"Music has made a lot of things in our life turn out for the good!"
Aurel Ionita is a violinist, composer and head of the hit Romanian group Mahala Rai Banda. Although extremely busy, he was able to take some time out for a short, but very interesting talk with Gypsy Music Network.
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Hi, Aurel. Please tell us a bit about you and the band.
Hello! My name is Aurel Ionita and I’m the founder of the group Mahala Rai Banda. After collaborating many times with various artists in Romania, I decided at the beginning of the 2000s to start my own band. In 2004, we brought out our first album called "Mahala Rai Banda" on the Belgian label "Crammed Disc".
"Mahalageasca" was a huge hit in 2005. How did you end up working with Shantel?
Working with Shantel was something totally spontaneous. We were playing at one of DJ Shantel’s Bucovina Club evenings in Frankfurt. He was active at the time as a DJ and remixer. The chemistry between us clicked and he was with us part of the time during the production of our debut album. Since we were so happy with the results, we decided to let him remix some of the songs again. No one ever dreamed at the time that these songs would go on to become such hits internationally.
Shantel is mainly responsible for this wave of new and modern Balkan music. In my opinion, he has shaped this style like almost no other and I am very grateful to him as we were able to benefit greatly from this wave. Thanks to that success, we have become a respected band in the world of music.
Your fondness for reggae is already well known. But how is it that a Roma band from Romania happens to bring out a tribute album on the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence?
If we were able to work together with a great pioneer of Balkan beat (Shantel), then why not do so with the big names in reggae music today? Reggae and Balkan Roma music have a lot in common. Both styles of music are what you could call the soul music of their respective cultures. We Roma are also extremely adaptable and like going down new paths in music. In the end, the symbiosis worked out superbly!
You are a fixture on the Balkan/gypsy/world music scene internationally. What is it like back home? Are you also as well-known there?
Although the music comes from these countries, the awareness of it there is often paradoxically still quite low. In Romania, this type of music is still in its infancy. People became aware of us after the success of the song “Mahalageasca”, and luckily that changed things for us a bit. In the meantime, we are regularly invited for gigs and other events such as radio and TV appearances. And we are also frequently booked for private weddings.
The three music clips that you made with the Polish director Piotr Smolenski are truly extraordinary. Are these songs harbingers of a new album?
Yes, the clips were a big success. They were very well received by the public and we were also quite pleased with the result. Piotr Smolenski is an expert on Eastern European music and he was able to visualise precisely the mood of our songs. That is not necessarily a given.
Mahala Rai Banda is actually working on something new at the moment that goes by the working title of “NOVA MAHALA”. I think we’ll finish the recordings for this new CD sometime next year. I don’t want to give away too much yet, but I think that people will be quite surprised. We have tried to process all the things, and the wonderful people and places we were privileged to see and get to know in previous years. You know, music has made a lot of things in our life turn out for the good and we want to give that back to the people. All that comes across on our new CD.
We’re looking forward to it already! Thank you for the interview and we wish you continued success with Mahala Rai Banda!
The interview was conducted by Robert Lippuner for Gypsy Music Network
Translation: Jamie Davies


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