UNESCO file “Cobza”. Moldovan-Romanian cooperation in promotion of intangible cultural heritage. IPN debate

In 2013 – Caroling in a male band, in 2016 – Traditional wall-carpet craftsmanship in Romania and the Republic of Moldova, in 2017 – Cultural practices associated to the 1st of March 1, in 2022 – The art of the traditional blouse with embroidery on the shoulder – an element of cultural identity of Romania and the Republic of Moldova. There are four elements of the Romanian intangible cultural heritage and, respectively, four files included in the UNESCO representative list, through joint effort and assiduous cooperation between Romania and the Republic of Moldova. This year, the fifth joint file “Cobza, traditional knowledge, skills and music” is pending. It was recently submitted to the UNESCO Special Committee. Representatives of both teams, from Bucharest and Chisinau, discussed the Joint Romania-Republic of Moldova Strategy for safeguarding elements of the intangible cultural heritage at a public debate entitled “UNESCO file “Cobza”. Moldovan-Romanian cooperation in promotion of intangible cultural heritage”, which was hosted by IPN News Agency.

Scientific researcher Ioana Baskerville, coordinator of the Department of Ethnology of “Alexandru Philippide” Institute of Romanian Philology of the Romanian Academy, Iasi Branch, believes that there is a need to differentiate and create a position between the tangible and the intangible so as to balance this international organization’s great interest in protecting historical monuments.

“At one time, there were peoples with very rich traditional culture, which wanted UNESCO to protect, value, safeguard this culture, which is not necessarily materialized in wonderful historical monuments, but is found in people’s souls, in the middle of communities. It is, in fact, the identity fiber of these communities. We call it traditional culture or folklore,” said Ioana Baskerville, expert in the field of intangible cultural heritage of the Ministry of Culture and representative of Romania’s delegation to UNESCO.

The scientific researcher noted that what is documented, what is listed and promoted by UNESCO is not the object as such. In the case of the cobza, it is music and knowledge of how to play the cobza, the repertoire that can be found both materialized in archives, but especially in the active knowledge of those who know how to play the cobza. “This ineffable thing that is found around us – cobza music, knowledge about how to play this instrument, the repertoire that is actively found in the collective memory of communities of creators is what we want to highlight at UNESCO,” said Ioana Baskerville.

Cobza player Sasha-Liviu Stoianovici, a member of Balkan Taksim band, said that he began to study the cobza many years ago out of curiosity, due to his love for this instrument and from a need to learn more about it. “And, certainly, from the position of a townsman who was not surrounded by cobzas, not even by musical folklore played at cobzas. From the position of this townsman, all the more I wanted to have access to what I considered to be genuine keepers of cobza playing. Respectively, this need led me to Romanian villages where the cobza is still used, especially to villages in Moldova,” said Sasha-Liviu Stoianovici, who is also a museographer of the National Museum of the Romanian Peasant of Romania.

So, noted the cobza player, the impetus was an extremely personal one, which also had to do with a kind of romance that he developed over time. “And surely this impulse passed later through the filter of ethnographic research, through the filter of academic rigors. But the beginning was this -great curiosity,” noted the member of Balkan Taksim. He said that he also visited Moldova for several times, including for exchange of experience.

Andrei Prohin, scientific secretary of the National Museum of Ethnography and Natural History, secretary of the National Commission for the Safeguarding of the National Intangible Heritage of Moldova, said that more materials are needed to prepare such a file. First, a Living Heritage Element Dossier needs to be drawn up. In Moldova there is a National Register of Intangible Cultural Heritage, which appeared in 2012 and in which the cobza is already inscribed, as well as other traditional musical instruments.

In addition to this register, there is also an inventory of living elements, that is with newer information about the state of the element. “In recent years, too, such dossiers have been included in the last files prepared for the UNESCO representative list. It is not at all simple to draw up such a file. It actually involves conducting a study on the history of this element. In a way, you try to follow the thread of tradition, how it has evolved over time, and especially to focus on the present – who are the bearers of this tradition today, how it is transmitted today, what are the particularities and what measures are proposed for this tradition to have continuity,” explained Andrei Prohin.

In his opinion, protection is a very important thing for UNESCO because our folklore, like that of other peoples, is very rich, but in it there are many elements that remained in the past – dances, melodies, literary folklore, which today are no longer practiced, and if they are practiced, there is no guarantee that they will continue in 10 years? “It is important that UNESCO pay great attention to the system of protecting these elements of traditional culture. When the list is proposed, it must be proven that society shows interest, that this element has a special significance, represents identity, helps to solve certain current problems,” said the secretary of the National Commission for the Safeguarding of the National Intangible Heritage of the Republic of Moldova.

Musicologist Victor Gilash, senior scientific researcher at the Institute of Cultural Heritage of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Moldova, said that this file was initiated by counterparts from Romania. It was a good initiative since the cobza is an identity element that represents us. “One more common element was necessary because the cobza was fairly widespread and frequently used on both banks of the Prut. Initially, there was not so much talk of the cobza, but there was talk of an ancestor of the cobza, of the lute. But in time the word “fiddler”, that is the one who played the lute, was extrapolated to other instruments. A violinist, a cobza player and others were also called fiddlers,” explained the researcher.

According to the musicologist, after a period of maximum spread and use in the traditional environment, especially the environment of fiddlers, on the left side of the Prut, at the end of the 19th century or the start of the 20th century, the cobza was replaced by the cymbal. “Then, after 1945, little by little it started to appear, first in professional bands and at the end of the 1980s-90s or a little earlier, in the Republic of Moldova, through artistic education institutions,” said Victor Gilash.

He also said that, as there was a risk of losing both the skill and the instrument, a combine that produced cobzas was created in Chisinau and the cobza in educational institutions began to be taught as a subject of study.

Cobza player Victor Botnaru, a master of art, lecturer at the Academy of Music, Theater and Fine Arts of the Republic of Moldova, believes that if it had not been taught at the existing schools, there would have been no cobza now probably. It would have remained in memory only. “I have a memory from my grandmother, who told me about the cobza players who came from the neighboring village, from Ciocâlteni. The cobza was played with a goose feather. A colleague of mine, Vasile Dandara, from Bădragi village of Edineț said that his father, also a violinist, played the cobza and the violin,” said the player.

According to him, as early as 1950, the cobza appeared in a video clip of the famous singer Tamara Ciobanu. She was accompanied by a folk music orchestra, which among the instrumentalists also had two cobza players. And these are his vivid memories.

At the schools he attended, he studied the cobza and personally, together with mates, participated in various events. Victor Botnaru is convinced that even today cobza music is of interest, especially when the cobza player is also a singer and sings doinas, ballads, romances. “It’s popular, natural music that is centuries-old or maybe even comes from antiquity,” he noted.

The public debate “UNESCO file “Cobza”. Moldovan-Romanian cooperation in promotion of intangible cultural heritage” was the third edition of the project “Double integration through cooperation and information. Continuity”, which is funded by the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova. The content of this debate does not represent the official position of the Department for Relations with the Republic of Moldova.

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