I met Omu Gnom for an interview at Fabrica, Bucharest, just before Christmas and a week ago I went back there to attend his concert. You could tell that he is a charismatic and thoughtful chap from his very energetic yet unhurried young audience. While I could not but feel like an ideal bunica (grandma) to them all, I enjoyed their quiet mounting number, many of them flocking in straight from Piata Victoriei, where together with other hundred-thousands Romanians of all ages, they had been protesting in front of the Government building. Back home, my teenager sons dismissed it all as a clumsy raid into a world apart from mine, ideally sympathising with my unfortunate interviewee. Who, in fact, relying on his clear mind, did prove their perception completely mistaken.
Why Omu Gnom? Is there any ironic intention in this word combination?
It’s a combination between two names, om, which means human being, and gnom, which is a gnome, a mythical creature that lives in the underground and keeps the wealth and the richness of the earth. Basically, when I was little I liked this word gnom very much and then after a while – about ten years afterwards -, when I began to write, I found that omu gnom sounded even better with their combined syllables, also because “to be a man” in Romania is like something important: sa fi un om! meaning you have to be someone good, with some standards, to try to do good with everybody. In fact, this is one of my targets in writing: I write stuff that uplift people that listen. And yes, I am an optimistic person, also with the pessimistic writing I always want to give at the end a little reason for being optimistic. As for the combination, I like playing with words: in the word gnom you find also the word om, so I play with the idea that a gnom is little as opposed to om, someone much taller. So, it basically has it all, started from a little spark. Any other meaning comes afterwards and that is the beauty of dealing with words: you know where you start but never know where you are going to end up.
Why they call you Domnul Profesor (Mr. Professor)?
At the ARTA (Atitudine, Răbdare, Tehnică, Ambiție) I have different kinds of students, some just want to write lyrics and have their creativity pushed forward, so I help them with their word playing and everything that has connection to music, others are more interested in rhythm, how to put your words into the rhythm and how to make everything be packed, put in a good package. Yes, I have been doing this for two years, I have two classes and all my students are ok, actually you cannot save them all but when you can save more than half of them that is really great. By the way, how do you know they call me “Domnul Profesor”?
[I found it out in an online interview :)] In fact, you appear as a true educator, literally: helping to take things out from within
Yes, I want to help people with a better understanding of life, the world order and society. I don’t know if I succeed but I try to do my best to do that. Practically, my opinion of writing is that if you have a skill and you can make other people listen to your words, you must go for it. Maybe you are here for that reason as well…
What would you have been, hadn’t you been a singer?
Ok, this is the question every journalist puts you! Each time I give a different answer, so… today I answer to you: probably an investigative journalist.
Getting to your music, How do you manage your work, I understand that you create all your music…
Yes I sample the sounds I like, I make all the bits, I am a butcher. Say, I like an Italian song, maybe from the Sixties, I chop it up and add it with something else and I make music. This is Hip Hop. From my point of view, Hip Hop – or at least a part of it – is the possibility to create a movie with different characters from other movies. Which is what I basically do.
Which are your channels to sell your CDs?
It’s not a label, it has been a crew for seven years now (Ateliere de creatie) and I have a website, omugnom.com, for three years. We are independent, we do not have a formal distribution and we rely on support: you can free download our stuff and if you want the original you donate, also if you want to support us you can donate. I am my own manager, my own PR, everything… It’s ok. I am still at that level. It is growing but we shall see.
Practically, my opinion of writing is that if you have a skill and you can make other people listen to your words, you must go for it. Maybe you are here for that reason as well…
Coming to the hip hop Romanian scene. I read Vice 2010 about it. What’s your opinion?
Actually I know people that are considering writing a book about the Romanian hip hop. To give you a brief idea, it all started back in the first Ninties, when some radio shows began to broadcast American stuff, after that some local bands appeared. R.A.C.L.A. (an abbreviation of Rime Alese Care Lovesc Adânc – “Handpicked Rhymes with a Deeper Meaning”, Ed.) issued the first hip hop album. Then came the B.U.G. Mafia (Bucharest Underground Mafia) and many more. What the Romanians did after the 90s? They went, say, East Side, that is more lyrical, like RACLA, Getto Daci, and West side in a more gangster style – so called gangsta rap – like BUG Mafia (Bucharest Underground Mafia), La Familia. At present these different styles are merging together: a combination of toughness – because also on the streets in Romania you have gangs and mafia – with some lyrical contents. Personally, I don’t follow gangster rap, I am more of a spiritual guy, but there are very good street rappers among them.
