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Romani music (often referred to as Gypsy or Gipsy music, which is considered a derogatory term) is the music of the Romani people, who have their origins in Northern India, but today live mostly in Europe.
Historically nomadic, though now largely settled, the Romani people have long acted as entertainers and tradesmen. In many of the places Romanies live they have become known as musicians. The wide distances travelled have introduced a multitude of influences, starting with Indian roots and adding elements of Greek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Serbian, Czech, Slavic, Romanian, German, French and Spanish musical forms.
It is difficult to define the parameters of a unified Romani musical style, as there are many differences in melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and formal structures from region to region. Lyrics to Romani songs are often sung in one or more dialects of the Romani language, and dance frequently accompanies Romani music performance.
There is a strong tradition of Romani music in Central and Eastern Europe, notably in countries such as Hungary, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. The quintessentially Spanish flamenco is to a very large extent the music (and dance, or indeed the culture) of the Romani people of Andalusia.
Apart from Romani music for local use, in Eastern Europe a separate Romani music originated for entertainment in restaurants and at parties and celebrations. This music drew its themes from Hungarian, Romanian, Russian and other sources of Romani origin, but was more sophisticated and became enormously popular in places like Budapest and Vienna. Later on it gained popularity in Western Europe, where many Romani orchestras were active, playing sophisticated melodies of East European origin.
Original Romani music
Original Romani folksongs - not derived from the countries where the Romani live - are relatively rare. This particular folk music is mainly vocal and consists of slow plaintive songs and fast melodies which may be accompanied by dancing. The fast melodies are accompanied with tongue-clacking, hand-clapping, mouth-basses, clicking of wooden spoons, and other folk techniques.
Most Romani music is based on the folk music of the countries where the Romani went through or settled. Local music is adopted and performed – usually instrumental – and, slowly, it is transformed into Romani styles, which are usually more complex than the original styles. In its turn, Romani music has greatly influenced the local music. Among these the Hungarian versions have become best known, although examples of Romani music in other countries also endure.
Spanish Romani music is widely known across the world, having been popularized as flamenco. Flamenco is associated with the Romani people of Spain (Gitanos) and a number of famous flamenco artists are of this ethnicity.
The Lăutari were traditional Romani musicians, playing at various events (weddings, funerals, etc.) The lăutarească music is an important part of the Romanian traditional music.
The manele genre became very popular in Romania and is promoted mostly by Romani ethnic musicians.
The best known gypsy choir in Russia was the Sokolovsky gypsy choir.
Romani people are known throughout Turkey for their musicianship. Their urban music brought echoes of classical Turkish music to the public via the meyhane or taverna. This type of fasıl music (a style, not to be confused with the fasıl form of classical Turkish music) coupled with food and alcoholic beverages is often associated with the underclass of Turkish society, though it also can be found in more "respectable" establishments in modern times.
Romanis have also influenced the fasıl itself. Played in music halls, the dance music (oyun havası) required at the end of each fasıl has been incorporated with Ottoman rakkas or belly dancing motifs. The rhythmic ostinato accompanying the instrumental improvisation (ritimli taksim) for the belly-dance parallels that of the classical gazel, a vocal improvisation in free rhythm with rhythmic accompaniment. Popular musical instruments in this kind of fasıl are the clarinet, violin, kanun, and darbuka. Clarinetist Mustafa Kandıralı is a well known fasıl musician.
The Rajkó Orchestra and Folk Ensemble is known for preserving Hungarian Roma music, dance and costume culture since 1952. Their work carries on the traditions of century old gipsy dynasties. They are very popular in their home country as well as abroad. Their performances can be seen at a number of venues, among others, several times a week at the Danube Palace of Budapest during the high season, which is between May 1 and October 31.
Another notable Roma music formation is Ando Drom. Established by Jenő Zsigó in 1993, the Ando Drom Foundation serves to promote Romany art, enourage young talent, and to allow the Romany encounter their own culture within the community, through the productions of the band Ando Drom, among others, a group pioneering the reinterpretation of Romany music and dance. Their music is contemporary in nature. Besides authentic Romany folk songs, they play a kind of urban Romany music which gives a voice to a the present-day reality of the community. They avoid reconstructing the manners of old musicians and singers or their style.
The sophisticated music of the Romani orchestras that visited Western Europe became popular in the second half of the 19th century and had its heyday from the 1920s onwards to about 1960, although this music remains popular still today. The tours of rajkó-orchestras – featuring young Romani-musicians – added much to its popularity. The rajkó boys were both endearing and virtuoso, a combination that enchanted the public.
The cimbalom, unknown to the Western audience, added its characteristic sound to the violins played in a Romani style. Romani virtuoso like Bela Babai, Lajos Veres, the many members of the Lakatos family and others became famous. Nowadays the names of Roby Lakatos, Buffo Sandor and Sandor Jaroka still are household names for the Western connoisseurs of this type of music.
The Western public regarded this genre as a counterpart to the other Romani-related music: Gypsy jazz. They regarded it as a typical Gypsy style: a fine specimen of Romani culture. In their Western European languages they valued it as “Gypsy music”, “Musique tsigane”, “Zigeunermusik”, etc.
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