Rodion GA: the lost musical superstar of Ceauescu’s Romania

Playing an extraordinary blend of prog, pop and electronic experimentalism, Rodion GA was heard by millions in cold war-era Romania and unknown everywhere else. He explains how he created a career out of nothing, and how it may be coming to an early end

It wasnt easy being the biggest record collector in Cluj, says 65-year-old Rodion Rosa. The Romanian authorities would keep files on you, search your mail, make your business their business. Worse still was the suspicion that fell on anyone daring to grow their hair or wear some version of western fashion.

Romania was a village country, you know what I mean? he says. There were a lot of peasants living in villages, who were working in the Securitate and Politia. They did not like the students and the people who were following the fashions like long hair. Also they were very angry against the people in the cities. They only liked folk music. And they were very, very angry against the people who were listening to other kinds of music. A lot of parents made the mistake of cutting the hair of their sons when they were sleeping a big trauma for young people. This was the reason for lots of crime made by children against their parents. This is a fact. They made a very big mistake cutting the hair of some people. There were people who committed suicide.

Rosa wasnt just a record collector, he was a musician. As Rodion GA Romanias first one-man band, as he calls it he recorded several albums worth of extraordinary music in the late 1970s and the 80s, giving up in 1989 after the death of his mother, Rozalia. Rodion GA managed to be prog, psychedelia, metal, electronica, often in the same song. Despite Rosa being Clujs leading record collector, Rodion GA sounds like he learned about music from hearing someone describe it in their second language, drunk. It sounds like nothing else: wrong in all the right ways.

Watch Rodion GA on Romanian state television in 1982.

A clip on YouTube said to have been broadcast on New Years Eve 1982 is a good example. It shows Rosa and the band he had recruited on what appears to be a Romanian light entertainment show. Men in jackets, ties and moustaches dance with their frilly-bloused girlfriends to a song that begins with a synth fanfare before a martial drum roll introduces hugely distorted powerchords.

Rosa learned music as a child, but Rodion GAs peculiar sound owed more to his experiments with electronics, which were the result of necessity: in a country where consumer goods were a rarity, Rosa had to learn the skills to improvise in making and repairing equipment (There is no loudspeaker in the world that I cannot repair. I made coils, I made cones from paper, and replacement parts) and in recording himself with a Tesla two-track reel-to-reel recorder. He was writing songs on guitars and began recording them in 1975. A lot of people said I am mad, and from madman came mad music, he says. I was not a good instrument player, but for me it was very important to record my ideas. The main reason to record my music was to memorise my songs. Then, I am very, very selfish, and this selfish attitude made me want to fight against the other groups and conquer them. It was a competition. The third reason is that I suffer from grandomania, and when I made a very nice song I was so excited, and this made me each time make another song.

I never wrote lyrics against the regime. Why? Because my mother had already lost two children and I was the only one left for her

A few of his songs were released on compilations on the state record label, Electrecord. And though there were no singles, Rosa says he had No 1 songs based on radio play. My mother was so happy that her boy at last was recognised. When she found that the radio station was transmitting my music, she dressed herself and went to the neighbours and told them: Today my boy will sing on the radio! Listen at five oclock! Hes the best in Romania! The latest Rodion GA collection, Rozalia, is a memorial to his mother, decided on after he went to visit her grave and found the headstone gone. This cemetery stole my mothers gravestone. Can you imagine what a trauma it was for me? Going to my mothers grave with flowers and I find another name. I have to buy another one.

Rodion
Rodion GA at work.

In 1971, Ceauescus July Theses demanded culture be focused on celebrating national values. To ensure they were acceptable to the state censors, many Romanian musicians, Rosa among them, would use pre-existing approved poetry as their lyrics. We never had problems with the authorities singing this music because I never used lyrics against the regime. Why? Because my mother had two children and she lost them and I was the only one left for her. My goal was not to put my life in danger and to destroy my mother. Fighting against the regime was not possible for me. For his own lyrics, he says, there was an organisation that supervised permission to sing songs. We had to write down lyrics three times for approval.

By 1979, Rodion GA was sufficiently popular that Rosa formed a band to perform live (more than 30 musicians were part of the group over the following decade; one sacked member was so furious at his treatment that he denounced Rosa to the Securitate). Before they played, he says, each listener imagined we are a very, very powerful group with a lot of instruments, like Grand Funk Railroad. But it was very hard to achieve this sound live, because it was necessary to have two synthesisers, two solo guitars, but we had no two guitars and no two synthesisers.

He remembers an appearance at a festival in the seaside resort of Costineti, where the reality of performing to a live audience butted up against his imagination of what playing shows would be like. While we were singing I was expecting the people to shout like when the stars are singing. But this did not happen. And I was very, very, very distraught. Somehow I felt this was a total fiasco. The people were clapping their hands and they liked it. But they were not shouting. I began to sweat, and I was very nervous. After we finished playing, the bass guitarist came to me: Rodi, it was very good! he said. I thought, How can you tell it was good? The people were angry that we were not playing nice music, they were not impressed. No, Rodi, you are wrong! They were fascinated by this music and they were listening. The people had never heard this kind of sound and they were listening.

Listen to Nu Tue Vei Fi (You Will Not Be You) by Rodion GA

When Rozalia died in 1989, Rosa was heartbroken I have no reason for things and couldnt see the point in carrying on. There were other reasons, too, familiar to scores of musicians. We got not enough money from this activity. It was not nice, so I had no reason to continue. He regrets giving up now It was one of the big mistakes of my life. I stopped playing music when I was the best but he has been delighted by the interest in his music since it began to be compiled and released in 2013. Before the Rozalia compilation were the albums The Lost Tapes and Behind the Curtain, and the soundtrack Misiunea Spaial Delta (Delta Space Mission).

There have been comeback gigs, too. But the career of Rodion GA seems likely to peter out, even as it has been revived. Its a pity to tell you now that I have cancer, he says. I have tumour on my liver, but the doctors were not sure if it was malignant. Today they have found out that the tumour on my liver is cancer. I am very, very sad now. Theres no way to answer that, other than to mumble condolences. And to reflect inwardly what a loss to music it is that someone can be lost, found and then lost again so soon.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Marissa SafontRodion GA: the lost musical superstar of Ceauescu’s Romania

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