Balkan, Indian rhythms collide at Khamoro World Roma Festival|
In this week's Arts, we look at the annual Khamoro Roma Festival, one of
the largest festivals of Roma arts and culture in Europe. For the past
week the Czech capital has reverberated to sounds from as far afield as
India, Portugal and the Balkans.
Macedonia's Orkestar Strumica - blasting passers-by in Prague's Zelezna
street with its ear-splitting blend of traditional Balkan gypsy music and
their own, more modern compositions. Orkestar Strumica formed the vanguard
of the traditional Khamoro parade through the Old Town, something that's
become very much the highlight of the festival.
Now in its ninth year, Khamoro is certainly one of the most colourful
events in the Czech capital, and judging by the crowds of people - both
locals and tourists - thronging the route of the parade, this year's
festival was another big success. Michal Miko is one of the organisers:
"Festival Khamoro is one of the biggest festivals of Roma culture in
Europe, and I can say one of the biggest such festivals in the world.
Because we have bands from Portugal, Ukraine, Macedonia, India, Russia and
other countries, and I think all of them are good musicians and good bands.
So I want to invite all the listeners to visit our concerts at the Roxy on
Friday and the gala concert on Saturday at the Congress Centre."
When the bands arrived in the Old Town Square they took turns entertaining
groups of passers-by, carefully marshalled by Khamoro organisers so they
didn't drown each other out and occasionally merging in an extraordinary
meeting of eastern and western musical styles. Orkestar Strumica
definitely won the prize for loudest ensemble, but the award for longest
journey to get to Khamoro must have gone to the Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan
"I'm Rahis Bharti, director artistic of Dhoad Gypsies of Rajastan,
the band who is representing India, Rajasthan."
Not many people know that the Romani populations in Europe, they
originally came from India, didn't they?
"Yes, actually they came from Rajasthan. From India, they started
travelling as a herd, from my forefathers. They started travelling from
India, from Rajasthan til Spain. And Dhoad Gypsies of Rajasthan is a band
with musicians, singers, dancers, fakirs, everyone. They're touring most
of the time, ten months in the year they're on the road, from Asia to
Today there aren't many similarities in the music. If we listen to music
from Macedonia and your music, it's quite different isn't it? Over the
centuries it's become very different.
"But the melodies are still similar we can say. The roots are the
same. We understand the names and we understand the melodies. The music is
a universal language, we understand this thing. We have a lot of things
Can you tell me a bit about the instruments that you use?
"Actually in Dhoad Gypsies of Rajastan we are using tabla, dholak,
harmonium, castanets, singer, there is a fakir who is eating the fire,
dancing of the knives, musicians, singers. Altogether we are trying to
bring different colours of Rajasthan."
There is of course a serious side to Khamoro. Many of Europe's millions of
Romanies live on the very margins of society, subject to discrimination in
both schools and the workplace, and generally living shorter and less
fulfilling lives than their non-Roma counterparts. To address some of the
issues facing Europe's Roma communities today, Khamoro hosted a number of
workshops and seminars. Jelena Silajdzic is from the NGO behind the
festival, Slovo 21:
"Sure, we try to show here in Prague not only music, but talk about
very important points and focus on Roma problems. So during the Khamoro
festival we have two international workshops and seminars. One of them is
the Decade of Roma Women, and the second is about Roma People and the
Media, because it's very, very important for the Roma question."
The festival's been going for nine years. Do you have the feeling it's
having any effect, that you're contributing to an improvement in relations
between the Roma community and majority society?
"I'm sure, really. We are really happy when we can see Roma people
and ordinary people together at the gala concert, for example. The first
two or three years, it was Roma people were going to these concerts, but
now more and more Czech people and other 'white' people are attending
But what draws the crowds to Khamoro of course is the music, the universal
language that brings together not only disparate Roma groups from as far
afield as Spain, Portugal, Ukraine and of course India, but also unites -
albeit for just a moment - Roma and gadzo, or white people. The organisers
of Khamoro don't pretend they've succeeded in bridging the huge gap between
the Roma and majority society. But for a few days in Prague you do get a
glimpse of how it could be otherwise.