The manele can be divided into "classical manele" and "modern manele". The "classical manele" are a Turkish-derived genre performed by Romani musicians called lăutari in a lăutărească manner, while the "modern manele" are a mixture of Turkish, Greek, Arabic, Bulgarian and Serbian elements, generally using modern (electronic) instruments and beats.
Similar music styles are also present in other Balkan areas, such as Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey and with expatriates and emigrants originally from these regions. Related genres are Bulgarian Chalga (manele brought by Romanian visitors to Bulgaria is referred to as "Romanian chalga"), Greek modern Skiladiko and Serbian Turbo-folk, each one being a mixture of local folk Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian influences over a pop tune.
Early references to the terms manea and manele appear in Romanian texts from the late 18th and early 19th century, during the period of Turkish suzerainty over the Romanian principalities, as a genre of dance music brought by Roma from Istanbul. This dance had no text. Some of these classical manele have been adapted during the ages.
The modern manele originated in the 1980s and early 1990s as translations and imitations of Turkish and Arabic songs. A well known Romanian manele singer, Adrian Copilul Minune traces it to a genre known as "turceasca" (Turkish), .
The genre has been rocked by accusations of plagiarism a number of times, with manele singers adapting popular songs from Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey, without giving due credit. 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 track called "Supărat"("Upset") 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 and Romania's image. Most radio and television channels or media boycott manele music.
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 them. However, there are some exceptions: for example, Stana Izbaşa and Nicu Paleru sing live, often with traditional instruments.
Manelists have created a distinct image on the Romanian music scene, by showing their own fashion style. Many of the manelists use luxurious and casual, even styles combined altogether to form the specific manele fashion. Typical manele apparel includes flashy jewelry and affordable luxury clothing brands (such as Versace, Armani or Dolce & Gabbana) or certain sport brands (especially Nike). Such brands are an important part of manele culture, and they are even featured sometimes in lyrics.
Manele are a strongly disputed genre in Romania, with many representatives of Romanian upper-middle and intellectual class opposing this "musical" movement (and its popularization) 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. The fact that manele lyrics are considered by many to be rude and of poor taste, coupled with widespread racist feelings against Roma ethnics (Țigani/Gypsies), who account for the bulk of manele performers, has led to increasing hostility between fans and opponents. This has generated frequent conflicts between the two, often in the form of internet flame wars.
In the media, manele have been repeatedly called by journalists and academics (such as the literary critic George Pruteanu) "pseudo-music", "pure stupidity, inculture and blah-blah" or even "society's bed-wetter". C. Tepercea, a National Audio-visual Board member who did a study on the genre for the board considered it "the genre for the mentally challenged" in an interview. Even proposals to ban this type of music have been voiced.
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 a genuine (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, US, affirmed in an opinion piece for Evenimentul Zilei that manele are a creole genre, a simple, but lively music, spawned 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. Famous Romani-Romanian violin player Florin Niculescu said that manele singers are talented, but lack musical education.
On Romanian television stations, manele performers and music are particularly seen on specialized manele television stations, such as Taraf TV or Manele TV. While mainstream radio stations do not air manele, a lot of smaller stations do, especially in Romania's capital, Bucharest. Occasionally, manele interpreters appear on New Year's Eve programs on television stations.
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