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Encore: Ida Kelarova: a powerful voice for Roma culture
24-10-2004  David Vaughan

Few musicians in the Czech Republic have anything like the charisma of Ida Kelarova. Half Czech, half Romany, she has thrown herself into the world of Romany music, and with her strong, deeply resonant voice and immense energy, she captivates audiences at concerts she gives both in the Czech Republic and abroad. As children, Ida, and her sister Iva, who is also a well-known musician, were surrounded by music, brought up from their earliest childhood to sing and play, but nobody in the family ever talked about their Romany roots or the ancient Romany language still spoken by many Roma. This has been part of Ida's search as an adult, and she has become a powerful advocate of the right of Romany culture to be recognized in the cultural life of this country. Recently I spoke to Ida Kelarova after one of her concerts, which she gave with students from her "International School for Human Voice". This is a school she set up offering courses to help people, as she puts it, to "find their inner voice". In today's Encore, Ida talks about some of the things that are important to her.

Ida Kelarova, photo: "I feel I am half a Gypsy because my father was Gypsy, my mother Moravian. I grew up in my father's village where everything was the most magic childhood that I ever could have had, and I'm so very happy to have lived my childhood in this Gypsy family, because I felt that these people are coming really from the heart. And for me, that's what Roma people still are, and that's why their music, their writings, basically their creation, is really coming right to the heart. People get attracted to it because I feel that the world and the whole system works to really close our hearts and to be closed off and not feel this togetherness.

Ida Kelarova, photo: Svandovo divadlo "I remember as a little girl, the family always sat outside at a big table in the garden and played lots of music. And I remember watching my father. His tears were running down his face expressing his love for his brother, and I was a little girl secretly watching, because they would send me to bed. I could stay there for hours, seeing by father being true and I think this is really the power of Gypsy people - that they can still keep very close to their feelings.

"Unfortunately the young people now stop, because they want to follow the system, and want to be equal with their friends. They stopped speaking the language, for example, and I think this is a great pity. So the parents, they speak to them in Roma, and they answer in Czech. This is a pity, because the language is disappearing, the culture is disappearing. All the young people want to sing a very funky, American style of music. They don't want to be identified as being Roma. So as soon as somebody has the opportunity to be not so dark, not to be so recognized, they really deny their roots, and I think this is really sad."

Defying expectations

Ida Kelarova, photo: "Contemporary Gypsy music can surprise people, because it has nothing to do with the old traditional music. I know all the traditional songs and I can play and sing them at a party, but at a concert I want to sing something different, because today we have moved on and we are somewhere else. But as long as we keep the roots, I think it will be great to keep the identity, and I hope - and I always check - okay, we created this style or this style, we go into jazz or whatever, but the roots have to be there, and I'm really grateful that there are so many creative Gypsy people in this country. They create their own music, their own songs and their own texts, and we have many beautiful artists.

"I even organize a big festival every year at Svojanov Castle, where I bring the most incredible bands that exist in this country to help them to become more visible, so that the "Gadzo" [non-Romany] people know that they exist; because unfortunately the door is not really open yet for the Gypsy people to come into the mainstream or into the radios or the media. So it's quite closed to the Gadzo, non-Roma people. I think this is a pity because there are so many talents, and it's so beautiful to see young bands creating their own songs, composing, transforming, singing six voices in harmony and so on. I think it's really great, but what I'm feeling sad about is that on the way - because it's so hard in this country to really pull through - they give up or they get married or they find a job because they can't make a living. So my job in this country - and I feel responsible for it - is to support especially these young artists, and that's what I'm doing. That's my job.

Roma or not Roma?

Ida Kelarova with Apsora choir, photo: "My father denied his roots and all his family denied his roots, because of racism. When he got married to my mother he denied his roots. All his life he pretended not to be a Gypsy. So that's why I said I was lucky, because in this Gypsy village where he was home, suddenly he was himself and he was a Gypsy man. So I was really lucky to see him like that.

"When I first heard my Grandma speaking Roma, it was when she was very ill. She lost her memory. She didn't even know her name or whatever - she completely lost her memory. But she started to speak Roma. So it was for me very, very strong. She was starting to swear in the garden, and I remember my Auntie saying, 'Quiet, quiet, quiet, because Ida is here. Don't speak Romany!' So these were the moments when I realized, 'Aha, it's really not a joke, it's really true!' Because there were always these two sides: from my family, 'Oh, we are not Gypsies,' but there was this aunt who said, "Oh, they are Gypsies!' There were moments when I realized we really are Gypsy. There was a moment when I was playing a Gypsy song on the piano and I played to my father and said, 'Listen, I've learned this song,' and he said, 'Oh, you're playing these bass notes wrong.' And he told me how to play. I realized, 'Ah, he knows how to play!'

"The language for me is very mysterious, because I am in between. I feel like I should really learn it well, but I think, 'Oh, but it's really nice not to know.' This is my position. I'm not really Gypsy, I'm not really Gadzo. I don't really speak Roma, so it's always like that with me. But I must say, I love to sing in the Roma language. It's a beautiful language. I think it's beautiful! I feel it's a language that is very, very emotional, very expressive - the words are beautiful. It's an incredible language.

Proud to be Roma

Ida Kelarova, photo: "I always asked myself, 'Oh, why was my father ashamed? Why didn't he stand up and say: I am proud to be Roma'? I always say that, because I think that people should be proud of who they are and not feel ashamed of their own identity. Even if I am French, Hungarian or Russian, I should be proud that I am Roma, or whatever. So for me it's very important, and I encourage all Roma people. But in one way I also understand them, because they have it easier if they say they are not Roma. If it opens, and the situation here changes, I think the Roma people will be quite proud to say, 'I am Roma!'"

