Our Meeting With Virgil Mihaiu

On our 4th day in Cluj, we met with the renowned Jazz artist and writer Virgil Mihaiu. We had to divide into two groups because of our busy schedule and the other group went to the university to have a meeting with the head of the Turkish community in Cluj and you can read about that part in the other entry from the 4th day.

We met with Mr. Mihaiu in a nice café and he was very amicable and talkative from the very beginning, his positive mood filled the air. He is a very active and knowledgeable person with a very broad scala of interests. He is a writer, critic, diplomat, jazz aesthetics professor, polyglot and performer. He was the co-founder and the first director of the Romanian Cultural Center in Lisbon and served as the minister-counselor at the Romanian Embassy there whilst writing a book about jazz in Romania at the same time. He graduated from Babeş Bolyai University Literature Faculty in 1974 and can speak many languages including English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German. He starts to write to Jazz periodicals during his youth and he becomes a member of the most elite jazz magazine Down Beat. His writings got published in many countries in the world in cultural magazines and he is currently working on creating an Italian Jazz encyclopedia. He gave lectures about Jazzology at various universities and institutes and participated in many congresses and festivals as a guest.

Keeping all these points in mind, we talked about the political transformation of Romania and its effects on music, social life and the Jazz culture with him.

Communism and Jazz in Romania

Jazz was banned in Romania after being considered a degenerate tool of imperialism following the end of the world war and the establishment of the communist regime. This ban on music continues until 1964. However, Mihaiu says that this repression had an adverse effect on Jazz music in Romania and allowed it to develop a unique and profound style. He said that the form of art that was affected by the repression the most was the visual arts. In fact, the most liberal field was music, especially the niche forms of it because the government didn’t really try to monitor the message behind it, for it was more abstract.

After the lifting of the ban, the interest of Romanian population towards Jazz sees a significant interest for the people see Jazz as a symbol of freedom and an escape. During the time of communism, many people listened to jazz radios of neighboring countries from their manual radios.

Urbanization and Migration

We talk with Mihau about the urbanization as well. He says that although initially communist regime came up with a good urban planning, all the plans were shelved a decade into Ceauseskus’ regime and that uncontrolled urban expansion created a set of problems for the city of Cluj. He says that this failed urbanization is going on even today.

According to him, Cluj is an exceptional city with all the schools, academies and facilities that it possesses. There is a Roman Theater, a Hungarian Theater, Opera House, Drama Academy, Music Academy and University so it can easily be seen as one of the two cultural hubs of Romania. He says that although he travelled and lived in many different places of the world, Cluj is his favorite city and this is where he wants to spend all his life.

After we finish our lengthy chat in cafe we leave together for the old city walls together with him while talking about his books. After a brief walk, we come to a street where the German, English and Hungarian high schools intersect with the medieval city walls and the Tailors’ tower which was built in the 15th century. It was named after the Tailors' Guild, who took care of and guarded this part of the city. Near the tower there is a statue of Baba Novac. The tower is now a Centre for Urban Culture. The Centre hosts a flexible exhibition space on its three floors being also used for different events such as conferences. After spending some time in the tower together, we bid him goodbye and head back to hotel to prepare for our meeting with the director of the National Theatre.