mahala rai banda 1Mahala Rai Banda are a Roma band from Bucharest, Romania. At times there are up to 11 members in the band. There is a violinist, an accordionist and brass instrument players, quite unusual for Romanian Roma bands.
They were formed by violinist and composer Aurel Ionita and Belgian producer Stephane Karo in 2004. Ionita is originally from the village of Clejani in the Walachia region of southern Romania. The village is known for its outstanding violin players, who are also called lautari. The plan was to mix the traditional violin and cimbalom music of Clejani with Roma brass music from eastern Romania while combining this with modern club elements and other styles of music. For that, Ionita and Karo recruited musicians from Roma settlements outside Bucharest. On the one hand, these were young lautaris from Walachia stranded in the big city, and on the other veteran, retired Army brass musicians from Moldavia.
Their debut album “Mahala Rai Banda” was released in 2004 on the Belgian Crammed Disc label. They were supported by Stefan Hantel a.k.a. Shantel and Marcus Darius, who lent the album the requisite dancefloor appeal. Various guest musicians were also featured. The album became a huge success and songs such as “Kobori” and “Iest sexy” were taken from it to appear on several other compilations. This was followed by a number of concerts and festivals and many extended tours.
Their song “Mahalageasca” was remixed by Shantel in 2005 and went on to become a Balkan Beat club hit worldwide. The song was featured in the US movie “Borat” with Sacha Baron Cohen and was also used in various ad campaigns.
Mahala Rai Banda’s follow-up album “Ghetto Blasters” came out in 2009, this time on the German Asphalt Tango label. As for guest musicians, emphasis this time around was on vocalists. Among those featured on the album were Romanian manele singer and pop star Dan Armeanca and Bulgarian Jony Iliev. The album entered the European world music charts in the #2 spot and received various other awards.
In 2012, for the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence, the CD remix “Balkan Reggae” by Mahala Rai Banda was released. Dub reggae and dancefloor greats such as Mad Professor, Koby Israelite and G-Vibes produced new versions of the song “Balkan Reggae” from the 2009 album “Ghetto Blasters”.
Mahala Rai Banda are part of the concert project “The Gypsy Queens and Kings” in which more than 20 Roma musicians from the most diverse countries gave concerts all over the world. The band are also part of the “Balkan Brass Battle” project together with Romanian Roma brass band Fanfare Ciociarlia. At these concerts, the bands face off, playing songs in turn. The audience decides in the end who the winner is. All in fun, of course!
Since 2012, Mahala Rai Banda have brought out a number of outstanding music clips directed by Piotr Smoleński with the Polish Roma theatre music project “Terno”. Up to now, the clips “Cygańskie Tango”, “Romani Gili” and an untitled clip have been released.
Current members:
Aurel Ionita
Viorel Enache
Aurel Bosnea
Nicusur Manole
Florin Albert Gheorghe
Catalin Gheorge
Marian Tudor
Marian Zahanagiu
Florinel Ion Ionita


Text: Robert Lippuner / Gypsy Music Network
Translation: Jamie Davies


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