Like in many European cities between the world wars in the first part of the twentieth century, Bucharest had a thriving night club and restaurant scene where patrons would be entertained with the latest fashions in music. While Berlin in the thirties featured the ribald and decadent cabarets as described by Christopher Isherwood in his collection of short stories that formed the basis for the movie Cabaret, and Paris was the home to the avant-garde both in the visual arts and music, Bucharest's night spots were featuring performances of music whose origins lay outside the metropolitan areas, and maybe even outside of the country itself.
Where the tango originated is unclear, but along with other forms of music not native to Eastern Europe, it came to Bucharest courtesy of the Roma, or gypsy, population that settled there. One of my favourite stories surrounding the tango is that during the retreat of the Ottoman Empire from Spain both Jews and gypsies were forced to go into hiding in order to elude the Inquisition. In Catalonia it's known that they sought shelter together among the caves that dotted the mountains of the region. It's easy to imagine that the two people listened to each other's music and when the skirling wildness of the gypsy fiddle met the more sedate and doleful sounds of Klexmar the tango was conceived.
It's always amazed me how anybody could have ever thought of Communism as being liberal in any shape or form, as they were always so intent on curtailing what they called "decadent and immoral". One of the first casualties of this prudishness in Romania following WW II was official discouragement of the Bucharest Tangos. As a result not only were the facilities where the music was played closed down, but the musicians were forced to leave the country in order to seek work, and Bucharest began a slow decline which eventually resulted in the dimming of its lights.
All of which makes it that much more remarkable that now, seventy years later the music from this period is experiencing a revival. As a child growing up in rural Romania Oana Catalina Chitu (pronounced Kitsu) heard her father singing these songs, and later would have the opportunity to listen to old 78 rpm records her family had preserved of the music. Her musical studies began at a young age, and over the years have included everything from contemporary jazz to opera.