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The Late Movies: Celebrating Moldova's Independence

Today marks the 21st anniversary of Moldova's declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. What better way to celebrate independence than with pop music and rock 'n' roll? Here are 8 of Moldova's most popular musical acts.

1. O-Zone

"Dragostea Din Tei" (a.k.a. "the Numa Numa song")

"Dragostea Din Tei" is far and away O-Zone's most popular song, with the official music video from Ultra Records accruing more than 23 million YouTube views in 5 years. (You may know the song better from the "Numa Numa" viral video.) The group, originally a duo, formed in 1999 and hit it big with "Despre tine" in 2002. They disbanded in 2005, less than a year after "Dragostea Din Tei" made it into many countries' top 10 charts. That same year, a Japanese record company obtained Japan distribution rights for O-Zone, and the group became a Japanese sensation, with the DiscO-Zone album selling more than 1 million copies.

2. Zdob ?i Zdub (a.k.a. Zdob shi Zdub)

"So Lucky" (Performed live)

Zdob ?i Zdub, which formed in 1994, fuses traditional Romanian folk music with more modern musical genres, including punk, ska, and hip-hop. They were the first band to represent Moldova at a Eurovision contest, in 2005, placing sixth with their song "Bunika Bate Toba." They represented Moldova again at Eurovision in 2011, finishing 12th that year with "So Lucky." (The video above is a live recording used as a promotional video for Eurovision 2011, and not their actual performance from the contest.) They have released 10 albums, toured in at least 10 countries, warmed up for Rage Against the Machine, and performed at a Russian MTV-Party. There's even a YouTube video in which Zdob ?i Zdub's "DJ Vasile" is mashed-up with the Black Eyed Peas "Don't Phunk With My Heart."

3. SunStroke Project & Olia Tira

"Run Away" (Performed for Eurovision 2010)

SunStroke Project's Anton Ragoza (the violinist and composer) and Sergey Stepanov (the saxophonist) served in the Army together, during which time Sergey got the inspiration for the band's name. The group formed in 2007 and currently consists of Anton, Sergey, and Sergei Yalovitsky (vocals). They competed to represent Moldova for Eurovision 2009, but came in third in the pre-selection; they succeeded the next year, when they were chosen along with German-born, Moldova-based pop singer Olia Tira to represent Moldova. At Eurovision 2010, SunStroke Project and Olia Tira performed "Run Away," reaching 22nd place among 39 competitors. Both the band and Olia Tira are probably more well-known for their Eurovision competition than their other songs, especially after Sergey Stepanov's saxophone solo in "Run Away" became a meme known as "Epic Sax Guy." The band has capitalized on the meme, releasing an official "Epic Sax Guy" video and incorporating the phrase into their song "Superman," which they and Olia Tira used as a bid to represent Moldova for Eurovision 2012. (They weren't chosen.)

4. Pasha Parfeny

"L?utar" (Performed live)

Pasha Parfeny (also sometimes spelled Parfeni) was a member of SunStroke Project when it competed to represent Moldova at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest; he wrote "No Crime," the song they performed for the national selection contest. In 2010, both SunStroke Project (with Olia Tira) and Parfeny were again in the running to represent Moldova for Eurovision, but that year they were competing against each other, Parfeny having entered as a solo act. Parfeny failed to earn the bid in both 2010 and 2011, but succeeded in 2012 with his song "L?utar." (The video above is the preview video for the contest, and not the performance from Eurovision.) He placed 11th in the final. Although he's been active as a singer since 2002, he has not yet released any albums (as far as we can tell).

5. Alternosfera

"Muta" (Performed live, 2011)

This alternative rock band was formed in December 1998 by two high school friends. The line-up has changed a bit over the years, with only two original members--Marcel Bostan and Marin Nicoar?--remaining; the rest of the current members are Sergiu Aladin, Eugen Berdea, and Victor "Vikosh" Co?parmac. They've released two albums--Ora?ul 511 (2005) and Visatori cu Plumb în Ochi (2007)--as well as an EP, Flori din Groapa Marianelor (2008). Ora?ul 511 was named after the garage where the band rehearsed for years.