If you would like to find out more about Ida Kelarova, she has a fascinating website in both English and Czech, at

Magic Carpet - world music in the heart of Europe

Petr Doruzka Magic Carpet is Radio Prague's monthly music magazine that looks at music from Czech, Moravian and Silesian towns and villages. The programme covers a wide selection of genres, from traditional folk to the exotic and experimental.

It is presented by Petr Doruzka, one of the Czech Republic's foremost music journalists.


The mean fiddlers from Moravia 7.11.2004: The mean fiddlers from Moravia
The violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin, who died in 1999, once said: "When we think about the violin, we think about the tradition of Stradivarius. But we forget the violin is derived from a folk music instrument, the fiddle." Jiri Plocek, Czech researcher and musician, comments: "There is a link between fiddlers from Moravia, my home region, and fiddlers from Scotland or Scandinavia. Their music is vibrant and sparkles with energy." Plocek's musical partner Jitka Suranska, explains: "This is a very different style than playing with a symphony orchestra, which is my second job. But playing with Jiri opens a new door for me: playing from the heart."


Terne Chave 5.12.2004: Terne Chave, Gypsy roots with a future
Since the fall of the Iron Curtain 15 years ago, one of the most interesting exports from East European countries has been Gypsy music: wedding brass orchestras from Serbia, cymbalom and fiddle bands from Romania and Hungary. In the Czech Republic, Gypsy music is on the rise too, but often it sounds very different from the style of our East European neighbours. Terne Chave has earned a reputation as a great live band. Their new album, Kai Dzas (Where are we going), gives us a flavour of where Gypsy music may be going.

Link: Terne Chave live

For copyright reasons we are unable to archive the programmes in audio, but here at least are a few words about some of the recordings featured recently in the programme.


Traband 10.10.2004: Anybody who travelled east before the fall of the Iron Curtain remembers the Trabant. A funny little car with a motorcycle engine manufactured in Eastern Germany. The word Trabant was used in many jokes. In a slightly transformed form, it serves as a name for a band. Yes, Traband, with a D, is a band with a strong sense of humour, and contrary to the Trabant car, they have a lot of energy to spare - and also some remarkable musical ideas. Recently Traband finished a new album, which is ready for release. On their past albums Traband have always used a unifying theme behind their songs, so I asked the leader, singer and composer Jarda Svoboda, what is the concept of their new CD? "It's called Hyje, which means 'Go horses!'. The songs are full of knights, horsemen of Apocalypse, riders and golden chariots." Despite the fact that Traband has existed for 10 years, they are not a band who can fill a stadium, and I am also sure this is not their ambition. Yet they are quite successful abroad - they often play in France and recently they returned from the first tour of Japan. Even though Traband put a great deal of energy into their lyrics, you do not have to speak Czech to enjoy their music.


Docuku 12.09.2004: The Eastern part of the Czech Republic, close to the Slovak border, happens to be very fertile source of traditional music. Up in the north, the wooded highlands once were sheltering thieves and outlaws. To make this region safer, four centuries ago the land was offered to farmers and shepherds who also functioned as a border patrol. Most of the settlers came from the East, even from Romania. This newly populated region was given the name Wallachia, after the historical name for the Romanian kingdom. Today, their descendants speak Czech, but the region is known for its distinguished wooden architecture, sheep herding and also music. The Wallachian ensemble Docuku could be seen as a regional all star band. The set-up features a violin player, who's also leader of one of the best local cymbalom bands, Solan. The drummer used to play with a well-known Czech rock band Mnaga & Zdorp for 10 years. And one of the key members of Docuku is a gifted young woman, who sings and plays mandolin: Lucie Redlova, the daughter of veteran foksinger Vlasta Redl. Their first album was released this summer, featuring contemporary arrangements of folk songs.


Sina 15.08.2004: In the era of major companies and global pop it takes a lot of courage to be independent. The fretless bass guitar player Sina and her partner, guitarist Daniel Salontay, formed Slnko Records in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. In the beginning, they burned the CDs on their home computer, packaged them and sent by mail - but with growing success of their company this became harder more difficult. With their band, Dlhe Diely, they were one of the brightest surprises of last years Colours of Ostrava festival. Magic Carpet features both Dlhe Diely and Sina's solo albums.


Jablkon 18.07.2004: The history of the Prague band Jablkon reaches deep into the past. In 1977 they started as an acoustic trio with two guitars and percussion and their music was in stark contrast to every existing fashion.Jablkon blended instruments with voices in very unorthodox way. The musicians invented a wide spectrum of howls, wails, screams, grunts and other deeply human sounds, and used just the right amount of this vocal seasoning to build a pattern, a momntum of a non-verbal message, or just a joke. Their music was like a well crafted building with a wild back yard; in the large scale architecture you can feel delicate melodies and musical forms of a sophisticated European origin.As years went by, the classical elements of their music became more apparent in 90's, when the band played with the classical violinist Jaroslav Sveceny, and made a rare appearance with a symphonic orchestra. Last year, the band celebrated the first 25 years of it's existence. On a memorable concert in the Prague Archa theatre, Jablkon performed with the Moravian Symphony orchestra and other guest players. Magic Carpet features the live CD from this concert.


Magic Carpet Archive

See also:
Gypsy music - a rediscovered heritage?
Reinventing folk music with the Moberg Ensemble
No respect for borders from Quakvarteto

The History of Music

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