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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Sanda Weigl's life is larger than the gypsy lore she sings. Miss Weigl was born in Romania. She began her musical career in a state-sponsored East German rock band called Team 4. She was a teenager in 1968, and was jailed for subversive actions against the communist regime, then forced to work in a labor camp. Then she was kicked out of East Germany. That's just one chapter.

Today, she's returning to her Roman musical roots, singing in cabarets around the U.S. as part of a Romanian cultural outreach program. This is the opening track from her new CD of traditional Romanian songs, "Gypsy Killer."

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: Sanda Weigl, who is known in New York as the Downtown Gypsy Queen, joins us now from our studios there in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. SANDA WEIGL (Romanian Singer): Thank you for having me here.

SIMON: What a life story you have.

Ms. WEIGL: Well, yeah. I didn't intend to.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, tell us about - your parents escaped political persecution, and then they moved to East Germany, which wouldn't seem to be a place where you would go to escape.

Ms. WEIGL: So, first of all, it was not only how I was born, I think, it was - as everything in life, inherited. My father's journey was very similar because he was born in Germany and he was Jewish and he had to flee Germany in '33. Ended up in Romania, that's too long to tell why. He was put in jail in Romania and on and on and on. And then when we came to East Berlin, exactly five days later they built a wall, so he was trapped again. So that's how it was.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: How did you find music?

Ms. WEIGL: Well, I always was singing. But strange enough, although I was Jewish and I was not - I didn't have any connection with gypsies, only that they were always sitting in front of our house, camping there all the time, and that's why I learned these beautiful songs. Even as a child, I don't know.

SIMON: Let's hear another song, which I'm told is often called the most popular song in Romania.

Ms. WEIGL: "Ciuleandra."

(Soundbite of song "Ciuleandra")

Ms. WEIGL: That's actually a dance song, and it's a shouting song. So come on, dance, move, move, move around, dance. That's what it says.

(Soundbite of song "Ciuleandra")

SIMON: Continue on a little bit with more narrative from your life. So your family is there in East Germany and things did not go well.

Ms. WEIGL: No. They built the wall, which meant that my father couldn't even go to Western Germany to keep up with his profession, and he was a neurologist. Then, in '68, when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia and the East Germans, they were part of it, we were a group of school students protesting this, so we were sentenced to jail. And then eventually, they changed the sentence to forced labor in a factory, so I was there for three years.

But the thing was that I was not allowed to sing anymore. And before that, I had started a career as a rock singer with this rock band called Team 4. So this was all finished, so I wasn't allowed to perform in public anymore.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: How did you meet your husband, the writer and actor, Klaus Pohl?

Ms. WEIGL: Yeah. Right. I met him when I moved to - when I was expelled to Western Germany and I started working as a literary agent in the theater, and I got his first play on my table. And I thought, oh, my God. This is a great play. So we started working on this play and we are still today working on his plays.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WEIGL: You know, I can tell you another story.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. WEIGL: My husband was born in a little medieval town in Western Germany, in Bavaria, went to school there, and he was doing - always doing bad things. And one day, the teacher wanted to say to him something really bad, really terrible.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. WEIGL: And said to him, you! You! One day, you're going to marry a Romanian. Yeah. And he never understood this. So when we met and I told him I'm Romanian, he was like, oh no! It can't be that the curse became true.

SIMON: Speaking of curses, another song, "Cintec din Oas."

(Soundbite of song "'Cintec din Oas")

Ms. WEIGL: That's the cry of a man who never gets a woman. And the only one he got once in his life he married, she betrayed him right away and threw him out of her house. So he's crying and screaming, I would do anything, everything, to get a woman.

(Soundbite of song "Cintec din Oas")

SIMON: Boy! It's quite a song.

Ms. WEIGL: And this kind of irony I like, and the language so intent.

SIMON: It occurs to me that there you are from a very different area of the world and you find a place to feel at home, and it's New York.

Ms. WEIGL: Yeah. That's really true. It makes me cry. It's really the only place on earth I really feel home. I went quite a bit through the world and always came back here. And in Germany, I was always a stranger - always. Only when I came to New York, all of a sudden I was a human being, not a stranger, not this or that. I was just me. And I was respected and accepted as Sanda. It's beautiful.

SIMON: Sanda, thanks so much.

Ms. WEIGL: Thank you.

SIMON: Sanda Weigl, the Downtown Gypsy Queen of New York. Her CD is "Gypsy Killer," and her Romanian diplomatic tour continues through November. If you'd like to hear more of her singing, come to our Web site, npr.org.

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