Roma literature

In her essay on pariahs, Hannah Arendt points out that Jewish pariahs put their talents to the service of other people, thereby building their national culture. However, their successes are not regarded as “Jewish” successes. An example of such a person was Heinrich Heine, who was Jewish, but at the same time, could also call himself German. His work to this day is seen as German, belonging to the culture of Germans[1]. Also many people with Roma roots who were functioning in the world of art were not recognised as Roma. An example is an avant-garde painter Serge Poliakoff, who functioned in French artistic circles as a Russian and not as a person with Roma roots[2]. However, the Roma pariahs, being invisible in the world of high level culture, more than often gave their talent away completely anonymously. Many different Roma art practices have influenced many countries’ cultures, but this influence goes unnoticed. After all, today we still talk about Spanish flamenco or Russian romance[3]. According to Anna Sobieska, “(…) the emotional structure of Russian Gypsy romance – that tiomnyj morok cyganskich piesien – was exceptionally attractive to the Polish interwar poetry as an expression of a certain type of feeling characterized by a peculiar maximalism and extremity, based on contradictory emotions – delight and despair, on a psychological “excess”. The Gypsy Romance was thus a brilliant mirror in which the experience of the absurdity and grotesque tragedy of the epoch could be reflected. But we should not forget that it was also a manifestation of the democratisation of art, which was elitist until then. It was, after all – as Osip Mandelstam noted – a touch of the soul of the Russian people, an expression of their truths. It is no exaggeration to paraphrase the words of one of Russia’s most sensitive experts and admirers of Gypsy music. The Romantic poet Apollo Grigoryev is credited with the authorship of the famous remark about Gypsy singing – that without the Russian nation it is not understandable.Iit will also not be an exaggeration to emphasise that gypsyism, so important for the understanding of Polish interwar poetry, and – more broadly – the very issue of the Polish-Russian literary relations of that period: biez russkogo cyganskogo romansa nie poniat[4].
 
However, the inspirations from the Roma culture, the figure of the ‘Gypsy man/Gypsy woman’ as a rhetorical cliché, and ethnographers’ descriptions containing many errors and mythologisation of the Roma together create a ‘cultural ghetto’ that Timea Junghaus wrote about[5]. For a long time, Roma art was not at all put into historical perspective by society. As Wojciech Szymański writes: “While professional European art was subject to the regularities of historical development and changes occurring within it as a result of clashing aesthetic views and ideas, original non-European art and European folk art were treated as a permanent relic of the past, a kind of living fossil; if even subject to change, it was very slow and undesirable, as it was distanced from its original and ancient source and was caused by external factors (e.g. the meeting of cultures, the arrival of urban patterns in the countryside), and not by a self-reflexive, immanent aspiration for originality and novelty. While professional European art became an object of interest for history and art criticism, primitive and folk art found acolytes among folk scientists: anthropologists and ethnographers “[6].
 
Breaking out of the stereotypical representation of the Roma is not easy. That is why, in the first place, we should start reading texts written by the Roma themselves. Contrary to appearances, quite a lot of them have been published in Poland. Again, as in the case of the visual arts, we are dealing with a troublesome term. Is Romani literature written in Romani? Usually not. Does it discuss “Roma themes”, whatever they are? Not necessarily. Is it published by Roma institutions? Certainly not. Do Roma artists clearly define their ethnic identity? Not all of them. An example is Damian Le Bas Junior, who even makes it the theme of his novel. In a sense, however, this is a political declaration that meets with both approval and disapproval from the authors themselves. Discussions about the pros and cons of using the term “Romani literature” will certainly be the subject of future research and negotiations. I can only sincerely recommend reading the texts of Roma writers, which allow us to transcend stereotypical thinking about the Roma around the world.

 

 

 

[1] H. Arendt, The Jew as Pariah: A Hidden Tradition, in Joodse Essays, translated by P. Nowak, Biblioteka Kwartalnika Kronos, Warszawa 2012, 324-325.

