Nicolae Feraru


Nicolae Feraru (b. 1950) was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2013.  A musician’s musician, he is a brilliant cimbalom player who has triumphed over great hardship.  Feraru was born to a large Roma (Gypsy) family of lautari (musicians) in Bucharest, Romania.  His father played the cobza, a lute, and the tambal mic, a small portable cimbalom.  A popular instrument throughout Central and Eastern Europe and parts of the Near East, the cimbalom (also tambal and santouri) is something of a cross between a hammer dulcimer and a piano, requiring a player to use “beaters” to strike the strings.


Despite his father’s warnings against becoming a musician, Feraru followed the family tradition, taking lessons from a leading concert cimbalom player and learning harmony and theory, but mostly learning through observation and imitation.  After passing difficult musical tests administered by the Communist government, Feraru was judged a “free professional” and allowed to work to perform and tour. Eventually, he toured Western Europe and during a tour of the U.S. in 1988 gained political asylum.  In 1993, he moved to Chicago and was eventually joined by his family.  


Feraru remains active on the Chicago scene, most recently with the Steve Gibons Rhythm Project.  Nicolae Feraru is featured with Gibons’ band on Folksongs of Illinois, vol. 5:  Chicago Since 1945 (2013).