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.
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.
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