Wild rhythm, diabolical violin melodies, exotic beauties wearing colorful dresses dancing around a fire, and a bit of travel in carriages. These are typical romantic clichés of Gypsies. However, the reality is rather different. The Gypsy question (or Roma, to be politically correct) is very complicated and there are many controversies about it in the Czech republic. As the social situation of the Roma minority is generally desperate, there are many Gypsy-haters among the Czech majority. But this is not a story of politics, it is one of appreciation for their musical art.
There are many excellent Gypsy musicians worth our attention all around the world. The Khamoro festival aims to give a different view of the Roma, who are often seen only as welfare recipients. This festival offers an exclusive, lively cocktail of the best Gypsy music from various countries.
The first Khamoro (which means “sun” in Gypsy language) festival was organized in 1999 and it has grown consistently over time. So traditionally during the last week of May, Prague is full of Gypsy music. This year it began with two evenings of Gypsy jazz at the Jazz Dock. Dario Pinelli and his Binario Swing band is always a great listening experience. The next evening Sebastastian Feelix and the John Intrator Quartet took care of the visitors’ fun and no one was disappointed. Even though Gypsy jazz groups are not well known, some musicologists say that jazz is actually a Gypsy invention. And after listening to these guys, one would not doubt it.
While some traditional Gypsy music fits more or less into the generally accepted cliché mentioned above, hearing real Gypsy music may just bring a lot of surprises. And pleasant ones, I’d say. The concerts traditionally take place at the Roxy club on the last Thursday and Friday in May. The organizers bring a fascinating blend which varies every year, but the festival never lacks a brass band from the Balkans, a Flamenco and dulcimer band from Slovakia or Czechia. This year’s brass band was Fanfara Transilvania. In the past, Gypsy musicians from Egypt or even from Brazil performed at Khamoro. Those who expect that the audience consists mainly of other Gypsies and multicultural world music fans would be surprised to find this isn’t the case. There was an eclectic mix of Gypsy, multicultural and mainstream fans whose bodies all writhed and swayed to the rhythms of the highly skilled musicians.
Friday is always a special Gypsy music day in Prague because there’s a parade of all the musicians performing at the festival. The parade winds through the center of the city. This kind of show brings some fresh and authentic musical moments to the otherwise tourist-crowded Czech capital. The festival ended on Saturday with a gala concert, which this year was in the SaSaZu club. The show was rather formal but all the performers were gathered in one place. Unfortunately, the atmosphere was not as unrestrained as during the concerts in Roxy.
For world music fans and others, Khamoro is definitely an event that no one will regret visiting. Those who are not that interested in music, or want to learn more about other aspects of Gypsy culture, could visit some side events – dancing performances, exhibitions, theater shows, events for children or storytelling by Roma elders. So, if you find yourself in Prague next year at this time, let the Gypsy sun into your soul in the last week of May.