Ships, saudades, secret signals … the sounds of José Afonso

Escina2This might shock some people who know their Portuguese history and culture but until last week I had never heard of José Afonso. I only found out about him while researching the song Tenho Barcos, Tenho Remos by Os Golpes on my previous post about Sydney’s Gay ATMs. I thought it was a new song by the band, but then I came across a recording of it by José Afonso in 1962 in the fado tradition of Coimbra (which is different to the Lisbon fado style). 

When I first heard this version, I could not believe it was a man singing. I thought it must be one of the great dames of fado from the 1950s or 1960s, a Portuguese equivalent of the likes of Vera Lynn or Edith Piaf. I spent hours on the internet “googling” in Portuguese and English in a bid to find out who was this woman whose voice gave me goosebumps. I wanted her greatest hits! In the end I gave up and concluded it could only be José. After all, the fado of Coimbra is almost always sung by men.

What a voice this man has. Give this a listen. If nothing else, the song will give you some insight into what constitutes “saudade”, that particularly Portuguese “nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves“. The lyrics are explained below. Apparently it is a traditional folk song from the Alentejo region of Portugal. 

Tenho barcos, tenho remos – (I have boats, I have oars)
Tenho navios no mar            – (I have ships at sea)
Tenho o amor ali defronte    – (I have a lover there up ahead)
E não lhe posso chegar        – (And I can’t get to her) 

Tenho navios no mar
Tenho navios no mar
Tenho o amor ali defronte
Não me posso consolar        – (I can’t console myself)

Tenho o amor ali defronte
Não me posso consolar

Já fui mar, já fui navio             – (I’ve been the sea, I’ve been a ship)
Já fui chalupa escaler             –  (I’ve been a sloop)
Já fui moço,  já sou homem   – (I’ve been a boy, I’m already a man)
Só me falta ser mulher           –  (All that’s left is to be a woman)

José Afonso (popularly referred to as Zeca or Zeca Afonso) was one of the poets/minstrels of his generation, and a champion of the poor and oppressed at a time when, in the days of the Salazar dictatorship, it was dangerous to be one. He lived from 1929 to 1987. You can read all about him here. Another of his claims to fame is that the people who were plotting the overthrow of the government in 1974 chose one of his songs, Grândola, Vila Morena, which, when played on the national radio channel, would be a signal for the start of the coup d’état and what turned out to be the Carnation Revolution. Here’s the song.

The song is about a town in the Alentejo. I like the line quoted in the picture at the top of this post, em cada esquina um amigo… on every corner (there’s) a friend

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Fun ATMs (unless you’re Ugandan, Russian or Arizonan)

Two GAYTMSHere are two of the cutest ATMs you will ever see. As usual at this time of the year, Sydney is hosting the gay and lesbian Mardi Gras festival (the street parade is this Saturday), and in the centre of town today I happened to come across these two ATMs dressed up for the occasion. My favourite is the one with the moustache (facial hair on men seems to be back in fashion). Congratulations to ANZ bank for getting into the Mardi Gras spirit.

Mustache atmI was going to write a serious post about the history of the Romance languages today, but as usual I got distracted. While setting myself up at the computer I decided I would listen to Portuguese music, and opted for O Melhor Do Novo Pop Rock Português (The Best of New Portuguese Pop Rock), a CD that I bought three years ago in Porto, but haven’t listened to much. After giving it a spin, I looked up some of the artists I liked on YouTube, and this led me on a four-hour musical journey which surprisingly took me back to the times before the 1974 revolution in Portugal. Somehow, that seemed appropriate, given the bloody events that have happened in Ukraine in the past week or so – a reminder that benevolent government is, alas, all too rare even in the so-called modern civilised world, and that people must always be vigilant in not allowing their own governments to turn into terrorists or bullies.

Since this is supposed to be a language blog, I had to think of a language element to go with these pics. And then it came to me! On the above-mentioned CD there is a song that deals with gender issues, and men exploring their feminine sides. The track Tenho Barcos, Tenho Remos (I have boats, I have oars) by Os Golpes* always causes some amusement among my Portuguese friends here in Australia. The relevant lines are:

Já fui moço,  já sou homem   –  (I’ve already been a boy, I’m already a man)
Só me falta ser mulher           –  (All that’s left is for me is to be a woman)

Unfortunately I could not find a good quality live recording or even an official video release of the song, so had to make do with this instead.

I thought this was an original song of Os Golpes, but it is not. However, I will save the song’s history for another post.

Rainbow atmReturning to the Mardi Gras festival … while it is now renowned as a fun and colourful celebration, it wasn’t always like that. It started out as a protest movement and as a push for gay rights and tolerance. This week in the media I have read depressing articles from all over the world about torture and brutality in North Korea’s prisons, lynch mobs luring and attacking gays in Russia, laws enabling the persecution of gays in Nigeria and Uganda, and how the Arizona House of Representatives has passed a bill granting businesses (such as restaurants, etc) the right to refuse to serve gays. What will be next – refusing to serve fat people? Throwing ugly people into jail? Will it soon be legal again to persecute Jews and Blacks? It is bad enough when individuals are prejudiced and discriminatory, but when intolerance and discrimination are enshrined in law you have to wonder what is the world coming to.

*  Golpe (m) can mean many things in Portuguese: a blow, stroke, hit, injury, wound, gash, incision, stab or thrust. It can also be a shock, crisis, scam, deceitful action, misfortune, or a gust of wind or draught. De golpe means all at once, suddenly, at one dash. Dar um golpe is to have a whack at. Um golpe decisivo is a knockdown or knockout blow. Um golpe de estado is a coup d’état. Um golpe de mestre is a masterstroke. Um golpe de sorte is a lucky hit, or a stroke of luck. The related verb is golpear  to strike, beat, knock, hit, thump, smash, whack; to wound or injure; to cut, slash, stab; to cut out; to afflict, anguish or grieve.

Exclusive sneak preview! Football stars parade in their sexy kits. Brazil, here we come!

Brazil is back in the spotlight as the build-up to the World Cup intensifies. The Sydney Morning Herald’s travel section ran a big spread this weekend onthe world’s sexiest country, saying the World Cup will bea football fest in a G-string. Phwoar! 

How right they were. This week, many of the participating nations revealed what kits their teams will be wearing at the tournament, and the infamous Brazilian ‘dental floss bikini’ influence is evident in many of the designs. Check them out.

Dutch kitHere is the Dutch one, nicknamed the Van Pervy. As usual, the orange colour is prominent, and if the team scores a lot, expect the orange banners to point to the heavens. Van Pervy will become Van Perky!

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coq sportifThe French have gone for a touch of flamboyance, I think this is known as Le Coq Sportif. Looks like the French think they have scored already! They’re very cock-a-hoop.

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AussieThe Australian uniform, made by adidass, drew some criticism. Some felt it was a copy of the Brazilian colours. What do you think?

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Afrique

Teams from Africa are hoping to catch the eye too this year. Here is the kit for Cameroon, the team nicknamed the Indomitable Loins. Oops, Lions! No, maybe this is the Ivory Coast Elephants.

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GreekThe Greeks have opted for the tried and trusted Spartacus look.

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blue samThe Japanese team, nicknamed the Blue Samurai, are expecting their matches to be very one-sided affairs.

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BorneoThe other Asian teams are being coy about what they will wear, but fashionistas say expect Borneo jungle motifs.

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ChileProudly showing off his team’s apparel is the captain of La Roja, the Reds, from Chile.

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warmThose teams playing in Porto Alegre, the southernmost host city, might have to dress up a bit more to ward off the winter chills. You can freeze your butt off there in June and July. How’s this for a solution?

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Putin’s disputin’

One team that’s not coming to the party this year is Russia, under the leadership of the Great One, Vladimir Putin. He has decreed that no way is Russia going in for G-strings! Bright, rainbow colours are out, macho camo is in. Here he is showing off the officially approved uniform, nipples, boots and all.

Putin

The rest of the Russian team, nicknamed the Grey Cardinals, look thrilled…

Russians

Maybe they will get to wear some sexy outfits when Russia hosts the event in 2018.

  • You can read the full Sydney Morning Herald article here.
  • Replica kits are available at good sports stores and selected stockists. Show your support, wear your team colours!
  • All images taken shamelessly from various websites, possibly of ill repute; G-String research is a sneaky business. 
  • The Vladimir Putin pic has been photoshopped by the official Soviet news agency to make the Great One’s nipples look less flabby. But the photoshopper was sent to Siberia as punishment for doing such a poor job of it.

Carlos Vives’ Colombian conquest (and Teló’s too)

Here’s something unusual –  a terrific song with a mix of Spanish and Portuguese verses by two giants of South American music, Colombian Carlos Vives and Brazilian Michel Teló. As a bonus you get some splendid Colombian coastal scenery (the island of San Andrés in the Caribbean, actually) and a top local model, Laura Archbold, cavorting about as models do in music videos. Como Le Gusta a Tu Cuerpo spent 13 weeks at number one in Colombia from mid-January to April last year.The title means How Much Your Body Likes It  – but when you watch the video you would think it actually meant How I Love Your Brain, oops, I mean How I Love Your Body. Vives sings in Spanish and Teló (the younger, blonder guy) sings in Portuguese. Archbold sings in her bikini.

A translation of the lyrics of that song can be found here.

Vives has had an incredible spell of success in the past two years, in the build-up to and following the release in April 2013 of Corazón Profundo (Deep Heart), his first studio album in four years. It contained four number one singles and as a result, since October 1, 2012, Vives has spent an incredible 49 weeks at the top of the Colombian singles charts. But when you listen to his music, you can understand why. The choruses are very catchy. You can imagine patrons in the Colombian bars and people in parties singing and dancing to them out with gusto as they are played over the sound system.

The first single from the album, Volví a Nacer, (I Was Born Again) spent 16 weeks at number, from October 2012 to mid-January 2013. Here is the videoclip – there is 1 minute and 18 seconds of ‘art’ before the song begins.

It was then followed in the top spot by the more exuberant Vives/Teló effort, giving Vives 29 successive weeks on the top of the pops. But he wasn’t away for long: Lui-G 21 Plus had four weeks at number one with Un Beso (A Kiss), then Vives’ third single, Bailar Contigo (To Dance With You) spent seven weeks at number one, was knocked off the top spot for two weeks by J Balvin’s Solo, only to regain it for three weeks after that.   

Finally, the fourth single from the album, La Foto De Los Dos (The Photo of Both), spent 10 weeks in the top spot, from mid-October right up to the end of the year, replacing Marc Anthony’s lively Vivir Mi Vida (To Live My Life). Other Colombian artists must be sick of the dominance of Carlos Vives! His songs have done well in Venezuela, Mexico and to a lesser extent, the US too.

You can see from all these videos, I think, why Colombia has become a hot tourist destination.

Bright days ahead as Australia’s French film festival turns 25

On Tuesday night I was treated to a preview screening in Sydney of one the films in the 2014 French Film Festival, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. I was a guest of Rail Europe and French Travel Connection, two of the national sponsors of the event, which is organised through the good old Alliance Française and runs from March 4-23 in Sydney. But it is a national event – the largest French festival outside of France apparently – and there will be showings in Melbourne (March 5-23), Canberra and Brisbane (both March 6-25), Perth (March 18 to April 6), Adelaide (March 20 to April 8) and even four days in Byron Bay on the NSW north coast (April 24-28). The organisers are hoping to beat the record attendance of 133,000. For more details, here is the festival website.

Photo by Bernardo (camera in one hand, glass of champagne in the other, haha).

Photo by Bernardo (camera in one hand, glass of champagne in the other, haha).

The film we saw this week was Les Beaux Jours, or in English, Bright Days Ahead (a more literal translation of the title would be The Beautiful Days). It is the story of un amour fou or crazy love., and features great performances by the ever radiant Fanny Ardant and Laurent Lafitte as the two lovers, and Patrick Chesnais as the cuckolded husband. Some of my companions at the showing complained the film was a little slow (it was, after all, dealing with the traumas of a retired dentist trying to beat her boredom!) but, as is often the case with French films, its strength is the perceptive analysis and sympathetic treatment of people’s real-life traumas and emotions – turning the ordinary into the extraordinary when it is done well. Here is the trailer, or bande-annonce, in French.

Normally to coincide with the French film festival, a two-CD compilation of recent trendy French music is released under the moniker So Frenchy, So Chic. The 2014 edition is available now, I will do a post on it once I am more familiar with it. The previous year’s one was great, it introduced me to the sounds of Lescop, among others (listen to his track Le Forêt here)

The seafront in Dunkerque (Pic: Wikipedia)

The seafront in Dunkerque (Pic: Wikipedia)

In the meantime, those of you who like soothing piano music should investigate the soundtrack to Les Beaux Jours, featuring pianist and composer Quentin Sirjacq. The music was superb and somehow suited the ‘constrained on the outside, wild underneath’ emotions of the characters in the film, and the windswept scenery of Dunkerque and the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, where it was filmed. As an avid traveller, I always yearn to know what locations are used in the film, and I have a rather perverse liking for European beach resorts in the bleak winter weather when the tourist hordes are gone, and the summer circus is over. The soul of the place seems more exposed at these times, they are perfect settings for solitary introspection. You can listen to snippets of the soundtrack  here on the Amazon music site and here on iTunes.

The French film festival has always been a treat for me. I arrived in Australia in 1989, the year the festival first started, and it was always a great way to immerse myself in French language and culture for a couple of weeks, something I could rarely do in the English-language speaking countries that I grew up in in Africa. The only times I have ever managed to dream in French has been during the festival (in my bed, not during the film screenings, haha).

French festival (2)A lot has changed since 1989 – thanks to the internet and other digital media, we now have easy access to films, music, television, radio stations and other content from all over the world. Because of this, it is all too easy to take our ‘real world’ opportunities for granted. I had vowed when I arrived in Australia to go to see every French film that screened in the Sydney, but since then I have become more choosy or, to tell the truth, just lazy. (Note to self: j’ai besoin d’un coup de pied aux fesses – see my post on the F words for an explanation). The point is, we learn languages to be able to converse and socialise, and it is more fun to learn a language alongside other people, be it in a class or in a cinema, than it is sitting at a computer, so if you have these opportunities, take them!

According to the French embassy website, The Alliance Française has 26 centres in Australia, listed here, and of course there are many all over the world.

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The secret habits of surprising Italians

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

I received a bizarre email from Booking.com recently. The subject line was “Here’s a surprising fact about Italians and travel“. But when I opened it, there was nothing about Italians at all, or any other nationalities. There was no editorial to be seen, just the usual Booking.com deals. I felt somewhat Booking.conned. What could it have been? Do Italians pack more toothpaste, condoms, shoes, lipstick, or whatever into their luggage than anyone else? Do they spend the least money at duty frees? Are they the people most likely to miss or hold up a flight? Do they get caught smoking in the aeroplane toilets more than anyone else? Is Italy the best or least represented nation in the mile high club? If you have any ideas, please let me know.

Talking of the bizarre, I found this on YouTube – an Italian singer paying homage to the skies of Ireland. It is Fiorella Mannoia singing Il cielo d’Irlanda. It caught my eye because of the typically Irish scenery used to illustrate the piece, which dates back to 1992. Personally I would have thought Irish skies might be a bit too grey for an Italian’s liking, but if Italians want to wax lyrical about the land of (most of) my ancestors, well, they can go ahead. So here is a scenic tour of Ireland with an Italian guide at the helm…

Fiorella has had an interesting career – apart from singing she has also been a stuntwoman and appeared in Spaghetti Westerns. You can read a typically flamboyant biography of her on the RAI website. To show her versatility, here she is singing something in a very different vein, the sombre Sempre e per sempre (Always and forever).

The F words are not to be feared

Time now for the next instalment in my series on Quirky Vocabulary – words that I pick at random from my five Romance language dictionaries simply because they are unusual, or sound great. Words that you can have fun with. They might not always be of practical use, and you probably won’t find them in the run-of-the-mill little language guides designed to help you cope for a short stay in a particular place, but who wants to stick to the run-of-the-mill? I like words and idioms that light up the imagination and put something in a slightly different perspective than English does.

Today we are up to the letter F. Normally I start off by looking at the words in English to see if any trends emerge, but I don’t have to do it here because there is a whole blog dedicated to F words in English, The Mighty F. It’s often very funny. The link is here (but, hey, if you are going to wander off to The Mighty F, don’t forget about me, OK? Come back to The Mighty Me at some stage).

I am going to start off in Romanian today because someone else has already done the homework for me, and as far as I am concerned, it’s better when other people work and I don’t. Another blog I follow is Ra – cooking and stuff, by Raveca, a woman from Sibiu – where I did a two-week summer language course in Romanian last year – who is now living in Japan. Her blog has, among other things, “recipes from all over the world that are easy to make, tasty and anyone could try”, including of course some Romanian and Japanese specialties. For those who want to know more about the Romanian language, her blog has the cooking instructions in Romanian and English side by side. She is very deft with her hands too – check out her origami videos. The link is here.

Anyway, on to the F words…

Un tânăr frumos,or an Adonis

Un tânăr frumos, or an Adonis (Pic: Wikipedia).

ROMANIAN: In my instalment on the E words, when I began looking ahead to the F words (which have a bad reputation because of ‘that one word‘), Raveca said, never fear, Romanian has many lovely F words, such as frumuseţe and fericire. Well, trust the experts, I say. You can’t go wrong with the favourite words of a native language speaker.

Frumuseţe means beauty or splendour, and there is an expression, Ce frumuseţeWhat a beauty! … I often hear people say that whenever I walk by, haha. The related adjectives are frumos in the masculine form and frumosă in the feminine – very useful if you want to compliment a Romanian on their looks. My dictionary translates tânăr frumos into English as an Adonis (I was one of those in 1979 or thereabouts). Tânăr means a youth or young man.

Fericire means happiness, and the related adjectives fericit and fericită (feminine) are often used when you wish someone a happy something … you should know these words already from my ‘happy new year’, ‘happy Easter’ and ‘happy Christmas’ posts from the past – type “fericit” into the search field at top if you want to do some revision.. Spread the happiness.

PORTUGUESE: I picked the word frente. Not only is it practical, there was an Australian band that named themselves after this word, so its cultural significance has expanded. Frente has many meanings and uses – its dictionary entry is quite lengthy – but basically it means the front, frontal part, face, advanced guard etc, thus is useful when seeking directions. Porta da frente is the front door, banco da frente is a front seat, de trás para frente is backwards and forwards, and para frente means go ahead. In English, when someone is looking for something that is very visible, we say it’s right under your nose, in Portuguese they use ‘in front’ rather than ‘under’ – em frente ao seu nariz. I like this expression too – Saia da minha frente! Get out of my sight!

So, a short musical break from your language studies now. What did Frente! sing? They had one top 10 hit in Australia in 1992, Accidentally Kelly Street, but probably got the most airplay for their acoustic cover of New Order’s Bizarre Love Triangle.

Back to Quirky Vocab.

ITALIAN: This language has a lovely word for handkerchief, (head) scarf or tissue: fazzoletto. And un fazzoletto di terra is the equivalent of a patch of land. Another word that caught my eye was frastornare, to daze, befuddle or bewilder. The adjective frastornato (or –nata in the feminine) means dazed, bewildered and also deafened, as un frastuono is a noise or din,

When your ski instructor in France commands you to "fartez", don't be alarmed.

When your ski instructor in France commands you to “fartez”, don’t be alarmed. He’s just waxing lyrical.

FRENCH: Well pardon me but when I flipped open my big Oxford Hachette French-English dictionary at a random page in the French F section, the first word that caught my eye on the page was fesser, to spank. It was not a word they taught me at school (although the Jesuits there did lots of spanking). In case you think I have a spanking fetish, let me assure you, I don’t. I was just puzzled that the word is so different from the English one. A fess in English is “a wide horizontal band across the center of a heraldic field”. In French, however, les fesses (feminine, by the way) are the buttocks or more colloquially, the bum or butt. As you can imagine, people being what they are, there are many juicy slang expressions linked to this part of the anatomy. Here is a selection from the Oxford Hachette:

  • poser les fesses – to park oneself
  • il y a de la fesse ici – there’s some sexy stuff here!
  • serrer les fesses – to be scared stiff (serrer means to grip or tighten)
  • pousse tes fesses – move over, shove over!
  • attention à tes fesses – watch your step
  • un coup de pied aux fesses – a kick up the backside
  • avoir chaud aux fesses – to have a narrow escape

Other words in the dictionary that caught my eye were farfouiller, to rummage about in, and, ahem, farter, to wax (your skis etc).

SPANISH: Well, I quite liked fastidiarse, which means to put up with or to grin and bear it, mainly because of the expressions that go with it. No fastidies! – for example – can mean You’re kidding!. And que se fastidie can be translated as that’s his tough luck, or as we sometimes say in English, he can lump it. Fastidiarse is related to the verb fastidiarto annoy, bother, sicken, disgust.

You can find my listings for A-E words under the Quirky vocabulary tab near the top of the page.

Who’s who in the current Romanian music zoo

To continue the series of posts on what is happening music-wise in my featured Romance languages, here is a selection of Romanian songs and artists that are proving popular at the moment. First up is a fairly serious song considering it is by a singer known simply as Smiley (the stage name of Andrei Tiberiu Maria, a nickname he gained during his time with the eccentric band Simplu). It’s called Acasa (At home) and it has some nice tinkling keyboards and melodies running through it. On the two main airplay charts that I follow (their rankings differ) it has occupied the numbers 1, 2 and 3 spots on both in the past three weeks, and it’s bound to linger for much longer, methinks.

Possibly the biggest Romanian hit last year was Andra’s joyful, optimistic Inevitabil va fi bine (Inevitably it will be fine) – it spent practically the whole year on the charts. For those who have not heard it, here it is … The opening chant – “E, e, va fi bine” – is very catchy – it is one of those musical phrases which, when you hear them in a supermarket, say, just makes you want to join in and strut down the aisles humming (or singing if you dare) and swaying happily as you add items to your shopping basket. Well, I did anyway. As usual with music clips, in the party dance scenes this video has provocative sexy bodies wiggling about, but amid all the activity look out for the juggling skills of the barman in the background. He’s good!

Now Andra is back with her follow-up, Atâta timp cât mă iubeşti (As long as you love me). This time another singer Marius Moga is credited as well. So many charts nowadays feature songs by Somebody feat. Someone Else…. there are more combinations than there are individual artists, it’s getting really confusing. The title comes not from the chorus but from the last line in the verses – Atâta timp cât mă iubeşti, eu te voi iubi (As long as you love me, I love you). And at the end of the video, the saying that flashes up on the building, Esti refrenul din viaţa mea, is a fairly common expression of love (for Valentine’s Day and other such occasions) in Romanian – You are the chorus of my life. That line also appears in the song but you have to be sharp to hear it.

Romania seems to have an abundance of pretty woman with luscious long hair of various shades who can sing and prance around provocatively, sometimes in scanty clothing. Elena (whose surname is Gheorghe, to distinguish from the other singing Elenas) does it with a bit more style and grace than most, conveying a sort of girly innocence from a bygone era. Here is her latest hit, Până dimineața (Until morning). This features a bit of rapping by a female called JJ.

Elena had a huge hit last year with Ecou (Echo), on which the Romanian rapper Glance provided some vocal back-up. It, too, was one of my favourite songs from my summer holidays. In the chorus, Doar un ecou means Just an echo.

Glance himself is back in the charts with Cinema, feat. the band Mandinga. Here is a TV studio performance of the song, which is about life as a movie (a weepy one). But the “cine“s at the beginning of the chorus mean “who” … 

Cine m-a ranit asa (Who hurt me so)
Cine mi-a rupt inima (Who broke my heart)
Cinema .. cinema …
Cine m-a facut sa plâng (Who made me cry)
Toate noptile la rând (All the nights in a row)
Cinema .. cinema
Viaţa ca la cinema .. (Life as a cinema).

I am not a great fan of rapping here but I like Mandinga’s contribution, the percussion and, towards the end, the “whoa-whao-oh!” male chorus bits that sounds rather like football fans in full song.

Did you spot Elena Gheorghe in the audience?

Elena Gheorghe was once the lead singer of Mandinga up until almost a decade ago, but now it’s another Elena, Elena Ionescu. Mandinga were Romania’s representative in the 2012 Eurovision song contest with this song below, but it’s mostly in Spanish! (They do a lot of ‘Latin’ music.) In this video she puts on a ring and is suddenly transported to the metropolis of Dubai. Go figure.