I, like many, have always had a fascination for gypsy cultures. The colors, the nomadic lifestyle, the music… A photography exhibition titled The Roma Journeys taking place in Berlin right now led me to want to write a post about this beautiful but often overlooked and misunderstood culture. I don’t pretend to know much about it, but as I write this, I can’t help noticing how it has influenced my musical and fashion tastes in so many ways.
It all started when my mother took me to watch the intensely poetic movie Time of the Gypsies. The film tells the story of a young Romani man with magical powers, who is tricked into engaging in petty crime throughout continental Europe. Yugoslav director Emir Kusturica received the gold palm at the Cannes festival in 1988 and the soundtrack is infectiously transcending, by composer Goran Bregovic. Here’s an excerpt:
In Europe, the term gypsy is often used in a derogatory way, so with a bit of online digging, I managed to get some definitions straight:
The Romani, or Roma, are a traditionally nomadic ethnic group, living mostly in Europe and the Americas and originating from the northern regions of India, presumably from where the states Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab exist today. They are widely known by the term “Gypsies” (or “Gipsies”), which some people consider pejorative due to its connotations of illegality and irregularity. The term Gypsy, based on a mistaken belief that they came from Egypt, is in fact used to refer to several ethnic groups of which the Roma are one. Others are the Jevgjit in Albania, the Rudari in Hungary and the Sinti in Germany. Roma means “people” in the romani language, which finds its root in ancient Punjabi, or Hindi. The words Roma and Romani have nothing to do with the country Romania, in which the Roma are called Tsigani (Gypsy)!
As Gallery Taik Persons puts it in its presentation of Joakim Eskildesen’s exhibition: the Roma have been subjected to persecution, expulsion, slavery, prohibitions on the use of the Romany language and other creative attempts to assimilate, misuse or extinguish their peoples. In Europe, attitudes towards them remain at least suspicious, and many still face direct discrimination. The Roma Journeys is not only a project of political force but also a greatly poetic and intimate insight into a rarely seen world.
photo credit: Joakim Eskildsen
Between 2000 and 2006 Joakim Eskildsen and writer Cia Rinne undertook journeys in seven different countries with a view to gaining an insight into the life of the Roma and the conditions they face. They visited Roma communities in Hungary, Greece, Romania, France, Russia, and Finland as well as possibly related groups in India, spending considerable lengths of time among the people whom they wanted to learn about and, where possible, they lived with them for a while, allowing them to build close connections to the families. The project culminated in the award-winning book The Roma Journeys, to which Günter Grass contributed the foreword. It gives a rare insight to the life, history, and situation of the largest European minority.
photo credit: Joakim Eskildsen
Unfortunately, I cannot travel to Berlin to see this beautiful exhibition but I will surely put the book on my Christmas wish list…
Goran Bregovic is coming to London in February. I cannot take this live version of Bella Ciao out of my head.
Have you ever heard of jazz manouche? It’s so lively! It’s a form of jazz that originated in the 1930’s and is often credited to the musician Jean “Django” Reinhardt. Movie director Woody Allen is a fan and a talented clarinetist. He used to play jazz manouche every Monday night at the bar of the Carlyle Hotel in New York. I once took my parents to listen to him. It looks like he still plays.
And if you ever have space for a gypsy caravan in your garden, ask Jeanne to restore and decorate one for you ..
… In these sad times where being from a different ethnic background than the majority raises eyebrows…
… In these worrying times where so-called first world countries vote to close their borders rather than acknowledge the strength of their multicultural landscape …
… In these scary times where the largest democracy in the world is perhaps choosing as its president a man who instills and promotes fear of the unknown…
we should make a collective effort to celebrate differences, and pay our respects to all the minorities around us who make this world so rich and fascinating.