Documentary Chronicles Gypsy Music

A new documentary, Gypsy Caravan, chronicles the trans-Atlantic music tour of five major gypsy ensembles. Director Jasmine Dellal discusses the film.

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There's another intriguing movie in theaters now on a much smaller scale. It's a music documentary called "Gypsy Caravan," and it chronicles a trans-Atlantic tour by several groups of gypsy musicians.

Producer Derek Rath talked with the film's director, Jasmine Dellal, about this musical journey.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. TARAF DE HAIDOUKS (Musician): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

DEREK RATH: This is the music of Taraf de Haidouks from Romania, one of the acts in "Gypsy Caravan." It's a documentary about a music tour by some of the greatest gypsy ensembles. With on and offstage footage and, most movingly, scenes shot beyond the tour in India, Romania and Spain, a picture unfolds of triumph over prejudice through sheer joie de vive.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: Bigotry sometimes comes in subtle guises. "Gypsy Caravan" director Jasmine Dellal recalls an example from her own childhood.

Ms. JASMINE DELLAL (Director, "Gypsy Caravan"): At the beginning of my previous film, "American Gypsy," I told the story of this clapping game I used to play when I was a kid in England, which goes something like: My mother said I never should play with the gypsies in the woods. And if I play with the gypsies, then they'll come and steal me away and it would be a dreadful thing.

RATH: Jasmine Dellal set out to shatter this prejudice. Take the very name gypsy.

Ms. DELLAL: Most people don't even realize that the word gypsy comes from Egyptians and this mistaken belief that they were from Egypt. But it's not a term that most Romani people prefer.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

RATH: In fact, the gypsy, or Roma, migration reputedly started in India and centuries later reached the western edge of Europe. Like birds spreading fruit seeds, they digested and carried cultures and traditions along with them. And everything from Jewish (unintelligible) to Western classical music has reaped the harvest.

Ms. DELLAL: You can really hear the link between all these different musics. And you could feel it, too, during the tour on the bus in the film. You know, you can feel all these different people coming together who didn't really know each other at the beginning, and would start strumming on one instrument and then end up swapping instruments or playing different tunes together, and sometimes discovering the new things that really a lot of Western musicians wouldn't necessarily fall into so easily.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: The Romanis are as foreign to each other as they are collectively to the rest of the world. The tour organizers took great pains to reflect this in booking the artists.

(Soundbite of music)

MAHARAJA: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

RATH: This is Maharaja from Rajasthan, where the Roma migration began. Jasmine.

Ms. DELLAL: So they picked this cross-section of Roma musicians to give people a broad idea of what it can be. And sometimes at concerts I'd meet some audience members who would say, oh, that group is the real Roma musicians. And some of them will be talking about Taraf and others about Fanfare or Esma. They all had different ideas of what was real Romani music, which I thought was very interesting.

RATH: We also hear from Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: Antonio El Pipa from Spain

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: And the queen of the gypsies, Esma Redzepova from Macedonia.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: It was to be a learning experience for all.

Ms. DELLAL: There were language and culture differences. And I think they definitely felt the differences more than the similarities. And by the end, partly because of living together for six weeks and partly because of performing together and exchanging musical ideas, there was a real camaraderie.

RATH: Dellal and their cameraman, the legendary Albert Maysles, followed the artists back to their homes and villages. They visited Romania.

Ms. DELLAL: When we went there, it was about a week in the village of Clejani, where Taraf de Haidouks live. And then another week up in the north, near the Moldavian border, with Fanfare Ciocarlia, which is very different, very verdant and hilly. Both of these places were quite beautiful, and some really touching things happened.

RATH: Births, weddings, and the unexpected death and funeral of Nicolai Neaucescu from Taraf de Haidouks.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DELLAL: The music at the funeral, at Nicolai Neaucescu's funeral, I think that made me cry about the first 40 times I heard it.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

Ms. DELLAL: He was really wonderful to spend time around during the tour, too. I remember him one time, though, calling me over. And in whatever broken version of different languages we communicated in, he told me not to leave my camera case by him, which I had, because he said, you know, if I walk away and anything happens to it, I'll get accused of taking it because I'm a gypsy. That was quite sad but he said it in such a kind of caring, grandfatherly way.

RATH: Like many Roma, Nicolai earned respect with the one thing he had to give, his music.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. DELLAL: The Roma would tell you that there are two kinds of music. There are dance songs and table songs. And the dance songs, well, it's obvious what you do to those. And table songs are for sitting at the table and crying.

RATH: It's been said that it is often the ones who have received the least give the most in return. "Gypsy Caravan" says the music of the Roma getting the recognition and dignity it deserves. After all, it is a gift from the heart.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: For NPR News, I'm Derek Rath.

BROOKS: The movie "Gypsy Caravan" is in limited release. It opens in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., today.

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