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Romany music from the Czech Republic
07-04-2019 - Daniela Lazarova
On the eve of International Roma Day, Radio Prague is featuring music by some of the country’s best Romany singers.

If you want to experience the diversity of Romany music –not just from the Czech regions – but from around the world, you want to attend the annual festival of Romany culture Khamoro (which means “sun” in the Romany language). The week-long festival has a twenty-year-old tradition and has grown in strength, offering Romany bands and singers from around the world, exhibitions, film screenings, dance work-shops and seminars on Roma history and culture. The highlight of the Prague festival is a colorful procession of costumed singers and dancers winding their way through the city center. Over the years Khamoro has attracted over 160 Romany bands from 40 countries the world over and is now considered the best-known Roma festival in Europe and beyond.

Iva Bittová is an avant-garde Romany singer, violinist and composer whose fame transcended Czech borders. Bittová's music is a blend of rock and East European music which she describes as "my own personal folk music". Her violin playing mixes different techniques, including playing the strings with various objects and plucking them like a banjo. Her vocal utterances range from traditional singing to chirping, cackling and deep throat noises. She puts her whole body into her performances, drawing on her theatrical skills. She has performed across Europe, in the US and Japan, riveting audiences with her unique style.

Ida Kelarová (Iva Bittová’s sister) is a singer, musician and choirmaster who performs some of the best Romany music to come out of the Czech Republic. She annually holds a summer school for talented Romany children from socially vulnerable families living in excluded localities in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Her Romany children's choir Čhavorenge tours abroad and cooperates with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

One of the best known Romany singers from the younger generation is Radek Banga known as Gipsy who merges traditional Romany music with hip hop. In 2006 his band won an Angel award for Best Newcomer. In 2007 they performed at the Glastonbury festival, the first Czech band to get invited there.

A number of Romany singers got their break thanks to song contests. Vlasta Horváth won the Czech Superstar contest in 2005 and has since recorded four CDs. Monika Bagárová, one of the finalists in the Czecho-Slovak Super Star contest released her debut album in 2011. She’s into jazz, soul and r’n’b. Jan Bendig first got noticed when he won Academy Idol in Britain where he spend a few years with his family. In 2009 he was one of the finalists in Czecho-Slovak Superstar. He cooperated closely with Romany singer Vera Bilá who died a few weeks ago.

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