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Doina – national intangible treasure

Doina – national intangible treasure

Doina is a Romanian musical tune style, possibly with Middle Eastern roots, customary in Romanian peasant music, mostly played by fiddlers. It was also adopted into Klezmer music. Similar tunes are found throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans. The doina is a free-rhythm, highly ornamented, improvisational tune. The improvisation is done on a more or less fixed pattern (usually a descending one), by stretching the notes in a rubato-like manner, according to the performer’s mood and imagination.

The peasant doinas are mostly vocal and monophonic and are sung with some vocal peculiarities that vary from place to place: interjections, glottal clucking sounds, choked sobbing effects, etc. Instrumental doinas are played on simple instruments (violin, pan-pipe, cimbalom, accordion, clarinet, tárogató, etc. or even on rudimentary ones, such as a leaf.).

The peasant doina is a non-ceremonial type of song and is generally sung in solitude, having an important psychological action: to “ease one’s soul” (de stâmpărare in Romanian). Doinas are lyrical in aspect and their common themes are melancholy, longing (dor), erotic feelings, love for nature, complaints about the bitterness of life or invocations to God to help ease pain, etc.

The origin of the word doina is unknown. It could be an old Indo-European term, since a similar form (daina) can be found in Latvia and Lithuania with the meaning of “folk song”. Another possible derivation is from the Serbian word daljina meaning “furthering”, because most doinas are about the feeling of dor – a Romanian word for “intensely missing” (similar to German Sehnsucht and Portuguese Saudade).

There are different types of doina: Hora lungă (in Maramureş), De codru (codru means forest), Haiduceşti (haiduc means outlaw), Ca din tulnic (tulnic is an instrument similar to the Alpenhorn), Ciobanului (shepherd’s doina), De dragoste (about love), De jale (mellow, mournful doina), De leagăn (lullaby song), De pahar (drinking song), Foaie verde (literally green leaf), Klezmer (played by Jewish musicians from Bessarabia and Moldavia).

While at the beginning of the 20th century, the doina was the most common type of peasant song, today it has almost completely disappeared from peasant life, as most peasant music has. The doina is still, however, common in the repertoire of the fiddlers from Ardeal and Banat regions.

In 1976 Gheorge Zamfir found popular success in the English-speaking world when the BBC religious television program The Light of Experience adopted his recording of “Doina De Jale” as its theme. Popular demand forced Epic Records to release the tune as a single and it climbed to number four in the UK charts.

In 2009 the doina has been included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage.