We take a look at the influence of Romani music on genres all around the world, from Spain to India.
The Romani people have had a difficult history. As with most traveller peoples, many are wary of the Romani, and have regarded them with suspicion and hatred through the ages. In World War II, this hatred boiled over as it had done with the Jewish population, and led to one of the darkest incidents in European history. Romani people were defined as “enemies of the race-based state” and were massacred by Nazi Germany, Independent State of Croatia, Horthy’s Hungary and their allies. This led to the deaths of an estimated 1.5 million men, women and children, and is scarred in the ethnic consciousness of the Romani people as “porajmos”. During communist rule in Eastern Europe, Romani people continued to be targeted by the state, and were even sterilised in Czechoslovakia.
Romani people travelled from the north of India, and then all over Europe and the Americas over the next millennium. They were ceaselessly persecuted by many, yet they found fairer treatment in Poland and Russia. Despite the attacks on their civilisation, and attempted annihilation of their people, their culture has had a profound impact on music all around the world.
One of the most famous examples of Romani influence is flamenco. The word comes from Arabic and means “fleeing peasant” (read more on flamenco music here). The same style of music can even be heard in Indian music, and has been infused into European genres such as “gypsy jazz”, and is generally known as “gypsy style”.
Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Ravi Shankar, wrote “Traveller”, an album from a project which she calls “Raga Flamenco Journey”. The aim of the project was to retrace the bond between Indian and Spanish music, which of course was due to the Romani people. Below is Anoushka performing with flamenco musicians in Girona, Spain. It is a beautiful performance that shows that we have a great deal in common, wherever we are in the world.
The history of the Romani people is a tragic one. They have endured genocide, and continue to be persecuted throughout the world (85% of Bulgaria’s Romani population is unemployed). However, it is through their music, that their woeful tale is told, and their far-reaching effect is heard. The fact that their culture has survived and is thriving in today's music scene is an inspiration to other cultures at risk.