Wednesday, April 27, 2011



Find real Gypsy culture, community at the 15th Annual Roma Festival

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

Sani Rifati, co-founder of the annual Roma Festival held in Ives Park, Sebastopol.



Sani Rifati emigrated from Serbia two decades ago, and in 1996 started a Roma (“Gypsy”) festival from his Graton home to honor the culture and raise money for refugees in Kosovo. The 15th annual festival kicks off in Sebastopol on May 6.

What does it mean to you?

Mostly, it’s about promoting authentic Roma culture, sharing it with everyone, and educating people about Romani, letting them see who we are.

For the past two years, our fundraising is also for the Roma community here. Since the economic crisis began, many have lost their jobs and homes.

Who are you?

When I first came here, I was amazed at the stereotypes people in the West had about Gypsies, that we are fortune-tellers, travelers, musicians or thieves. Those stereotypes persist.

Roma don’t really travel because they want to, they travel because they have to. They have no country. They have been persecuted all over the world, and sometimes the road is the safest place to be.

True, some Roma work in fortune-telling. It is a traditional occupation, however, it’s also common for Roma here to work in asphalt, in car dealerships and body shops. Some came as apple workers and grape pickers.

In the former Yugoslavia, where I’m from, there are many educated Romani. I have a Masters degree in chemistry, and I can tell you, I never saw a caravan in my life.

Romani have many nationalities. They are everywhere, in all cultures, and the different groups don’t often interact. But we share history, and we have the same values.

Like what?

Most important to us is family. Next is community, and then celebration. We are similar to Jewish culture in that way. Our culture has been passed on through strong oral traditions, and through music and dance. There is little written history. For this event, we are bringing some amazing musicians and performers from around the world.

Why do they come?

They love Sebastopol because it is a chance to play together freely and informally. Musicians are highly regarded in Roma culture, sometimes even treated like gods. It’s an honorable trade passed down through families.

Some musicians have told me they come because our festival gives them a sense of home. To a Gypsy, that is something special.

What are you most looking forward to?

The music. I play the drums, my father and grandfather were musicians, and now my son is an amazing trumpet player. My son and I are going to play together, and I’m looking forward to wonderful, foot-stomping music.

What else does the festival offer?

Great food, dance and other workshops, and a chance to engage with the community. We have local businesses donating food, and we have great support from the community. I think they help because this festival is kept alive through the love of sharing our culture with everybody.

15th Annual Roma Festival

Friday 5/6, 7:30-10:30 p.m. at the Sebastopol Veterans Building, 282 South High St. Tickets: $12.

Saturday 5/7, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. at Ives Park, Sebastopol. Tickets: $18, students & seniors $15, 12 and under free.

No one turned away for lack of funds. For more information contact Voice of Roma.
I encourage everyone to visit Voice of Roma

No comments: