Monday, June 6, 2011



Romani music - sharing that comes from oppression

Quintin Bart performs at Active Living Centre

For centuries, the Romani people, commonly referred to as Gypsies, have suffered persecution. Even today, harassment is rampant in Europe.

Romani homes are still burned, and discrimination and mistreatment is widespread. Some governments are apathetic and often turn a blind eye to violations of basic human rights.

Quintin Bart, formerly of Carman, is making it his mission to raise awareness of the plight of Romanis throughout the world. He is passionate about human rights, and in particular the rights of Romanis.

On March 16 Bart was invited to be part of the current series, Why Music Matters, offered at the Active Living Centre in Carman.

Separate Myth From Reality

In an attempt to separate myth from reality, Bart recently travelled to Budapest, Hungary. As part of his undertaking to understand their history and culture, he mixed with the locals and joined in their music.

When the Romani tribes from Asia arrived in Europe in the 1300's, Bart explained, they were excluded from society, largely because they were not Christians. Many were enslaved, suffering cruel and abusive treatment. Some countries forbade their entry altogether, while others forced then to live in designated areas. Failure to comply was met with execution.

In Germany, "Gypsy Hunting" was a popular sport, carried out much like a fox hunt. They were considered as and treated as sub-humans.

Even in those times, however, their musical ability was well known, and they were often forced to perform for the elite of society.

During World War II, Romanis were rounded up and sent to death camps, said Bart.

Although it is not a well-known fact, between 500,000 and a million Romanis suffered their own Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis. With the breakdown of their family structure and loss of rituals after the Holocaust, they were further marginalized. Modern day Nazis and white supremacists still pose a threat to Romanis.

In the 1970s, Romanis began to unite in ethnic solidarity. Human rights movements began to grow, and today's ease of communication networks is no doubt helping to fuel the growth of these groups.

Unique Form Of Music

Out of the oppression and discrimination came a unique form of music. It is like nothing we are familiar with, and the sound has a distinctly Indian flavour. Over the years the music has morphed into many different genres.

Bart and his ensemble treated the audience to a variety of Romani selections, ranging from plaintive, haunting melodies to rousing toe-tappers.

Bart and his brother Lindsey are both accomplished guitarists, and they were joined by Darcy Stern who played the mandolin and a Romani instrument called a bouzouki. Vocalist Rhianna Kroeker added her soulful vocals to the mix.

Quintin also played a complicated looking authentic Hungarian hurdy-gurdy.

Highlights of their performance included a plaintive version of a Romani anthem which was written in the 70's, and some selections of "Gypsy Jazz," one of the more recent offshoots of Romani music. The final set was a group of Russian folk songs.

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