6. Natalia Barbu

"Do That Thing"

Natalia Barbu hit it big when her single, "Îngerul meu," spent 11 weeks in the #1 slot on the Romanian Top 100 chart and received frequent play on MTV Romania. In 2007, she was selected to represent Moldova at the Eurovision Song Contest, beating out Zdob ?i Zdub. She finished 10th out of 24 finalists. She has released three albums: Între ieri ?i azi (2001), Zbor De Dor (2003), Sunt fata de maritat (2009), and Fight (2009).

7. Familia Stratan

"Numar Pan La Unu" by Cleopatra Stratan

Familia Stratan patriarch Pavel graduated from the Academy of Music, Theatre and Plastic Arts in Moldova. He released his first album, Amintiri din copil?rie (Memories of Childhood), in 2002, followed by volumes 2, 3, and 4 in 2004, 2008, and 2011, respectively. Cleopatra Stratan, Pavel's daughter with his wife, engineer Rodica, released her own album in 2006, at the tender age of 3. With La vârsta de trei ani, Cleopatra reportedly became the youngest artist to achieve commercial success; she also was the youngest artist to perform live for two hours in front of a large audience, the highest paid young artist, the youngest artist to receive an MTV award, and the youngest artist to score a #1 hit (which she did in Romania with "Ghi??"). La vârsta de trei ani went double platinum in 2006 in Romania, where the family now lives. Cleopatra has released three more albums: La vârsta de 5 ani (2008), Cr?ciun Magic (2009), and Melodii Pentru Copii (2012). The youngest Stratan, Cezar, was born in 2008; he now joins Pavel and Cleopatra in many of their YouTube videos.

8. Nelly Ciobanu

"Hora Din Moldova" (Dance of Moldova)

Nelly Ciobanu has been performing since age 19 (in 1993), when she won first prize at the "Morning Star" competition. She has continued to do well in competitions throughout the Eurasian region; the fact that she sings in 11 languages, including Romanian, Russian, and English, surely doesn't hurt. In 2009, she represented Moldova at Eurovision, where she came in 14th with "Hora Din Moldova." (The video above is the promotional video, not her Eurovision performance.) For the last five years, she has been hosting a music TV program called "Vedete la bis," or Stars Encore, in Moldova.

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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.

1. PANGANGALULUWA // THE PHILIPPINES

Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.
Suman

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.

2. PÃO-POR-DEUS // PORTUGAL

Raw dough.
iStock

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.

3. HALLOWEEN APPLES // WESTERN CANADA

Kids trick-or-treating.
iStock

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.

4. ST. MARTIN'S DAY // THE NETHERLANDS

The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.

5. A PENNY FOR THE GUY // THE UK

Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.

6. TRICKS FOR TREATS // ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI

Kids knocking on a door in costume.
iStock

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.

7. ME DA PARA MI CALAVERITA // MEXICO

Sugar skulls with decoration.
iStock

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.

8. HALLOWEEN! // QUEBEC, CANADA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
iStock

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.

9. SWEET OR SOUR // GERMANY

Little girl trick-or-treating.
iStock

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.

10. TRIQUI, TRIQUI HALLOWEEN // COLOMBIA

Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Hey, Vern: It's the Ernest P. Worrell Story
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Mill Creek Entertainment

In her review of the 1991 children’s comedy Ernest Scared Stupid, The Washington Post film critic Rita Kempley described the titular character, the dim-witted but well-meaning Ernest P. Worrell, as “the global village idiot.” As portrayed by Kentucky native Jim Varney, Ernest was in the middle of a 10-film franchise that would see him mistakenly incarcerated (Ernest Goes to Jail), enlisting in the military (Ernest in the Army), substituting for an injured Santa (Ernest Saves Christmas), and returning to formal education in order to receive his high school diploma (Ernest Goes to School).

Unlike slapstick contemporaries Yahoo Serious and Pauly Shore, Varney took a far more unusual route to film stardom. With advertising executive John Cherry III, Varney originated the Ernest character in a series of regional television commercials. By one estimate, Ernest appeared in over 6000 spots, hawking everything from ice cream to used cars. They grew so popular that the pitchman had a 20,000-member fan club before his first movie, 1987’s Ernest Goes to Camp, was even released.

