trying to phone him and he’s not picking up. I want to talk to the Romanian-born DJ and producer  (real name: Eduard Marian Ilie) about why dance music from his country seems to be everywhere these days—from the beach clubs of Ibiza to shopping malls in Shanghai.  Maya was the first artist from this new wave of the Romanian dance genre to make it big internationally; his song “Stereo Love” was number 1 in 2009 in several countries including The Netherlands, Spain and Sweden and almost two years on, he is touring that song across the globe (upcoming stops include Croatia, India and Austria). Unfortunately, though we have three times made plans to do an interview over the phone, he never manages to be available at the allotted time. I am irritated but I chalk up his bailing on me to him being a busy man these days.

While Maya may have led this Romanian dance revolution, others have since come along and eclipsed him, storming up the international dance and pop charts with a unique and instantly recognizable sound that blends Turkish, gypsy, Greek and Oriental sounds with strong dance beats and cheesy lyrics that are often sung in a tinny vocal manner. “It is a unique sound,” Ioana Fesnic, the managing director of Universal Music Romania, tells me. “More or less, these singers are performing in a similar manner.” The most successful so far has been Inna (her real name is Elena Alexandra Apostoleanu); her 2009 debut album “Hot” produced several worldwide hits and her second album released earlier this year—  “I Am the Club Rocker”—includes the hit single “Sun Is Up” that charted in countries including France, Germany and the UK. Meanwhile Alexandra Stan’s sophomore single “Mr. Saxobeat” has sold over a million copies worldwide since its release in 2010 and reached the top five in 20 countries, while her third single “Get Back” (which sounds eerily similar to “Mr. Saxobeat”) has been a hit in countries like Denmark, Poland and Finland. Other Romanian artists including Elena Gheorghe, Ela Rose, Ellie White, Anya and Bogdan (whose song “Hila” is a recent guilty pleasure of mine) have also had recent chart successes outside the borders of their country.  Cees van der Zwan, the promotion and production manager for the Netherland’s dance label Spinnin’ Records, tells me that there have even been attempts by non-Romanians to replicate the Romanian dance music sound.

edwvika-1024x679So why has Romanian dance music become such a global sensation? One of the main reasons is that Romanian artists sing almost exclusively in English. “By writing the lyrics in English, you can reach a bigger audience and your fans all over the world can listen and understand the message you want to transmit,” says Denisia Aghiorghitoaie, the PR manager for Inna’s record producers Play and Win. Other key factors have been the global rise of dance music—long just heard in clubs but now selling just as easily as rap and rock—and the popularity of social networking, which has meant that artists can reach audiences they never could have dreamed of a decade ago. “I also think it has to do with political changes in the country,” says van der Zwan. “After the end of the Nicolae Ceausescu era, there was a fresh take on music. Now, 20 plus years on, there is whole new generation who have the chance of getting airplay in their own country. Also I think that since the mainstream radio stations are dominated by this music genre, people are hearing this everywhere and all the time.” With dance music permeating the Romanian airwaves, it has meant that scrappy local producers can get a feel for what people like, improving and experimenting with that succesful chart-topping formula. There is also a feel good factor to the music. “It’s danceable, bubblegum, summer-feel stuff,” says van der Zwan.

There is, of course, a concern about the shelf life of this musical genre—what’s hot in the clubs and charts one year becomes laughably cliché in the next. “It really depends on the artists; they have to improve their style, surprise the fans with something new every time they release a song, so I think that flexibility is a must in this industry,” Aghiorghitoaie tells me. Fesnic agrees that it’s important for artists to not get stuck rereleasing similar sounding singles year after year. “I think Romanian dance music has a chance to become a brand if they have the courage to improve themselves,” she says. “They have to not just stick to a formula [just] because it has been successful in the past.” Inna, for example, has started to experiment with her sound and teamed up with American rapper Flo Rida on her latest single “I Am the Club Rocker.”  And her producers have been looking into possible collaborations with other big US artists. “This will of course develop her music,” says van der Zwan. “[Her producers] are playing the game like they are supposed to and they know how to adjust and develop her sound.”

ELA-ROSE-3-1024x680Not everyone, however, is pleased with how Romanian dance music has taken off globally and there is a worry that Romanian music in general could be stereotyped by this recent trend. “Due to the fact that Inna/Akcent/Alexandra Stan’s music is the only kind of Romanian-produced music that has succeeded internationally, unfortunately, other Romanian artists are somewhat forced to apply the same recipe,” Bogdan Serban, a DJ with Romania’s Guerilla Radio, writes me in an email. “I think that most of Europe’s musical consumers would put a stamp on Romanian music as being the cheesy club stuff. But there will also be people [who] will dig for something else [and not focus just] on the [mainstream] offerings.”


All photos courtesy of Spinnin’ Records (1st–Inna, 2nd–Edward Maya, 3rd–Ela Rose)

1 reply
  1. Emiliano Ramos
    Emiliano Ramos says:

    Have been waiting for this piece for weeks and, as usual, you did not let me down! As with other articles you have on the blog, it is yet another great and original topic to write about.

    It flows very well and the hard facts – real names (am gutted Inna ain’t really called Inna!), chart positions, etc. – you added make it all the more interesting. Even though music fans can see this huge presence of Romanian artists on the current charts, your piece is very welcome as it puts all parts of the puzzle together, explaining why and how the country became such a powerhouse in dance music.

    Wouldn’t be out of place in a music publication – just saying 😉


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