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A joyful musical gathering

In dark times, Khamoro celebrates a bright, rich Roma culture

Posted: May 21, 2009

By Tony Ozuna - For the Post | Comments (0) | Post comment

A joyful musical gathering

Courtesy Photo

There's literally dancing in the streets during the festival, this year May 28.

Khamoro, Prague's annual Roma music and culture festival, is now in its ninth year and stronger than ever. Starting Monday, this year's edition presents six nights of first-rate Roma musicians from the Czech Republic and around Europe. The lineup includes both traditional groups and more contemporary bands offering refreshing new Roma sounds. There will also be documentary films, art exhibitions, dance workshops and a seminar titled "Roma Culture as a Part of European Culture."

The music kicks off at Lucerna Music Bar Monday with !DelaDap, a "Nu Gypsy" group from Vienna, led by singer, DJ and producer of the group, Stani Vana, who was born in Prague. In fact, the idea for the band originated in Vani's studio in Prague, initially as a trio. It's now a seven-member multinational ensemble that includes fellow Czech vocalists Simona Senkiova and Kristina Gunarova, guitarist Aleksander Stojic from Serbia, accordionist Alen Dzambic from Bosnia, double-bassist Jovan Torbica from "The Balkans," and violinist Pavel Shalman from Russia. !DelaDap plays a self-described "urban Gypsy sound," meaning a rich mixture of contemporary ethno-pop, folk and urban sounds, rooted in traditional Gypsy music.

The following night, the Rosenburg Trio plays at Lucerna. These three cousins from the Netherlands are an acoustic trio (Nonnie on double-bass, Nous'che on rhythm guitar and Stochelo on solo guitar) that remarkably recalls the Gypsy jazz guitar wizardry of Django Reinhardt. So much so, in fact, that, when Stephane Grappelli - the eminent jazz violinist who played with Reinhardt for years - first saw the Rosenburg cousins, he invited them to play with him on a European tour, and ultimately to celebrate his 85th birthday at New York's Carnegie Hall.

On Wednesday at Reduta, still another group strongly influenced by Django Reinhart: Basily Boys, a TV sensation from Holland featuring Zonzo, Noekie, Raklo and Morice, four young acoustic guitarists originally from the group Basily Gypsy Family. Together, the Rosenburg Trio and Basily Boys represent a special part of this year's festival - Days of Dutch Roma, which also includes documentary film screenings and a photo exhibit at Kino Aero.

May 25-30
Where: Roxy, Reduta, Lucerna Music Bar and other venues
Tickets: 250-460 Kč, available through Ticketstream and at the venues
For more information, check

More typical Gypsy music starts at noon Thursday, with the traditional musicians' parade that starts at Můstek and winds through Old Town, ending at Staroměstská. This annual boisterous horse-and-carriage extravaganza includes visiting Roma musicians playing Hungarian czardas on Balkan-sound trumpets, a warm-up for the evening program at Roxy, which features several larger groups: Acquaragia Drom, a traditional Gypsy wedding band from southern Italy; the high-octane Nadara Gypsy Wedding Band, Romanian Gypsies from Tirgu Mures, Transylvania; and headliners Šutka, a formidable Gypsy brass orchestra from the biggest Roma settlement in Europe, Šutka, Macedonia. The Balkan Gypsy brass sound is a sensually overwhelming combination of Turkish and Balkan rhythms and oriental solos that can make musicians and dancers alike frantic - so beware.

The Friday night bill at Roxy includes virtuoso violinist Marek Balog from Lucenec, Slovakia, and the Hungarian band Romengo, featuring soulful Gypsy singer Monika Lakatos. Also on the program are speed-demon accordionist Lelo Nika (from Serbia, though raised in Denmark) with his trio, and Russian diva Leonsia Erdenko, who leads an upbeat "new Gypsy music" group.

On Saturday night, all of the tribes gather for a gala finale at the Congress Centre. While not as intimate as Roxy or the other club venues, it offers plenty of room for a big crowd to sing and dance.

This is a difficult period for Roma throughout Eastern Europe, with unprovoked attacks and neo-fascist marches on the rise. Khamoro gives the Roma community a chance to present a united European front, and share the joys of its music with a wider audience. Particularly if you've never seen any of these bands before, it's a cultural experience not to be missed.

Tony Ozuna can be reached at

Tags: Roma music, Khamoro, festival.

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