Vera Bílá is a Czech Roma, although her family originates from the Gypsy shantytowns of Slovakia. She smokes heavily, eats with gusto, and loves to eat donuts. Her hard life is evident in her voice but she’s succeeded in becoming the Czech Republic’s best-known and most successful Gypsy performer.
For many years, Vera Bílá performed with Kale, an all male quartet. The band used to be called Vera Bílá & Kale (Vera White and The Blacks, as it translates). She comes from a small town in Bohemia (Czech Republic), Rokycany, about 70 kilometers west of Prague, in the heart of Eastern Europe. As with most Roma (Gypsy) groups, all of the band members belonged to the same family.
Vera Bílá has been called the Ella Fitzgerald of Gypsy music. She has been singing since as far back as her memory reaches. From a tender young age until she was 25, Nera sang with her father who was a violinist and leader of a cymbalom band. In the mid-1980s the top Czech folk band, Nerez, saw Vera performing with Kale at a folk festival and were so impressed that they began inviting them to guest at their sold out concerts.
In 2000 she appeared at London’s Barbican Centre on her first ever UK visit and sold out the 2000 capacity hall, she then rocked the main stage at WOMAD the following July. January 2001 saw the BBC-TV screen an hour-long documentary charting her fascinating journey from local folk singer to the stages of some of the world’s most famous concert halls.
In the beginning of September 2005, Vera Bílá split up with her band Kale and manager and producer Jiri Smetana. She moved from the Czech Republic to Presov, in Slovakia, where her family originally came from. Shortly after her arrival, she started to work with a Roma band called Holubovci.
Terne Chave (Young guys, in the Roma language) is an award-winning Gypsy music band led by Gejza Bendig that is specialized in Eastern European Roma music. The band members hail from Hradec Kralove and grew together. They perform old Gypsy songs, learned from their grandparents, who arrived to the Czech Republic from East Slovakian gypsy settlements. The band also performs its own material, sung in Roma.
Musically, Terne Chave combines Gypsy traditions with Latin music, jazz, rock, flamenco, blues, Middle Eastern and Jewish influences.
Kaj Dzas (Indies Records, 2004)
Anja (Indies Records, 2005) More, Love! (Indies Scope Records, 2008) Avjam Pale (Indies Records, 2011)
Bo Me Som Rom (2015)
For many years Kale performed as Vera Bila & Kale (Vera White and The Blacks, as it translates). This relationship lasted until September 2005.
Kale come from a small town in Bohemia (Czech Republic), Rokycany, about 70 kilometers west of Prague, in the heart of Eastern Europe. As with most Roma (Gypsy) groups, all of the band members belong to the same family.
In the mid-1980s the top Czech folk band, Nerez, saw Vera performing with Kale at a folk festival and were so impressed that they began inviting them to guest at their sold out concerts.
When the time came to record their first album, Rom-Pop, Kale had to choose from their vast repertoire. With the help of the producers, Zuzana Navarova and Vit Sazavsky from Nerez, they selected 16 songs which they felt expressed their roots as well as others which represented a development and natural progression of traditional Gypsy music. Lyrically, the songs describe the trials and tribulations of Gypsy life. While their sound is based on acoustic guitars supplemented here and there by fiddle, saxophone or drums, the rich vocals of Vera and the four male members of the band set the band apart from their Roma colleagues. Rom-Pop was released to great critical acclaim which culminated in Kale’s nomination for the Czech Grammy as Newcomer of the Year.
With Rom-Pop still very much alive, the band was so full of new ideas that the record company could no longer hold them back and thus sent them to the studio to record a follow-up album, Kale Kaloré. The main development from the debut album, which is heavy with contributions from guest musicians and other people’s compositions, is that the band felt confident enough in their own abilities to write and record it all themselves, helped only by the producer, Zuzana Navarova, and a guest violinist. The result is more compact and closer to the roots and further confirms the band’s international potential.
In the beginning of September 2005, Vera Bila left the band. Kale replaced its most charismatic performer with Dezider Lucka, a member of Kale.
Says band member Emil “Pupa” Miko about the importance of music in Gypsy culture: “Music belongs to our lives, it’s tied to our history. It is a living part of us.”
