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.
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.
During the last decades the name of Parno Graszt (White Horse in the Roma language) became the equivalent of authentic Hungarian Gypsy music.
The band is based in Paszab, in northeastern Hungary. During social ceremonies music is shared between each one of the community: instruments are passed from one hand to another and practically everyone is a dance master. There is no band and there is no audience. There is one unified festive gathering. Whether they play in their backyard or on a festival stage for 10,000 people, the same spirit of cheerful delight vibrates in the air.
The sound of Parno Graszt is rooted in the traditional Gypsy songs of northeastern Hungary, representing a specific local dialect of Roma music. Their instruments are acoustic guitars, double bass, tambura, accordion, spoons, milk jug and ‘oral bass’ which is a continuous vocal improvisation made by the percussionist. Occasionally, the 10-piece group takes the audience for a time journey where the dancers, using an archive video projection, are performing parallel with their grandparents on stage.
World music radio stations discovered Parno Graszt after the breakthrough of Hit the piano (Rávágok a zongorára) in 2002, which was the first Hungarian record in history reaching the Tot 10 of World Music Charts Europe. The much anticipated second album In my world (2004) featured Kalman Balogh, a world-class Hungarian Gypsy cymbalist.
Since then Parno Graszt has played throughout Europe in venues and festivals like Concertgebouw (Amsterdam), Couleur Café Festival (Belgium), Paleo Festival (Switzerland), Tribu Festival (France) and Sziget Festival (Hungary).
As a recognition for their work in preserving Romani culture and heritage, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the BBC produced a music documentary about Parno Graszt. The movie was selected for the Official Film Screening at WOMEX 2008 and was screened worldwide via IMZ World Music Films on Tour.
In 2007, the band celebrated its 20th anniversary. On that occasion, DJ Gaetano Fabri (remixer of Taraf de Haidouks, Kocani Orkestar, Mahala Rai Banda) made his debut remix for Parno Graszt’s Gelem Gelem.
In 2008, the Paszabi Gypsies were invited to India where they spent two weeks in Rajasthan, the alleged motherland of the Roma people, meeting and playing with local musicians, tracing their roots, looking for familiar faces, customs and melodies. The result of this unique musical exploration was a DVD.
Band Members: Jozsef Olah on vocals, guitar, tambura; Viktor Olah on vocals, guitar, dance; Sandor Horvath on vocals, spoons, dance; Janos Jakocska on vocals, guitar; Maria Varadi on vocals, dance; Maria Balogh on vocals, dance; Krisztian Olah on accordion; Janos Olah on double bass; and Istvan Nemeth on oral bass, milk jug.
Mahala Rai Banda is an “all stars” Gypsy (Roma) band that includes players from the rural villages and Bucharest ghettos, and combines virtuoso violin playing, spectacular solos by master cymbalom players and powered by a funky rhythm section.
Mahala is the common name gypsies use to designate the areas where they form the majority of the population, and which sometimes develop into small towns. Some call them Gypsy ghettos.
Rai is a word of Arab origin borrowed by the Roma populations that traveled through Persia then Egypt and whose migration ended in Romania in the plain of Walachia. These generations of Gypsy musicians (lautari) are considered to be a sort of aristocracy among gypsies and the term rai designates someone whose authority or know-how is recognized by all. Mahala Rai Banda literally means Noble Band from the Ghetto.
The band has two foundations, a family core close to that of Taraf de Haidouks, and retired soldiers originally from Moldavia. The first are the sons of the generation that left the little village of Clejane to settle down in the ghettos on the outskirts of Bucharest, grandsons of the late Neacsu. They are between 20 and 25 years old, who have grown up playing music, and having avoided the pitfalls of drugs and gangs, make a living by playing at Romanians? weddings. Living on the outskirts of a city they have been doused in modern culture which gives their otherwise traditional repertoire a pop twist.
The second, Gypsy as well, but from Moldavia (near the Ukraine), have been in the army all their lives, enrolled at the age of 14, the only way their parents could guarantee them a decent education. Even though in Communist times technically everybody was a comrade, an equal, in reality things were quite different. A darker tone of skin, due most likely to a Gypsy heritage, was enough for a quick association to be made, sending these youngsters into the seemingly futureless musical ranks. There, they learned to play a codified folklore of songs and dances with in-depth classes of musical theory. At the height of Ceaucescu’s reign, there were 30,000 musicians in the Romanian army, playing at public functions and official governmental events. Now retired, and on a small pension, they were discovered playing in a German restaurant in Bucharest.
Banda designates an orchestra composed of various instruments (violin, trumpet, saxophone, cymbalom, percussion instruments, and accordions) that belongs to no particular genre. It is neither a fanfare nor a folk band, but can be either according to circumstance. Traditional music from the countryside meets the radically modernist style of Gypsy music from Bucharest, Middle-Eastern ornamentation, modern rhythms and the more complex rhythms from the Balkans, and harmonies from the Banat of Moldavia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Turkey.
Through its music, Mahala Rai Banda combines the oral culture of the Gypsy lautari musicians and the rigor of the military fanfares in which the older members of the group originally played.
2009 Line -up:
Ionita Aurel – violin / vocals
Ionita Florinel – accordion
Cantea Georgel – tuba
Bosnea Aurel – baritone horn
Trifan Andrei – tenor horn
Zahanagiu Marian – trombone
Cantea Cristinel – trumpet
Oprica Viorel – trumpet
Mihai Cristinel – saxophone
Dinu Marian – drums
Mihai Enache – darbuka
Russian vocalist Leonsia Erdenko was born in 1972. She is the daughter of the famous Roma singer Nikolay Erdenko. Leonsia has been performing since 1987. She started her musical career with the band Djang that was led by her parents – Nikolay and Rozaliya Erdenko. Leonsia devoted herself to intensive study of music, especially playing the piano, dancing and singing.
