In black patent heels, Roxana Diana Dobrea climbs up a steel ladder and onto the stage.
Her bandmates are plugging in their amps, strumming a few chords, testing the sound.
Up there with them now, Dobrea grabs her mic and starts counting into it in Romanian. There’s a screech of feedback. She winces.
It’s Saturday and they’re in the Music Cafe on Wellington Quay, a narrow space with only a handful of tables. The little stage, filled with books, cymbals, candles and boxes, is only accessible by that ladder Dobrea climbed.
Fireflyes, this four-piece band, are about to start a two-hour set of Romanian folk-rock and pop. They’ve been performing here since last March, for a small but dedicated following who come to hear music from back home.
“It’s very important to hear your own language and do something for the people you love,” Dobrea says.
Not as Mainstream
After they get set up, the band comes down from the stage and sits at a small table to chat.
There’s Dobrea, who sings, and three guitarists: Rares Mihai Nicula, Rares Moldovan and Cornel Bagaian.
Mihai Nicula and Bagaian started the band in 2017. Then, when Mihai Nicula was cast as an extra on Vikings, he ran into Moldovan, a childhood friend – he joined up too.
“We go way, way back,” says Moldovan. “We’re actually from the same city, Bistrița.”
Then one day, Dobrea just showed up. “We were singing here a few months ago and a blonde girl came up to the stage saying she wanted to sing,” says Bagaian.
The band play folk, but not the old-world kind of folk you might imagine. Think artists similar to Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.
Some of the most well-known names are Nicu Alifantis and a band called The Phoenix.
“Fireflyes came from the desire to have something that’s not as mainstream as the rest of the Romanian music in Ireland,” says Mihai Nicula.
“Most here would be traditional music,” he says. “There is another style, more Balkan, called manele. In my view, it’s a very bad mix of traditional music and some Eastern influence.”
Dobrea is a little shy, but gradually opens up. She came to Ireland four years ago to follow an ex-boyfriend, moving from Italy.
“It was very hard,” she says. “At the beginning, I didn’t want to learn any English, only the basics. It was very hard for me to start all over again, and then the weather …”
Getting in touch with the Romanian community helped her get singing gigs, which she does outside of her job as a cleaner.
“I started going to parties here, singing, so meeting people helped,” she says. “But I’m still alone here, I don’t have family.”
All four members have full-time jobs, so finding time to rehearse is hard.
Moldovan is an actor and music teacher. Mihai Niculu is a community-development worker part-time and also works at a law firm. When Bagaian’s not working as a satellite-dish installer, he’s busy minding his two children.
But they find the time. “Were trying to promote Romanian culture in Dublin,” says Mihai Niculu. “Romanian language is not an internationally used language. It’s a culture that’s not understood completely.”
Moldovan says he loves playing music with the band. “When I get the chance to do it, it’s amazing. The only time I get to do this is with them and I enjoy it a lot.”
The themes in the music are the same as in any genre, he says: love, the joy of life.
“But also drinking, making your own booze,” Mihai Nicula says. “Traditionally moonshine would be a thing in Romania and has been for a long time. Brandy is homemade.”
Just before 8pm, the band begin their set. They’re playing folk-rock but also some pop songs by artists like Vunk and Elena Cârstea, which Dobrea likes.
All four sing, with Dobrea’s rich voice rising above the rest. Down below, a Brazilian family sit together eating.
Camila Cerdan Monteiro is Moldovan’s wife. She’s brought her family, who are visiting from Brazil, to watch her husband perform.
Sitting with them is Mariana Moldovan, who introduced the couple. It’s her first time seeing her son’s band, she says, as she sips rose and mouths along to the music.
“I should have brought my ia, she says, gesturing towards a woman in the audience wearing a traditional Romanian blouse.
Cerdan Monteiro recognises the woman in the blouse. “She comes to every show,” she says.
There are just over 20 people in the café now. Bagaian’s friends have arrived: two men who drink pints and stomp their feet when Fireflyes performs a song from a band called Conexiuni.
Even though she doesn’t understand the lyrics, Cerdan Monteiro says, she goes to every gig. “Everywhere he plays, I’m there. Even if I don’t understand so much, I love it, it’s amazing. The people get so excited to hear the songs.”
Mihai Nicula says that they’re hoping to expand their popularity and do some songs in English.
“We’re thinking of translating some songs to English but keeping the spirit of Romanian folk,” he says.
“A space a little bit bigger would be nicer,” says Moldovan.