Photo: Alexis Rimbaud

One piece of advice you might hear when pitted against the French bureaucracy is “don’t play by the rules.”

It’s been eons since my last post (time-consuming job), but I’d thought I’d make a comeback with an entry about a young clarinetist from Moldova who has done everything humanly possible to play by the rules. While Paris is swarming with illegal musicians – be they Romanian subway accordionists or American ex-pats – 30 year-old Adrian Receanu has filled out every last page of paperwork.

And now he is deep, deep căcat [dans la merde in Romanian]

After living, studying and performing legally in France for ten years, on March 11th Adrian received an avis d’expulsion du territoire français, a dreaded document among immigrants here. In short, the avis orders you to leave France in one-month’s time – giving Adrian until April 11th to get out of le Dodge. Today’s Canard Enchaîné, a well-known satirical weekly, summed up Adrian’s sticky situation: “He made two mistakes: the first, to get married, the second to divorce a Frenchwoman de souche.” [most appropriate translation I could think of, ”blue-blooded Frenchwoman]

According to Adrian, he simply tried to update his immigration status. But at some point during the complicated process of changing his marriage residency card to a student visa, he caught the attention of the immigration officials. A simple administrative nightmare – anything involving paperwork in France invariably becomes horrific – turned into a spiralling descent into a bureaucratic hellhole. Having already clocked three bureaucratic nightmares in my five years living here I can only sympathize. But Adrian is facing exile from his home, friends and workplace.

Luckily, Adrian has many friends.

This Wednesday, the glitterati of Paris’s Romanian and Klezmer music scene were out in full force for a benefit concert at the Cafe de la Dance in central Paris. Adrian has a hefty lawyer’s bill to pay to deal with the paperwork and try to gain the upper hand in his immigration proceedings. Luckily, Adrian is a transatlantic Eastern European music superhero. The some 300 fans and supporters that showed up and gave to the cause were testament to this.

The concert was a real spectacle. France’s reining Gypsy Queens were there: Norig, Rona Hartner (from Gadjo Dilo fame) and an up-and-coming young Franco-Hungarian Gypsy singer Erika Serre were among the headliners. At the final onstage jam, Adrian found himself in a Gypsy Diva sandwich, surrounded by legions of admiring Klezmer musicians. After all, Adrian has a special place in the hearts of those of us that are obsessed with old time Eastern/Central European Jewish dance music.

Photo: Corine Goldberger

He stared playing clarinet at the age of 12 in his native Moldova, eventually going to a “folk music” conservatory to master Moldovan folk music. Moldova, a former Soviet Republic, was at one time a melting pot, with ethnic Romanians, Russians, Hungarians, Greeks, Jews, Roma and the Gagauz, a Turkish ethnic group, to name a few. Moldovan traditional music reflects this rich heritage.

Adrian, curious about the diverse roots of Moldovan folk music, is particularly fascinated about the shared roots of Moldovan and Klezmer music. Since moving to France, he has plunged into the repertoire of German Goldenshteyn , a Moldovan Jewish clarinet player that was one of our last links with old time Jewish music. Although German died in 2006, Adrian picked up many of his tunes, and just, well, plays them right.

He is a member of the all-star “Other Europeans” ensemble project, which explores the common roots of Yiddish and Roma music. Pending future visa problems, Adrian should be touring with them in the US soon. Check out a short clip of Adrian playing with his band in Paris:

Despite the festive mood at the benefit concert, conversation quickly turned serious. France’s ongoing debate about immigration is well-known. The current government, which was pummelled at regional elections last week, recently called for a controversial public “debate” about French national identity. France’s far-right wing party, the National Front, made a surprising come-back at the polls in last week’s elections, scoring over 20 % in certain regions. Many observers blame the current government’s obsession with immigration and identity for the rise of the far-right.

At the concert, there were dark rumours that Adrian was part of the government’s rush to deport as many immigrants as possible. Since Nicolas Sarkozy came to power in 2007, the government has made public the number of “expulsions” of illegal immigrants – last year they announced 30,000. Was Adrian a victim of number-crunching?

“Our goal is also to show that Adrian has a real life here in Paris – friends, fans, supporters and all of the well-known artists that he works with,” Elie Petit told me outside the venue. Elie, a Klezmer clarinet player himself, is the treasurer of the Union of French Jewish Students. The largest Jewish student group in France was out in full force to support Adrian, taking time off their busy schedule of throwing clown noses at the Iranian President.

A personal note: Adrian is one of the kindest, sweetest and most genuine musicians I have ever met. Back in 2004, I spent a couple of weeks in Romania to learn local accordion styles and got my ass kicked (musically) from Wallachia to Bukovina. I did leave with enormous respect for the local musicians and their dedication to playing their musical traditions “correctly.” Yet I’ve been terrified of the wrath of Romanian musicians ever since. Meeting Adrian – and sharing a few tunes with him – has changed everything.

No doubt that Adrian has more than a vie privé here in Paris. He is an essential part of the trad musical scene here… and abroad. Check out and join his facebook support group.

This being France, there was some heated discussion in and around the concert if the organizers should also use Adrian’s plight as an opportunity to raise the awareness of the situation of immigrants in France. If anyone wants to voice their opinion on this, feel free to do it the comments section: [en français si vous voulez..]

4 thoughts on “Adrian Receanu – Playing By the Rules

  1. Hi Ilan. A Cool text.
    I think that “thanks” to Adrian, we french, are more aware of the situation of immigrant in France. Because suddenly the bureaucratic nightmare is catching someone we know. A friend. A musician who plays klezmer music. The music of our roots. The music of our heart. How can we stop thinking at those 76000 jewish french, most from eastern Europe, who used to listen to klezmer music before being killed “thanks” to french police. “Fortunately”, they don’t send anybody anymore to death. They “only” expell.

    I can’t help but remember of famous Goering’s sentence: “Whenever I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver.” .
    In “Sarkoland” , when bureaucrats hear the word musician (klezmer musician??? What’s that???) They reach for their expulsion form.
    See you Ilan!

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