‘We’re between cultures’ – the story of a Eurovision song

From New Internationalist Easier English Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

header%20DSC00552.jpg (c) Zdob și Zdub

‘We’re between cultures’ – the story of a Eurovision song

Zdob și Zdub sang for Moldova at Eurovision in 2022 for the third time. The band’s lead singer Roman Iagupov speaks to Conrad Landin. He tells him how they came from hardcore rock to a song about the train journey from Chișinău to Bucharest.

He was behind three of Moldova’s most exciting songs in the Eurovision Song Contest, including the country’s very first song in 2003 and again in 2022. But they needed to persuade Zdob și Zdub’s front man Roman Iagupov to make the trip to Turin for the 2022 contest. ‘It was the third time,’ he says in a cafe near his home in the Moldovan capital Chișinău. ‘Rock music is my style, this is a pop song. But the team said “We must, we have to go! We have an opportunity”.’

It shows clearly how the band moved from Nirvana-style hardcore rock to a song about the railway between Chișinău and Bucharest. The Advahov Brothers helped with this song, ‘Trenulețul’. Zdob și Zdub’s song, ‘So Lucky’, came in twelfth-place in 2011. Like “So Lucky” the new song is not a power-ballad. The power-ballads win more often with juries and the voting public. Instead it is aggressively charming and at the same time strange. But ‘Trenulețul’ is different in another way. It has something of Moldova’s national identity at a time when Moldovans feel more and more at risk. It tells the story of a cross-border train journey to Romania. During the journey they lift the train into the air and replace its wheels with new wheels in the different gauge coming from the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. In this way, the song shows the conflict inside a country on the edge of East and West.

Some say the song is a call for Moldova to unify with Romania – but Iagupov says this was not the plan. ‘I understand the words of the song but I don’t understand how other people will understand them,’ he says. Iagupov then hums the first line of ‘Yesterday’ by the Beatles. ‘It’s a story by Paul McCartney but I have another understanding of it. The important thing is that ‘Trenulețul’ is a song to unite people, but not in a political way. This is a positive energy. It was the rhythm, for me it’s a part of life.’

The idea for ‘Trenulețul’ came to Iagupov during the Covid-19 lockdown. ‘We had no concerts, we stayed here, we had no money, we were lost a little bit,’ he says. ‘And I said we must do something, we have time for creativity, we have time to create something. Because for all of my life we’ve had no time to create something new. And we met some traditional musicians, Vitalie and Vasile Advahov. They have a big orchestra, and we drank some wine and started to think about something to do together. Maybe some songs together, an album – why not? I said let’s go into the mountains with guitars, with instruments, in Romania.’

It was a simple idea at the start. ‘I had an idea this must be about a train. I had some ideas about the train from Chișinău to Bucharest, because the two countries have a very interesting and complicated story. The Moldavian people were one nation many years ago, but for some time they were disconnected. But we have the same tradition, same language, same friends and relatives, and my idea was not like a special political song, no, no. That’s not my style.’

But style is something that Iagupov says the band had to change and adapt over time. The band formed at Iagupov’s high school. After its first album, ‘Hardcore’, and playing a lot in clubs, Zdob și Zdub ‘reached a conclusion: hardcore music is music for big cities, big countries – America, Great Britain, I don’t know’. They decided to move from ‘Hardcore’ and bring in parts of Moldova’s traditional folk music. ‘We decided to change our style to have expression on the stage, like American bands, but with roots.’ The new style adopted in the late 1990s included bagpipes, trumpets, trombones, and flutes as well as the guitars, drums, and synths from the Zdubs’ early work.

They sing ‘Trenulețul’ in Romanian, another challenge for Iagupov because his first language is Russian, like many Moldovans. ‘Here in Moldova it was like two worlds: Romanian, Balkan, Latin – and post-Soviet, Communist. And the changing of the wheels on the train is a symbol of that. We’re between cultures.

‘There are moments of propaganda, “you’re the best”, “you’re number one” – no, one culture. If you understand a different culture and languages, you’re very rich. That's the way to understand the real truth. That’s all, folks.’



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)