Festival of gypsy music silences the racists and wins over Czech fans

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Prague in spring is a music-lover's paradise. There are classical performances in the grand baroque and art nouveau concert halls across the city, and quiet, intimate performances of jazz in the mediaeval cellars beneath.

Prague in spring is a music-lover's paradise. There are classical performances in the grand baroque and art nouveau concert halls across the city, and quiet, intimate performances of jazz in the mediaeval cellars beneath.

But this year a different festival opened which is packing houses and rehabilitating a musical tradition that is as old as any in this country but which has long been despised by Czechs: gypsy music.

The Khamoro, or world gypsy festival, has brought some of the finest gypsy performers in the world here, from the violin pyrotechnics of the Russian band Gypsy Lorka, to the flamenco-on-speed guitars of the Portuguese Ciganos d'Ouro.

As well as the traditional gypsy music that has been enjoying a new wave of popularity in the West of late, there are also concerts of gypsy jazz, including a performance from Britain's own Ian Cruickshank's Gypsy Jazz.

The concerts have been playing to packed and rapturous audiences in some of Prague's most fashionable clubs and bars – which is remarkable considering the racist views towards gypsies, or Roma, held by most Czechs. This is a country where gypsy children end up in schools for the mentally disabled, where gypsies are routinely beaten up, and where one town notoriously built a wall to separate its gypsies from the rest of the inhabitants.

In Hungary and the Balkans, gypsy music has long been admired despite widespread discrimination against gypsies themselves – but that has not been the case in the Czech Republic, and the enthusiasm with which Czechs have embraced gypsy music is heartening. There is even to be a parade of Roma performers through the Old Town Square tomorrow.

The festival was founded four year ago by gypsies from Bosnia, who "wanted to show people that this nation-without-a-country scattered all over the globe also carries within itself something good, something valuable, something exceptional.and something worth listening to," says Jarmila Balazova, the press spokeswoman for the festival.

As well as concerts, there are workshops on social problems that are faced by gypsies. As a way of changing perceptions towards Europe's great unrecognised minority, the festival is at least a start.

But, gypsy music has been popular in Hungary and the Balkans for a long time – without changing racist attitudes towards the gypsies there.

Comments