 

[2] Meet Your Neighbours: Contemporary Roma Art from Europe, edit. T. Junghaus, New York 2006,.160–163; T. Junghaus, Serge Poliakoff. Abstrakcja liryczna, translated by M. Kołaczek, „Dialog-Pheniben” 2013, nr 9, 70–83.

 

[3] Few researchers have attempted to analyse these influences. The Ethnographic Museum in Hungary organised an exhibition Play, Gypsies! Gypsy Music From Liszt to Hungaricum, which pointed to the inspiration of the ‘Roma scale’ in Hungarian music.

 

[4] A. Sobieska, Ach, ten „tiomnyj morok cyganskich piesen…”: O uwiedzionych przez rosyjski romans cygański, „Pamiętnik Literacki” 2012, nr 103(3), s. 143–181; taż, Dzieci Hagar. Literackie wizerunki Romów/Cyganów. Studia imagologiczne, Officyna 21, Warszawa 2015.

 

[5] Por. M. Weychert, Postać Cygana w kulturze polskiej – mit czy stereotyp?, Toruń 1998 [unpublished]; Mróz L., Cyganie – Filistyni – Romowie. Studium dystansu etnicznego, in Tradycje kultury Północnego Mazowsza, Akademia Humanistyczna im. Aleksandra Gieysztora, Pułtusk 2006; O fjlistynach, cyganach alias wałęsach. Z dziejów poznawania Romów w Polsce, „Lud” 78/1995; T. Junghaus, Roma Art – The Subaltern Revolt, translated by I. Suchan, in Romano kher. O romskiej sztuce, tradycji i doświadczeniu, edit. M. Weychert, Zachęta, Warszawa 2013.

 

[6] W. Szymański, Od cyganerii do sztuki post-romskiej i z powrotem, „Studia Romologica” 9/2016, 34

 

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Teresa Mirga

Fot. archiwum Teresy Mirgi

 

Teresa Mirga was born and raised in the Polish Spisz region, in a Gypsy settlement in Czarna Góra, where she lives to this day. Apart from her own compositions, Teresa Mirga also performs songs belonging to the traditional music of Bergitka Roma.

 

Teresa Mirga’s creative explorations, reaching for various styles and repertoires, as well as a deep-rooted awareness of her own musical tradition, have allowed her to create her own original style. Religious poetry and music play an important role in her work. She presents her music during performances all over the country.

 

In 1992, Teresa Mirga founded a band, “Kałe Bała”. Apart from Teresa’s own compositions and Hungarian Roma melodies, the band also performs songs belonging to the traditional music of the Roma in Slovakia and the Balkan Peninsula. They also perform old songs (phurane gila) of the Carpathian Roma in traditional and new arrangements. By recalling the oldest and now forgotten melodies the musicians of “Kałe Bała” bring to life the magical world of Bergitka Roma, with its passion, joys, sorrows and nostalgia.

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Witold Michaj

Fot. archiwum prywatne Witolda Michaja

 

Witold Michaj’s family comes from Lovari, the Russian Roma group, and from the great Chokeshti family.

 

In 1947, the “Moldavian Gypsy Band” was founded by Władysław Madziarowicz, whom Witold knew since he was a child. With time, the band was renamed to “Roma”. In 1967, Witold was invited to Kraków and became the main vocal soloist of the group. Michaj was fascinated by the traditional Roma music, unlike his brother – the famous Michaj Burano, who made a career in Poland singing popular music.

 

Witold Michaj toured with the band both in Poland and abroad. The tours and concerts that he remembers to this day are the performances in Olympia in Paris (9 concerts) and two tours in the USA.

 

Another important event in his life was a joint project with a band from Russia “Russian Roma” and a trip to America. They played 40 concerts in Canada and the United States of America. The culmination of the tour was a performance in Las Vegas.