In collaboration with the composer George Barkin they recorded in 1997 album The new Gypsy music that contained well-known Romani melodies in a modern concept. Less than 3 years later she and Alexey Bezlepkin gave rise to a new band, Trio Erdenko. Furthermore, she traveled the world with the famous band Loyko, with which she recorded three discs.
Leonsia not only performs concerts throughout the world, but also cooperates with various artists in their recordings (e.g. !DelaDap, Garik Sukachev) and is also active in the film industry (historical movie – One night of love).
Jaakko Laitinen & Väärä Raha – Näennäinen (Playground Music, 2016)
Jaakko Laitinen and his band Väärä Raha hail from Lapland in northern Finland and they have a fascination with nostalgic Roma and Balkan music, brass band music, and other musical traditions such as Finnish tango and humppa, as well as Russian and Greek love songs.
Most of the material performed by Jaakko Laitinen & Väärä Raha is original, ranging from old fashioned love songs to progressively fast brass music.
The lineup includes Jaakko Laitinen on vocals; Marko Roininen on accordion; Jarkko Niemelä on trumpet, bouzouki and altohorn; Tuomo Kuure on double bass; and Janne Hast on drums.
Guests featured: Bjonko Stoisic on clarinet; Morgan Nickolay on balalaika; Matti Pitkänen on violin; Tuomas Timonen on percussion; Valtteri Bruun on guitar, mandolin, ukulele and synthesizer.
Esma Redzepova was well-known throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans as “the queen of the Gypsies.” She was exuberant as her music. She sang and danced with a special feeling and had a vibrant voice that fascinated everybody.
She was born in a small town near Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where movie director Emile Kusturica filmed The Time of the Gypsies. Her music used to be available only on cassette tapes.
Esma Redzepova performed since the age of twelve and was discovered by the renowned musician, composer and bandleader Stevo Teodosievski, who became her mentor, musical partner and later her husband.
Their ensemble became one of the most popular groups in the Balkan region. They made hundreds of recordings together, several of which became “gold.” They toured extensively, filling concert halls and stadiums in Europe, Australia, China, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East.
During their life together, Stevo and Esma adopted 47 orphans and street children into their home, which evolved into a school of folk music. Esma continued her career after Stevo’s death in 1997, continuing to perform with the Ensemble Teodosievski.
Composed of members of Stevo and Esma’s music school, Esma’s group was composed of Simeon Atanasov (accordion), Elvis Huna (bass accordion), Tasko Grujovski (double bass), Zekiroski Sami (clarinet), Zahir Ramadanov (trumpet) and Elama Rasidov (darbuka).
Esma Redzepova’s songs were the musical expression of her love to Macedonia and its Gypsy roots. Her music sounded like typical melodies of the Balkan Mountains with a special protagonist of the violin, clarinet and accordion and with influences from India, Persia and Spain, creating an exciting atmosphere, cheerful and sensual.
Esma was an authentic star in the Balkan countries. For over twenty-five years, she performed in the most important venues of the world. She also acted in several movies and was a great ambassador of the Gypsy Macedonian culture in the world.
Esma Redzepova passed away on December 11, 2016 in Skopje, Macedonia.
Esma Redzepova released numerous recordings on cassette, LP and CD on various labels: Jugoton, Balkanton, IFIS “Glas”, Melos, Sportska knjiga, RTB, Monitor, and Studio B. Below are some of her albums currently available.
In a small town in Central Serbia, called Guca, the “Festival of Brass Music” takes place annually since 40 years. It’s a competition to determine the best brass musicians on Earth. More than 300.000 people grab the chance to listen to over 30 bands. And Boban Marcovic Orkestar are among the winners every time, receiving the “best orchestra” award in 2000 as well as “best trumpet” for the maestro himself in 2001 – his 5th win. It was the first time ever that a musician got the highest mark from every jury member.
The reason for Markovic’s continuing success is evident: He is the best Serbian trumpeter, reinventing “traditional” brass music with injections and adaptations of sounds from around the globe. His music is strongly influenced by the old traditions of the Roma. Just listen to his version of the Jewish classic Hava Naguila and you’ll understand.
The band’s repertoire includes Gypsy grooves, chocheks and other dances, as well as tunes from movies of Emir Kusturica, but also new material, composed exclusively for the band. In a mix of archaic jazz and light and sweet Balkan-brass-sound Markovic became a king in the Balkans and now is one of the VIPs of the region. The band performs on weddings, on open-air-festivals, in music academies or on classical concerts with the same power like the best rock bands.
From the historical sight only the Gypsies kept the country’s tradition of brass music alive, from the times of the Ottoman Empire through Tito’s communist regime, right into Slobodan Milosevic’s infamous reign.
Since Emir Kusturica’s notorious Balkan film Underground (1995), Gypsy-Serbian brass music started to have powerful presence on the world music scene. The blasting of Gypsy brass made the film unforgettable, creating the frantic, surreal atmosphere which the film is famous for. None other than Boban Markovic and his orchestra supplied the most impressive tunes of the soundtrack. Boban Markovic Orkestar have played festivals and concerts throughout Europe.
Acquaragia Drom is an Italian band with a little Gypsy blood and lots of experience performing at traditional weddings and feasts all around in Italy. Its original music and dance project is an amazing amalgam of Italian and Mediterranean Gypsy style swirling, including Rom saltarellos, tarantellas, pizzicas and tammurriatas (folk dances) from the Sinti tribes. Acquaragia Drom plays using an "ironic and corrosive" way to present this repertoire in order to make the audience laugh and dance with them.