I watched Stefan Hrusca in concert for the first time during the early 1980s. I had heard of him before from listening to some bootleg recordings. As many Romanians at that time, I was immediately captured by his unique voice that rapidly won him a high reputation as a folk musician. Unlike any other Romanian artist he made himself known by pouring his heart into singing traditional songs and Christmas carols from his place of origin, Maramures County (Northern Romania), and has been tirelessly doing so ever since.
The Romanian Christmas carols or colinde contain mostly traditional / Christian lyrics that refer to the events of the Nativity of Christ. They are different from region to region and performed in all parts of Romania along with folk rituals that are believed to be pre-Christian in origin (see photo above left Colinda cu ursul or Caroling With the Bear) with roots in popular Roman festivals and pagan ceremonies that are related to the winter solstice and soil productivity.
Colindele from Maramures are most attractive because Stefan Hrusca‘s continuous singing efforts. I consider him to be one of the fewest artists that had the guts to sing publicly songs with religious themes during the communist regime. Many words and expressions used in songs are part of a Romanian dialect used in Maramures. I think he managed to get away with a song or two in concerts that were not normally recorded or televised partly because people were so mesmerized by his voice that religious words like Jesus, God, or Virgin Mary that were said here and there would be easily overlooked and justified as being part of the communist propaganda of the Romanian folklore.
There have been a lot of new Christmas songs composed by Romanian artists in the past two decades which I personally believe they are useless in their message. They don’t say or add anything new to the tradition and are only a melodic expression of younger artists. Stefan Hrusca has continued to discover hundreds of traditional songs that he compiled in several albums offering many listening hours to those that love his music. He still tours Romania caroling from end of November until Christmastime.
Remembering Colinde Rituals
Traditionally, a few weeks before Christmas, colindatori, usually the boys from villages, start practicing singing colinde. Their costumes and arrangement are different in all regions of Romania. On Christmas Eve, their group would go to different houses and begin singing. Then they would be invited into the house and given small gifts such as nuts, fresh and dried fruits, and covrigi (special pretzels with a very distinctive taste).
Colindatori were also seen in cities because it was a fast way for young people to make some money. They were traveling from bus to bus and stopped by people’s apartments where they would sing. Sometimes we were lucky to receive young students from the Faculty of Orthodox Theology because they had beautiful singing voices required by the Church for their training as priests.
I tried to find Stefan Hrusca‘s most representative colinde and found the video below. It is a bit lengthy to listen to in one shot. I think it was meant for Romanian listeners that probably don’t get tired of his songs. For a non – Romanian, the best way to sample his singing and the beautiful colinde from Maramures County is to listen to a song for a few seconds and jump to the next one because some of the songs are pretty long and monotonous in tone. You will be able to hear some traditional music instruments as well.
Stefan Hrusca is a household name in Romania. As a Romanian, once you fall in love with his songs there is no turning back. It is amazing how faithful he has been to his heritage. He has dedicated a big part of his singing career to revive timeless traditional music that has been put aside for many decades. His angelic voice brings many people to tears. Undoubtedly, his music is here to stay and be appreciated for many generations to come. I hope you will like it, too.
Photo# 1 (left): Colinda cu ursul in Maramures ( “urs” means “bear”) by Spiridon Ion Cepleanu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo#2 (top): Ştefan Hruşcă by Cristian Bortes [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Photo# 3 (bottom): Costumes from Maramures by Marek Silarski (mow) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons