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Moldova

Romania/Moldova: O-Zone Breathes Fresh Air Into European Pop Music Scene

<graphic/>The Romanian-Moldovan pop band O-Zone has stormed to the top of the charts in several Western countries, following in the footsteps of other Eastern European musical sensations like the Russian "lesbian" band tATu or the Romanian duo Cheeky Girls. O-Zone has now set their sights on Britain, Europe's top musical market.

By Eugen Tomiuc
6 May 2004 (RFE/RL) -- For people turning on their radios in Paris, Madrid, Rome, or Prague, they may not be sure who is singing a popular new tune or even what language it's in.

The band is O-Zone. Still doesn't sound familiar? That might be because the group's three members are Romanian-based Moldovans.

O-Zone's dance hit "Dragostea din Tei,” loosely translated as "Love Under the Lime Tree," has stormed the European pop charts over the past few months, going to No. 1 in Spain, France, and the Czech Republic.

Radio deejays in many European countries say that "Love Under the Lime Tree" has the potential to becoming a summer hit across Europe.
The three Romanian-speaking Moldovans -- front man Arsenie Toderas, Dan Balan, and Radu Sarbu -- joined forces several years ago in Chisinau, the Moldovan capital. But it was not until they moved to Romania in 2002 that their star began to rise.

With their clean-cut appearances, melodious songs, and warm singing voices -- spiced with a hint of their native Moldovan accents -- O-Zone became an overnight sensation in Romania with a number called "You Didn't Answer My SMS."

Arsenie Toderas spoke to RFE/RL today from Bucharest's Otopeni Airport, where the band was about to depart for a promotional tour in Belgium. Toderas explained the secret of O-Zone's appeal.

"We think that the secret of our success is a little originality; we are young, good-looking boys, we are being natural, we are doing what we feel like doing and we guess we are giving out a lot of positive energy -- that's what we hope we're doing," Toderas said. "And we are working very hard."

But how did their current big hit, "Dragostea din Tei," work its way onto the Western European charts? As O-Zone tells it, it was a rocky road to the top.

The song was a success in Romania last summer, especially in the disco clubs of the Romanian Black Sea coast. But once autumn came, the song faded from memory.

End of story. Well, not exactly. In February, a little-known studio band from Italy, Haiducii -- Romanian for "The Outlaws" -- went straight to the top of the Italian pop charts, ahead of global heavyweights like the Black-Eyed Peas and Evanescence.

Their hit song was called "Dragostea din Tei,” and was a clear cover version of O-Zone's hit -- but one made without the band's knowledge or consent.

Toderas said that, while not illegal, the move by the Italian group -- consisting of a Romanian-born singer and an Italian studio composer -- felt like a betrayal.

But with "Dragostea din Tei" already a hit in Italy, music producers' curiosity had been piqued. Who was the original band? An Italian label, Time Records, contacted O-Zone, signed them up to a one-year contract, and rereleased the original O-Zone recording of "Love Under the Lime Tree."

The group quickly became a hit in Spain, France, and elsewhere in Europe.

"Deejays [throughout Europe] saw that the song was successful in Spain, in France,” Toderas said. “We were high in the charts, and even in those countries where the song had not been officially launched, deejays were already playing the song on the radio because it was very danceable and jolly."

In most of Europe, music lovers are listening primarily to the original O-Zone hit. But in the Czech Republic, deejays are often playing both versions of the song. It doesn't seem to hurt -- both versions of "Dragostea din Tei" are a hit.

Deejay Jiri Civka of Prague's Radio Deejay said, "I will start to play O-Zone in a few weeks -- I mean, two or three weeks -- because I started to play the song by Haiducii, because my mother radio station in Italy [Radio Deejay] did the same."

O-Zone is not the first East European, or even the first Romanian band to make it in the West.

Russian girl-duo tATu was a major success in Europe two years ago with their hit "Nas Ne Dagonet" ("You're Not Gonna Get Us").

The Croatian dance group Karma was a big hit last summer in several European countries, with their energetic song "Sedam Dana" ("Seven Days").

In December 2002, the Cheeky Girls -- another girl-duo, this time from Romania -- topped the British charts. Much ridiculed by musical critics in Britain and elsewhere, their song "Touch My Bum" became a Christmas hit and they played live on BBC Television on New Year's Eve.

RFE/RL asked O-Zone's front man whether the band considers itself Romanian or Moldovan. Moldova was part of Romania until World War II, and 65 percent of its population of 4.5 million is Romanian.

"We come from [the Republic of] Moldova, from [the former Romanian region of] Basarabia, but we launched our careers in Romania, and we wrote our songs for the Romanian market," Toderas said. "Anyway, [Moldova and Romania] are together, you know -- this is one Romania, the Greater Romania. We are together -- we are Moldovans who shot to fame in Romania and then in Europe."

O-Zone are working on a new album, their third, which is due for release this summer. Meanwhile, they are touring Europe to promote their current hit.

Toderas says they are also preparing for their debut later this month in Britain, Europe's most powerful and lucrative music market. But much as O-Zone may want to achieve success in the United Kingdom, Toderas said the band is not going to switch to singing in English.

"On 24 May we are officially launching our hit, 'Dragostea din Tei' in the United Kingdom, in the original Romanian version," Toderas said.

Radio deejays in many European countries say that "Dragostea din Tei" has the potential to becoming a summer hit across Europe.

In the meantime, a second potential big hit for O-Zone, "De Ce Plang Chitarele," ("Why Guitars Weep") is also gaining ground on the music charts.

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