Varney and Ernest became synonymous, so much so that the actor would dread going on dates for fear Ernest fans would approach him; he sometimes wore disguises to discourage recognition. Though he could recite Shakespeare on a whim, Varney was rarely afforded the opportunity to expand his resume beyond the denim-jacketed character. It was for this reason that Varney, though grateful for Ernest’s popularity, would sometimes describe his notoriety as a “mixed blessing,” one that would come to a poignant end foreshadowed by one of his earliest commercials.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky in 1949, Varney spent his youth being reprimanded by teachers who thought his interest in theater shouldn’t replace attention paid to math or science. Varney disagreed, leaving high school just two weeks shy of graduation (he returned in the fall for his diploma) to head for New York with $65 in cash and a plan to perform.

The off-Broadway plays Varney appeared in were not lucrative, and he began to bounce back and forth between Kentucky and California, driving a truck when times were lean and appearing in TV shows like Petticoat Junction when his luck improved. During one of his sabbaticals from Hollywood, he met Cherry, who cast him as an aggressive military instructor named Sergeant Glory in an ad for a car dealer in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 1981, Varney was asked back to film a new spot for Cherry, this one for a dilapidated amusement park in Bowling Green, Kentucky, that Cherry considered so unimpressive he didn’t want to show it on camera. Instead, he created the character of Ernest P. Worrell, a fast-talking, often imbecilic local who is constantly harassing his neighbor Vern. (“Know what I mean, Vern?” became Ernest’s catchphrase.)

The spot was a hit, and soon Varney and Cherry were being asked to film spots for Purity Dairies, pizza parlors, convenience stores, and other local businesses. In the spots, Ernest would usually look into the camera—the audience shared Vern’s point of view—and endorse whatever business had enlisted his services, usually stopping only when Vern devised a way to get him out of sight.

Although the Purity commercials initially drew complaints—the wide-angle lens created a looming Ernest that scared some children—his fame grew, and Varney became a rarity in the ad business: a mascot without a permanent corporate home. He and Cherry would film up to 26 spots in a day, all targeted for a specific region of the country. In some areas, people would call television stations asking when the next Ernest spot was due to air. A Fairfax, Virginia Toyota dealership saw a 50 percent spike in sales after Varney began appearing in ads.

Logging thousands of spots in hundreds of markets, Varney once said that if they had all been national, he and Cherry would have been wealthy beyond belief. But local spots had local budgets, and the occasions where Ernest was recruited for a major campaign were sometimes prohibited by exclusivity contracts: He and Cherry had to turn down Chevrolet due to agreements with local, competing car dealers.

Still, Varney made enough to buy a 10-acre home in Kentucky, expressing satisfaction with the reception of the Ernest character and happily agreeing to a four-picture deal with Disney’s Touchstone Pictures for a series of Ernest features. Released on a near-constant basis between 1987 and 1998, the films were modest hits (Ernest Goes to Camp made $28 million) before Cherry—who directed several of them—and Varney decided to strike out on their own, settling into a direct-to-video distribution model.

“It's like Oz, and the Wizard ain't home," Varney told the Sun Sentinel in 1985, anticipating his desire for autonomy. “Hollywood is a place where everything begins but nothing originates. It's this big bunch of egos slamming into each other.”

Varney was sometimes reticent to admit he had ambitions beyond Ernest, believing his love of Shakespeare and desire to perform Hamlet would be perceived as the cliched story of a clown longing to be serious. He appeared in 1994’s The Beverly Hillbillies and as the voice of Slinky Dog in 1995’s Toy Story. But Ernest would continue to be his trademark.

The movies continued through 1998, at which point Varney noticed a nagging cough. It turned out to be lung cancer. As Ernest, Varney had filmed an anti-smoking public service announcement in the 1980s. In his private life, he was a chain smoker. He succumbed to cancer in 2000 at the age of 50, halting a series of planned Ernest projects that included Ernest Goes to Space and Ernest and the Voodoo Curse.

Varney may never have gotten an opportunity to perform in a wider variety of roles, but he did receive some acknowledgment for the one he had mastered. In 1989, Varney took home an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a children’s series, a CBS Saturday morning show titled Hey, Vern: It’s Ernest!

“It’s a blessing and a curse,” he told the Orlando Sentinel in 1991, “because it's as hard to escape from it as it is to get into it.''

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