Lautari - from "leute" - lute - is the name given to musicians who originated as household slaves in the areas of what is today Romania and Moldavia until the abolishment of serfdom in the 1860s. They were household servants, first for Greek and Turkish masters, and later at Romanian and Hungarian manors and monasteries. The greater part of them were Gypsies, who after the abolition of serfdom and the enfranchisement of the former serfs fused into rural societies and settled mostly in Wallachia. There they created close, homogeneous communities, where they cultivated their musical traditions.

Present day Lautari live mostly in the Multan area of Wallachia (southern Romania). They inhabit several villages, whose names describe the origins of the tarafs - music groups displaying identifiable styles - e.g. Taraf din Clejani, Taraf din Dobrotešti, Taraf din Albešti, Taraf din Marša. Lautari are singers as well as instrumentalists. From birth they are surrounded by an atmosphere of original music so they naturally take up and continue the specific styles, repertoires and performing techniques familiar to them - perpetuating the individual traditions of each village. Typical of Lautari performance is a rustic violin technique known as "a cinta la fir de par". The name refers to using horse hair instead of the usual bow for playing the violin; this technique creates the plangent and rasping sounds typical of this music. The leader, called the "primaš", chooses and changes the instumentation of his band to address particular needs, situations or concert orders. However, the basis of all tarafs is a set of three core-instruments: violin, nai and bagpipe. Gradually this traditional ensemble has been transformed and developed. Accordingly, in different contexts, the following might augment or replace the more traditional instruments: dulcimer, guitar, doublebass and accordion.

In order to become a leader one must play a number of instruments, master the art of accompaniment, and also be able to put forward one's talents, versatility, and virtuosity as a soloist. The rural lifestyle creates numerous occasions for Lautari to perform, mostly during local ceremonies. They are famous for their flexibility and adaptability as well as for choosing repertoire and instrumentation suitable to particular conditions.

77-year-old Nic, of Taraf de Haidouks, once said: "You don't learn this craft, you steal it. A real Lautar is somebody who hears a melody on his way home, catches it, and is immediately ready to play it".

"Musica Lautareasca" is an important element of the musical landscape of Romania. Among Romanian musicians, Lautars are said to be masters of virtuosity and improvisation. Laying emphasis on its composition, performance and temper, Lautar music is sometimes described as "Gypsy jazz".