Which are the singers who inspire you most?
In Romania I like Methadon 3000, Norzeatic [he is now in Tokyo to study Japanese] and Deceneu. So these are my main influences.
About your song Limpede: what is the story behind this song?
It means “in a clear mind” I started working on this song during the Roșia Montana protest (a successful protest against a mining project in 2013, Ed.). I talked to people and observed the events: I was starting to wake up and watch what was happening in the world, what was happening in Romania. So I made the song with the idea that you should have a clear mind to focus if you want to deal with something. This should be normal for a human and this is what I also say to my students. This attitude also regards your opinion: you need to have a clear mind, even if your opinion is a collage of different opinions, it still becomes something yours and original, reflecting just you, who collect it all.
In Printe cuvinte you say ai grija sa n-ai griji (“be careful not to be careless”) and “read, open your mind”: quite beyond simple singing life’s ups and downs and the fatalistic mood so recurring in Hip Hop…
I am a kind of conscious writer. This is where my style is taking me to. And frankly speaking, I would like to earn some money in things that I believe in. I will never leave rap, though. I like that my message reaches more people. I am sure that an open-minded person would be interested in it. For instance, on December 11th (General Election Day, Ed.) I took part in an event called Conteaza Voteaza (“It counts if you vote”) at Expirat, a new Bucharest club in Halele Carol, where you could join in only if you brought along your voting stamp. And it was a good show in a whole new environment for me: I had a very good reception. I made my freestyle on politics and people enjoyed it and wondered who I was. That made me think that I should let my music go to places where it had not gone until now, because there are people that would appreciate it.
What I basically do, I try to make things that will help you develop. I write things for me, as well to improve myself. I like saying to myself: “it will be ok, try to be better, come on!”, “here are these politicians that are robbing you, don’t be stupid, think! Think! And it will be ok!”. I don’t know if this happens everywhere but the people in Romania must be constantly reminded that they are in control of their lives and that if they think critically then everything is going to be ok. Maybe it is a general human problem… More, now we have too much information and you feel lost: we have Google and everything is there for you but we don’t know what to search anymore and we are tired of all this. I don’t know if I have the right to give advice but I am trying to play my part in this. And I am doing it for myself, first of all.
Now we have Google and everything is there for you but we don’t know what to search anymore and we are tired of all this.
Comparing your mood to that I can grasp in the current Italian rap scene- some names: Salmo, Jay Ax, Marracash, Sfera Ebbasta, Guè Pequeno -, I find yours inspirational while theirs, allow me a risky generalisation – full of spleen and nihilism. Does it make any sense to you?
I don’t know the music of these artists so I cannot relate to the description. What I can do, though, is to talk about my music, my message.
I don’t want that the people that listen to me thinks it all sucks and there is nothing to do about it. As a proverb says, in every situation there are at least two solutions. Of course you have to say things as they are, but that is not enough. Obviously there is room for everybody in hip hop: others deal with fatalism, nihilism, drugs, whores… This is my style. I have parents that are fans. At a concert in Sibiu a sixteen-year-old guy came up and asked me to take a picture saying “I am here because my father sent me, he told me, you’ll like that guy!”. These are kids that have a good relation with their parents. Me and my parents did not relate to music in that way. We are in 2017 and more open-minded persons have become parents: we are starting to change. But what this era in which everything needs to be fast is doing for us, is that we also want fast results in everything. But there are not fast results to do things: it comes in time. You cannot jump the stairs from floor one to five.
Getting to the youngest generation, I observe that they are very responsive to change and open-minded, they have ambitions, speak many languages, more than I can see in our young people in Italy.
You are right, but a major problem here in Romania is the education system which dates way back. Everything depends on the lack of inspiration. The world has changed but school subjects are still taught with old boring methods. You see, to be a doctor or a teacher requires vocation. This is the basic thing: you have to be prepared on that, meditate much, be ready to be a model for them. So, you realize one of the reason they want to be there (at school) is YOU. The problem comes when teachers start to hate their job and apply strict rules, which, in fact, should not be necessary at all. As a consequence, they do not let students have their own opinions, which would help them so much! The school should prepare students for life, it should help them to express themselves but no, the school wants everybody speak the same, dress the same, think the same, learn the same. It’s an unending subject anyway…
As an Italian observer, when I first arrived in Bucharest, all your quarters of dehumanising communist blocs deeply shocked me, “how can individuals survive in there?” kept on asking myself… In an interview you said that you were born “printre blocuri nu dupa blocuri” (through the blocks, not in their mentality). What did you exactly mean by it?
