There’s nothing more soulful than gypsy music. Be it a simple duet of voice and fiddle or the hurricane blast of a Balkan brass brand, the music of the world’s ultimate free spirits is intoxicating.
Moving westward out of Northern India more than millennium ago, the gypsies arrived in Eastern Europe in the 14th century. Over the next several hundred years, the Roma – as they refer to themselves – spread across Europe, West Asia and even to the Americas and were consistently exploited and used as labour but tolerated for the contributions to the arts, particularly as craftsmen, fortune tellers and musicians.
Despite a colourful history of nomadism, ingenuity and resilience, the Roma experience is one of suspicion, persecution and marginalisation. Tens of thousands of Roma are believed to have perished in Nazi death camps during the 1940s, and even today, most host countries continue to maintain a culture of discrimination against them.
Over the years, scholars have advanced a number of theories on their origins, linking them to cave-dwelling primitives and wandering Jews. But by the 18th century, similarities between the Romani and several South Asian languages suggested an Indian origin. And as the science of linguistics, genetics and comparative cultural studies developed, this theory has strengthened and today it is universally accepted.
In February, during the International Roma Conference and Cultural Festival in Delhi, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj referred to the gypsies as the “children of India”. Encouraged, the festival concluded with a call for the government of India to recognise the roughly 20-million-strong Roma community as part of the Indian diaspora.
While we wait for the government to consider that recommendation, let’s tune in to some truly spectacular music from this global community. [My latest article from SCROLL.IN here]