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Highlights of World Roma Festival Khamoro
30-05-2005  Jarka Halkova

Every year we report from Khamoro the World Roma Festival, when top international Gypsy musicians gather in Prague. Their performances are always received with great enthusiasm. This year's 7th festival was no exception, and has been hailed as a great success.

Vera Gondolanova One of many highlights at the Khamoro festival was Vera Gondolanova a well known Gypsy singer of Czech origin, who has settled down in Australia. Vera came to support the festival and was given the honour of leading a parade of all the musicians in the festival, through Prague's downtown. Did she enjoy the ride in a horse-drawn carriage?

"It's the first time I've seen something like that in the Czech Republic. I have seen it in San Mare in Spain and other countries. But it was beautiful because Prague is a very baroque city. Such a beauty, the colours of the costumes from the different nations that have arrived in Prague with the beautiful buildings of our country. It was so beautiful."

Vera Gondolanova calls herself more than anything else a jazz singer. She says it is closer to her heart than Gypsy music which she took up once again only recently.

"I like music. For me music is everything. It doesn't matter whether it is jazz or pop or Gypsy music. I like everything but my heart is with jazz. Why am I singing Gypsy songs right now? It is because I have been touring France and at one of the jazz festivals was a guy who is actually my manager and he said to me: 'Vera why don't you do Gypsy songs? Ethno is in right now and I am sure you are going to do it well as well.' "

The manager was right. Traditional Slovak, Hungarian and Czech Gypsy songs moved the hearts of the audience at Vera's concert in the Roxy Club where I caught up with her before a rehearsal. She told me not only about her music but also about Roma and their lifestyle.

"The Gypsies in this country are a bit little different to Gypsies elsewhere. The Gypsy nature is to be very friendly. But as we live in this terrible time everything is going somehow wrong. I would like to tell all Gypsies in the Czech Republic that everything that they want to do in their lives it depends on themselves. I am a Gypsy as well. I like freedom and everything as far as Gypsy life is concerned. But we live in the year 2000; we live in the new era."

"We were like at home. People were cheering for us 'Yeah, yeah, it is very nice, good. Bravo.' It was a good feeling."

says Marko Putkonen the lead singer of Finnish Gypsy band Hortto Kaalo what in Finnish Romany dialect means 'Real Gypsy'. They were the first to play Gypsy music in Finland some twelve years ago.

"Our first record 'Why is the door not opening for us?' became very popular in Finland. It was played on radio all the time. It made us famous. Even now it is sometimes used for TV advertisements when they are opening a new gas station or something. They say 'Why the doors are not opening for us?' Then it opens and then we are singing."

The attitude of Finnish people towards Gypsies has changed rapidly and Marko is sure that it was their music that drew attention to discrimination in Finland.

Hortto Kaalo "When I was a young guy and I wanted to buy a lighter, they would not sell it to me, they did not sell to Gypsies. Today that is a crime."

Marko has devoted all his life to music. He has played rock, pop music, gypsy folk music, and sung in Finnish opera as a soloist for twenty years.

"All singing is good. I like singing Mozart, I love singing classical music. But you see Gypsy music I can sing straight from the heart. It is a little miracle. I just close my eyes and I am thinking 'I am singing to you. I don't know who you are but I am singing to you.' "

I asked Marko whether he would mind singing his favourite song. He agreed at once and chose a song about the beauty of the Hungarian flatlands which, as he explained, used to be home to Roma.

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