September 5, 2007

Gypsy Wednesday

Gypsy Caravan

What really got me thinking about getting this CEERES Blog up and running is the incredible cultural entertainments and events happening in Chicago.

Last night, the Associate Director of CEERES, Meredith Clason, and myself (Jeremy Pinkham, Outreach Coordinator) took a field trip to the historic Chicago theater the Music Box to see the documentary film Gypsy Caravan.

Gypsy Caravan at the Music Box Theater

The documentary follows the Gypsy Caravan, a 2002 concert tour in the U.S. made up of 5 Romani musical groups from Macedonia, Spain, India, and Romania. I'd like to comment on some of the more interesting, eye-opening elements of the film. For one, the music, and variety of musical traditions, coming out of Rom culture is extremely rich and varied. I, for one, was not aware that flamenco music and dance, so associated with Spain, actually has its roots in the Spanish gypsy population. Nor was I aware that an old population of Rom still lives in India (in Rajastan, the supposed ancestral homeland of Rom peoples), though on second thinking it makes perfect sense. The film received favorable comparisons to Bueno Vista Social Club, and I only wish that we were shown more music throughout the course of the film.

There is much talk among the musicians in Gypsy Caravan about the commonalities still shared by these geographically isolated yet culturally linked populations, and about the common soul and rhythm of the gypsies. Something even more interesting to me are the elements that we are shown in passing that give context to the lives of the Romani in the places they live. We get the idea that the success of some of these musicians in the west provides the only income for some of the families and villages back home. One fascinating scene has an interview with a gypsy war refugee from Kosovo, who has found acceptance and assistance from Romanis in Macedonia.

Of note: one of the featured performers in Gypsy Caravan, Esma Redžepova of Macedonia, provided the single Čaje Šukarije for Borat.

I'd recommend this film for a number of reasons: experience great music; find out about a group of people scattered by time, diplacement, and prejudice, but nourished by their community and traditions; visit the wonderful Music Box theater.

[By the way, without meaning any insensitivity, I use the term gypsy, which is often regarded as derogative, interspersed with the more acceptable ethnic terms Rom, Roma, and Romani, because the use of the various terms show how identities are constructed, reinforced, and questioned over time.]

A little more on Gypsies

Watching the film also reminded me that there are other media resources about Rom music that I've been meaning to share. Influences of Balkan, Slavic, Gypsy, punk, jazz, and rock are fusing in lots of different bands in Europe and especially in the U.S. One of the more increasingly well-known bands is Gogol Bordello, based out of NYC, and who seem to be touring across the states all the time. The are fronted by Eugene Huts, a Ukrainian who grew up in the USSR and is a survivor of the Chernobyl disaster. Recently, I heard a couple great pieces of radio about the band and their music. These resources are available online and as podcasts:
That's all for Gypsy Wednesday. I'm sure there's lots more news, events, and bands I could profile in this space, but this media came to my attention, and I hope it's a jumping-off point.

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