The Gypsy band Gulo car of nine members plays funk jazz music strongly influenced by Gypsy melodies and harmonies. In 2003 Gulo Car toured with one of the most important and famous Czech pop band (Mig21), across the biggest cities of the Czech Republic. In March 2004 they received the Andel prize in the category World Music, the Czech equivalent of the Grammy Awards. In April 2004, a TV station from Holland, NOS, shot a documentary about the band. On the 2nd of May they played on the festival United Islands of Prague in the T-mobile Hall as a guest Band to the French stars Gipsy Kings.
Gulo car emerged in a well-known quarter of Brno where dark-skinned gypsies and whites live in a distinct kind of coexistence, while almost all Gypsy members come practically from one street. This quarter is inherently characterized by a certain grayness and seediness but also by music which is its inseparable part. For some years, the core of the band combined the traditional Gypsy roots in a natural and creative way with all contributing influences of modern pop production. Particularly two players of the brass section contribute to the mutual influence and merge of diverse musical impulses and methods and they are the only white-skin members of the band. In the melting pot of this process, the inherent musicality with the experience of bar musicians and technical preciseness are the basic ingredients of a phenomenon which currently does not have any analogy on the Czech music scene.
Eva Salina & Peter Stan – Sudbina (Vogiton Records, 2018)
Sudbina recreates the songs of Vida Pavlovic, a Serbian Roma (Gypsy) singer who was very popular in the former Yugoslavia and came to be known as the “Queen of Roma Music.”
The two artists involved in this recording are American vocalist Eva Salina, who specializes in Eastern European music, and Serbian Roma accordionist Peter Stan (Slavic Soul Party).
Sudbina is a set of deeply-moving love songs showcasing the talent of Eva Salina as passionate performer of Roma music and Peter Stan’s masterful accordion work profoundly rooted in Balkan Gypsy music.
Lache Cercel was born in Bucharest, Romania and studied at Romania’s prestigious Academy of Arts.
Before leaving his homeland, Lache Cercel was one of Romania’s leading musicians and a recognized prodigy and virtuoso. In 1986 he was awarded the “Artist of the People ” citation from the Romanian government.
Cercel’s music is firmly rooted in Roma (Gypsy) tradition, combined with Doina Klezmer, Middle Eastern, and European sounds held together with jazz improvisation. He calls his fusion “Roma Swing”. In the tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephen Grappelli, Cercel lays down classical and improvisational jazz alongside traditional Roma melodies.
Since settling in Canada, he has collaborated with musicians from diverse backgrounds such as renowned Egyptian percussionist Adel Awad, Latin Music virtuoso Sal Ferreras, Canadian Jazz guitarist Don Ogilvie, bassist Sam Shoichet, vocalist Rebecca Shoichet, and various world musicians.
Cercel spent his early years in Canada performing solo concerts and teaching Romanian style violin. He has taught annually at Buffalo Gap International Music Camp, in Washington, D.C. and Mendocino Balkan Camp in Mendocino, California. He has performed at many World and Jazz Festivals throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe.
In 2003, Cercel’s piece “A Cry For Roma” from Suspino earned him a Hugo Gold Plaque at the 39th Chicago International Television Awards in the category of “Special Achievement: Music Score”. Cercel also composed music for the National Film Board (Canada) documentary “Opre Roma” and for the internationally screened independent film “Naroc”.
Rhapsody of Romania 91997)
Muzika Konkordo (Jericho Beach Music, 2006)
Jony Iliev grew up in the Kjustendil Gypsy quarters. It just 150 kilometers southwest of Bulgaria’s capital Sofia. More than 20,000 Gypsies live there.
“When I was ten, I had a dream. At the very end of our street in Kjustendil… If you stand right in the middle of the road and look straight ahead, you can see a tower on top of a hill,” says Jony. “And behind it, they say, is Greece. In my imagination I picked up a little bag with a few slices of bread, cheese and salt, to get away, only to get away. And if I eventually came back, I’d be a grand Pjevatsh – a famous singer.”
Jony Iliev grew up as the youngest of eight brothers in a musicians’ family. Jony’s vocal talents were acknowledged early on and subsequently encouraged within the family structure.
At 10 he already sang weddings, all night long. His powerful expressive voice charmed listeners. Now, Jony Iliev and Band are on the forefront of Bulgaria’s new Roma (Gypsy) sound.
Saxophonist Yuri Yunakov was born in Haskovo, southeastern Bulgaria, of Turkish Romani (Gypsy) ancestry and currently lives in the New York City area. He comes from a long line of musicians in his extended family, including his father and grandfather and his uncles and brother. Yuri’s career began with the band Mladost and he later started a 10-year collaboration with Ivo Papazov and Trakija.
Yuri is Bulgaria’s most famous saxophonist. Together with the Trakija orchestra Yunakov played at hundreds of weddings in his native Bulgaria, and toured extensively in Europe and North America.
In 1989 he was featured on NBC TV with saxophonist David Sanborn. Yuri appears on the recording “Gypsy Fire”, a CD of Turkish music on Traditional Crossroads.
In 1994, Yunakov moved to the United States. He is the director of the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble, and is in great demand among the Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Armenian and Romani communities in the New York City area.
In 2011, Yunakov received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
Taraf de Haïdouks, whose name translates as “band of brigands,” are a village band of Gypsy lautari (traditional musicians), who come from a small Romanian town called Clejani. They are a dozen skilled instrumentalist and talented singers, aged 20 to 78 years old, that never had played outside their region, until Stefan Caro and Michel Winter (two Belgian musicians) fell in love with their music in a trip to Romania in 1990, and decided to transmit their passion for this music to the rest of the world.
The first album “Musique des Tsiganes de Roumanie “, introduced to westerners the rich world of the Gypsy music of Romania, that includes medieval ballads, the Turkish style of the Balkan dances, and the characteristic vocal style, reminiscent of the roots that come from India.
With their first record, the group reached immediately the top positions of the European World Music Charts, and Taraf de Haidouks started to play concerts throughout Europe. Their warmth, eccentricity and joy while they are playing, quickly captivates all kinds of audiences. They have prevailed in concert halls or Festivals (Montreux, Womad, Bourges, Roskilde, Barbican Center, etc.) as well as in unlimited parties in bars or in the streets…
In 1992 Taraf’s members were invited to play and to record in a television program with Yehudi Menhuin. Also they carried out an important part in the film “Latcho Drom,” by French Gypsy director Tony Gatlif, who earned several awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
The second album by Taraf de Haidouks, titled “Honourable Brigands, Magic Horses and Evil Eye “, was recorded in Romania in 1994. The reaction was so warm that the disc was chosen by the German critics as “best World Music album” in 1995. In addition French director, Guy Demoy produced a 52 minute documentary for the French-German TV network, Channel Art.
During the breaks from touring the West, the members of Taraf always return to their town, Clejani, and to their traditional style of life. They live music for music, and are present in all the events of the social life of the town: baptisms, weddings, etc. These musicians, when choosing their name, wanted to pay a tribute to the Haidouks, legendary Robin-Hood style bandits, who were heroes in the medieval ballads, (Taraf simply means Orchestra).
“Dumbala Dumba “, the third album, was recorded at a home in Clejani at the end of l997. The Taraf invited a series of very particular collaborators and the great interpretations of these guests next to Taraf de Haidouks make this album a fresh, intimate and poetic work.
In addition to their work as musicians, Taraf’s members have also participated as fashion models in Paris with the prestigious Japanese stylist Yohji Yamamoto, and the choreography of Pina Baush.
During these last years Taraf de Haidouks have performed in the Royal Festival Hall of London next to the legendary Kronos Quartet.
Taraf de Haidouks also appeared in a major Hollywood motion picture with Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Harry Dean Stanton and John Turturro in the film “The man who cried” by English director Sally Potter. Taraf wrote five songs for the sound track.
One of the group’s veteran players, violinist Neacsu Niculae, died September 3, 2002.
Romano Drom, which in Romani language means ‘gypsy road’, presents the musical tradition of the Olah Gypsies from Valachia, traditionally horse traders and traveling salesmen who entered Hungary in the middle of the 19th century.
For Romano Drom the power of the Olah Gypsies’ traditional music is in its voices and vocal games. Living in Budapest where east and west flow together, the inspirations are many and various.
The sudden death of cofounder and lead vocalist Antal Kovacs in 2005 took a toll on the band, but they have continued to play under the direction of Antal Kovacs’ son, Antal Kovacs Jr.
They use household utensils as instruments, such as a milk jug and wooden spoon, along with their unique vocal stylings to create a more modern urban sound through the introduction of guitar, double bass and drums.