Been home a week since playing the International Gypsy Festival in Tilburg, Netherlands. The Festival is one of Western Europe's best venues for Gypsy bands getting together for a long weekend of music, culture and dance organized by Albert Siebelink's Stichtung Kultoer music agency, based in Tilburg. Over the years they have toured many of East Europe's best folk and Gypsy music acts around the Low Countries and have a lot of experience dealing with the particularities of working with Gypsy musicians on the road. And working with local Gypsy communities, Albert has been able to promote a sense of cultural inclusion that would be welcome in the frighteningly anti-Gypsy political atmosphere we presently have here in Hungary. It all added up to a seamlessly organized festival, a great and enthusiastic crowd dancing outdoors in downtown Tilburg.
So what is a Klezmer band doing playing at a Gypsy festval... in the Netherlands? The theme this year was inspired by the work of a Dutch Gypsy classical composer, Roger "Moreno" Rathgeb, whose composition "Requiem for Auschwitz" reminds the world that Roma, as well as Jews, homosexuals, and political prisoners were murdered by the racist policies of the Nazis at Auschwitz. People don't usually associate Roma with Holland: under the Nazi occupation they were almost entirely exterminated alongside the Dutch Jews. Those that survive are determined to keep a vigil over their people in Europe, and the Festival is just one part of their public presence in NL.Albert asked that Di Nayes play alongside the Hutsul Gypsy band Manyo from the Ukraine, as we did on our last CD Traktorist. The band - known in Hungary as the Tecsoi Banda - learned a lot of Jewish music via their father, the fiddler Manyo Cheriavets, who played for Jewish communities in the Ukraine in the years after WWII. And so it was a matter of getting the band from Tjaciv to Budapest and on a plane to Eindhoven, NL. Not easy. But I love a challenge, and after taking these guys to New York two years ago it was fun to watch them experience west Europe for the first time. We stopped at a supermarket for snack supplies on the way in from the airport, and they were somewhat blown away by the free promotional serve-yourself coffee machine located in the middle of the produce department. In the west, they give coffee away... for free! At the hotel we were rubbing shoulders with some of the musicians from Taraf Des Haidouks and the Kocani Orkestar... Yes, thank you, dutch Hotel, for knowing exactly what Gypsy musicians want to eat at the breakfast buffet: mounds of greasy bacon and eggs, bread and cheese, and coffee. Yes I even met happy Gypsies (maladyilem baXtale romensa...)
The main festival was on Monday - Pentecost, a holiday known as "Pinkster" in the predominantly Catholic southern Netherlends - Taraf des Haidouks and Kocani Orkestar, as well as Olah Vincze's band and Lajko Felix from Serbia, and Amparo Cortes' flamenco inspired project from Spain, Temperamanto Gitano, which featured the violin of my old friend Tcha Limberger. Tcha is a Sinto Gypsy from Belgium who came to Hungary in the 1990s to learn music. He apprenticed under master fiddlers in Transylvania like Netti Sannyi and picked up the virutostic style and repetoire of the Kalotaszeg region. For the last few years Tcha has also been working with Alan Bern's Yiddish Summer Weimar program teaching Gypsy music and theory.
Born blind, Tcha is something of a genius, speaking at least a dozen languages (including several dialects of Romani, Hungarian, and Romanian) and playing Gypsy fiddle in a number of styles. When Yuri the drummer from Manyo met him he listened and then said to me in Hungarian "It is a pity he's blind." to which Tcha piped in fluent Hungarian "No, I can hear well enough!" Backstage you could hear musicians from all over speaking in Hungarian, alongside Romani, Serbian and Romanian. It was like we had never left home.Special thanks to our friends Hans and Vera for putting Fumie up and taking good care of the band, and to the Rom Baro himself, Albert, who managed to produce a festival of outstanding quality while facing a year of health concerns. As we say in Romani "T'aves but sastipe!" May you have much health!