Roma music is highly varied among the diverse communities
of the Roma (aka Gypsies). By far the most popular form of Roma music among
outsiders is flamenco, which developed in the Spanish Roma community. In all the
places Roma live, in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and northwest India,
they have become known as musicians. Typically nomadic, Roma have long acted as
wandering entertainers and tradesmen. The wide distances travelled have
introduced a multitude of influences, using Indian roots and adding Arab,
Persian, Slavic, German, French, Spanish and Celticflourishes
Roma music characteristically has high pitch notes and melodies that outsing the harmonies. Vocals tend to be soulful and declamatory, and the music often produces an exaggerated slide between notes. Instrumentation varies widely, but shawm and drum duos are common across the Roma's range.
Though no conclusive proof has been found, most historians believe that Roma are descended from an Indian people and migrated westward in several waves, probably all before 1000AD. Roma still live in India, however, in Rajasthan and other areas, and work in multiple castes. These include the puppeteer Bhat, snake charmer Sapera and juggler Kamad castes, as well as Bhopa, Langa and Manganiyar musicians. Rajasthani Roma instruments include the kamayacha, a sort of fiddle, and khartal, a kind of castanets.
Roma moved west from India, spreading throughout what is now Iran, Iraq, Armenia and other Middle Eastern countries. By 1050, Roma are believed to have been playing music in Constantinople. By the end of the 15th century, Roma lived in Bulgaria, Egypt, Romania, Hungary, Sudan, Greece and Serbia. From there, they have spread to the remainder of Europe, and now exist in small numbers abroad.
Roma communities are common in Arab and Middle Eastern countries, but are often found in southern parts of India as well. There is a strong tradition of Roma music in Central and Eastern Europe, notably in countries such as Hungary, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. The quintessentially Spanish flamenco is the music (and dance, or indeed the culture) of the Roma of Andalusia.
Romanian Roma musicians are called lautari, and typically form stringle bands called taraf. Tarafs include fiddles, cimbaloms, accordions and a double bass, and are common throughout the country. The most popular is Taraf de Haidouks, who have gained an international following.
Lăutari are traditional Romanian Gypsy musicians. They play
an important part in rural Romanian culture, playing music at peasant social
occasions, especially the wedding celebrations that typically last from Saturday
afternoon to mid-day Monday.
Lăutari generally live in the countryside and are, to some degree, peasants. As performers, they are usually loosely organized into a group known as a taraf, which often consists largely of the males of an extended family. (There are female lăutari, mostly vocalists, but they are far outnumbered by the men.) Each taraf is led by a primaş, a primary soloist.
The music of the lăutari establishes the structure of the elaborate Romanian peasant weddings, as well as providing entertainment (not only music, but magic tricks
, stories, bear training, etc.) during the less eventful parts of the ritual. The lăutari also function as guides through the wedding rituals and moderate any conflicts that may arise during what can be a long, alcohol-fueled party. Over a period of nearly 48 hours, this can be very physically strenuous.
Following custom almost certainly dating back at least to the Middle Ages, most lăutari rapidly spend the fees from these wedding ceremonies on extended banquets for their friends and families over the days immediately following the wedding.
Since the early nineteenth century, and especially in the days before sound recording, lăutari kept alive various genres of Romanian music, not all of them of Gypsy origin, that might otherwise have been lost. Most of their songs have lyrics in Romanian, but some have all or part of their lyrics in Romany a language specific to the Gypsies.
Instruments often played by lăutari were\are violin, stroh violin, contra violin, upright bass, cobza (a lute\mandolin-like instrument), taragot or later the clarinet, brass Instruments and a little later in history, the accordion
Macedonia and Albania
Macedonian and Albanian Roma play Greek koumpaneia most frequently, with the Macedonian style distinctively known as calgia. Macedonian Roma music has been popularized by Goran Bregovic's "Ederlezi" from the soundtrack to Emir Kusturica's The Time of the Gypsies, which was shot in a Macedonian Roma community.
Hungary has a long and famous history of Roma musicians,
with Janos Bihari being the most well-known of the traditional orchestra leaders.
The Lakatos family now dominates the music.
Rural Hungarian Roma play a sparsely accompanied form of song called loki djili and dance songs called khelimaski djili.
Roma have played a major part of Russian musical development since the reign of Catherine the Great. Their music became a romantic, urban form in the 19th century and thrived until the 1917 revolution. The Bolsheviks persecuted Roma as former entertainers of the bourgeoisie, and many chose to leave to country. Several legendary performers emerged from this period, especially Jean Goulesco and Pyotr Leschenko.
Roma in Greece are known for the zurna and davul duos (analogous to the shawm and drum) partnership common in Roma music) and Turkish-influenced koumpaneia music. Koumpaneia has long been popular among Greek Roma and Jews (the latter being some of the most popular performers before World War 2), especially in the city of Ioannina, and has recently been popularized by artists like Kostas Pavlidis and Yianni Saleas.
Roma perform in nightclubs and restaurants across Turkey, and are known for fasil and belly dance music. Fasil is a sort of light classical music, dominated by the clarinet, violin, kanun (a zither), darbuka (drums) and, more rarely, ud (a lute) and cümbüş (a banjo). Turkish Roma performers include the Erköse brothers and Mustafa Kandirali.
Spanish Roma music is widely known across the world, having been popularized as flamenco. Flamenco was born in Andalucia and was only linked with Roma sometime after the genre evolved.
French Roma are known for rumba gitana, a form of Catalonian-derived genre which was popularized by The Gipsy Kings. Django Reinhardt, a French Rom, was one of the most influential of jazz players.