True, it is a nice wordplay…That is one of our major problems, that we had fifty years of communism and it affected the people’s mentality. For that injury to heal requires time, so right now we are still on the healing process: we are not ready to do something because the wound is not healed yet. It may seems but if you look around the wound is not healed yet. I mean also the young people – not only the fifty or forty-year-old, but also the twenty years old, they have wounds as a reflection because what the children see is what the children do: they follow pattern behaviors, consciously or unconsciously. I can see things that I do myself, without my knowledge, because I saw them at my parents. So, basically patterns of thinking and patterns of choices. It is also a matter of vocabulary… We have then to work out this communist thing in a way to manage its fucking impact on us.
Still, anything to save out of the communist heritage?
That’s a good point. The best thing in communism was that you had housing, a job and some money, you had nothing to buy but you had money, now you have many things you would like to buy but you don’t have the money: welcome to capitalism! Communism and Capitalism are the two sides of the same coin: we were so hungry of everything that we wanted it all, and now we have got all that crap from capitalism. The American model sit perfectly on us; these people here had stayed for fifty years with everything portioned, the money, the food, they were not allowed to leave the country; now they want it all. Yes, the Romanians have this incredible need to do shopping and they want to be sure that everything is there at their disposal. It sounds silly but it is understandable and to cure this will take time, generations. In fact, the youngest are starting to realize that and are developing a different mentality: when I speak with eighteen-year old, we understand each other.
What this era when everything needs to be fast is doing for us, is that we want fast results in everything. But there are not fast results to good things: they come in time. You cannot jump the stairs from floor zero to floor five.
How do you explain the results of December’s General Elections?
That kind of result was highly expected. You cannot change everything like that. People are not ready for that yet, because they don’t know what they actually want. Imagine, that result does not reflect the actual will of our population and of our society. Let’s do this exercise of imagination for the sake of argument. Imagine this: 10 people are ALL the people who have the right to vote. So the people who have the right to vote are ten but only four of them actually went to vote. So now, the attention of everybody is on these four people because from everybody’s perception, those four people represent ALL the people. So now, these four people become ALL people, and from these four people who have become ten people, five voted this party (PSD, Ed). In fact, considering the ten initial potential voters, they are just two! So basically, what we should do is to focus on why didn’t six people go to vote? What do they want? The first answer is that “because they are sick of this shit, and it is a shit and nobody wants to deal with this shit”! Most prefer not to get involved at all. A smart person or party should focus on why these are not going to vote and learn something. No! The real problem is that they prefer saying “we are so good; we did ten, twenty per cent…” Still, if you consider the eighteen millions that are entitled to vote, you have gained nothing! In fact, I have my theory – and probably at a certain point I will create my ONG and try to propose things – is that you should not have an election which is validated without fifty percent of the people coming to vote. This is not normal, this is not a majority, why is this legal?! All in all, I think the strategy of the main parties is to keep those six people out of ten from voting: they do not want them to use their vote; they want them to feel sick about it. The real point is that to get diamonds from the mud you have to get dirty and those six do not want to get dirty.
Coming to the present, with hundreds of thousands of protesters in the streets as a reaction to the latest political developments, how should we read that in a clear mind?
Here in Romania we have a constant displeasure regarding politics and politicians. They have been robbing the country since the communism fell and somehow many people seemed to have got accustomed to their lying and their habits and lived their everyday life not wanting to think about it. I was saying in the previous question that a large part of the people who have the right to vote didn’t vote, that is a lot, around 60%.
What is going out now? The party that won the elections was trying to give themselves and their partners in crime a law that would help them avoid jail time. That was the last drop for many, so they are starting to protest. The emotional state was in such a way that the protest became a snow ball with the maximum of half a million Romanians on the streets in a Sunday evening.
I think we are witnessing history in the making. The majority of “I don’t care” just started to get involved and are starting to make a statement against corruption.
Next concerts or oncoming projects?
I am almost finished with my project with Dj Undoo. We have an album that will become available shortly. We have been working at this for quite a while and I am really looking forward to make it public. It is a personal, classic one.
We will be present with a concert in most of the major cities in Romania so come see us live this spring.
Songwriter and beatmaker for seventeen years now, Omu Gnom produced his first solo album Ai grija sa n-ai griji in 2011 obtaining a very excelent reception. Nu uita sa nu uiti came out shortly after, in collaboration with Norzeatic and other underground artists and Djs. In 2013-14 he focussed on another project, Atentie la neatentie, with a strong social message, with the song Limpede obtaining a warm reception in most of the Romanian cultural media.