 

Witold Michaj is still an active artist, a great vocalist and guitarist. He’s open to new musical projects, he’s a living legend of the Roma culture.

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Jessica Merstein

Fot. prywatne archiwum Jessiki Merstein

 

Jessica Merstein was born on 24.06.1988 in Bad Kreuznach, Germany, in a Roma family (Polish Roma and Sinti group).Both her parents are well-known artists – Eugeniusz and Krystyna Merstein, “Vanessa & Sorba”.

 

As she puts it herself, the music and stage environment is for her the natural environment in which she grew up. Already at the age of 3, she went on tour with her parents and when she was 7, her parents bought her a violin and enrolled her in a music school. So it was obvious for Jessica that she would perform on the music stage in the future.

 

In 2014, she founded the “Jessica Merstein Band”. The band includes: 2 guitars, bass, drums, keyboards and violin. The band plays covers and original music in the direction of Rock and Funk. Influences of foreign bands like U2, ACDC, Red Hot Chilli Peppers etc. can be heard in their music. The band is in the process of recording its first album.

 

Apart from the “Jessica Merstein Band”, Jessica plays in other bands and formations, as well as solo. She is a versatile and open-minded artist. She plays at various events supported by her friends and solo concerts. Additionally, she DJs at special events.

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Krystyna Markowska

Fot. Chat Evans Wyatt

 

Krystyna Perła Markowska (Wiśniewska), born in Otwock, comes from the Polish Roma group. She was brought up in a traditional Roma family in Sulejówek, near Warsaw. Music has always accompanied her family. As a child, she listened to her uncles’ band, which played at weddings. Together with her three siblings, she formed a musical group, which first entertained her family during celebrations, and later on, performed at school events. Music became a part of the whole family’s life.

 

At the end of the 80s, Perła and her family moved to Łódź, where she started looking for her own musical path. After graduating from high school she played in different family bands. A breakthrough in Krystyna Markowska’s life was her performance at the 1st International Roma Song and Culture Festival in Ciechocinek in 1997, where she received a distinction for the most beautiful voice of the festival. The award encouraged Perła to develop her musical career and together with her husband she founded a music band “Perła i Bracia”. Thanks to the cooperation with the “Lutnia” Cultural Centre in Bałuty, they have managed to make a name for themselves in the musical circles in Łódź and all over the country.

 

Krystyna Perła Markowska is a certified Roma dance and traditional music instructor with a pedagogical background. She is a field researcher, as well as a long-term coordinator of governmental and EU projects. In 2015, she was awarded with the Silver Cross of Merit for her work for the Roma community by the President of the Republic of Poland, Bronisław Komorowski.

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Cezary Majewski

Photo. Włocławek Nasze Miasto, Wojciech Alabrudziński

 

Cezary Majewski is an artist living in Włocławek. He comes from a traditional Roma family where traditional music and dance have been cultivated for generations. Thanks to his father,  Cezary received musical education and became known as a talented accordionist. In his hometown he was also known as a vocalist. In order to develop his music career, he joined the Gypsy Song and Dance Band “Roma”. After the band’s break-up, Cezary was a vocalist in various music bands, giving concerts both in Poland and abroad.

 

Around 1995, as a former member of the “Roma” band, Cezary Majewski re-established the Gypsy Song and Dance Band “Roma”, of which he is the director. The group is affiliated with the International Association of Roma Artists in Poland. The musician registered the name of his band and considers himself the only legitimate continuator of the achievements of the former band of the same name.

 

Cezary Majewski is a singer who is known as a performer of traditional songs and chants. But he is also open to musical novelties. The artist creates and composes, which results in extremely interesting traditional music, but with a new sound. Majewski’s music is difficult to confuse with other compositions and songs by other Roma musicians. With the support of his sons, talented artists of the young generation, he makes himself known in social media by presenting his musical achievements.

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Edward Dębicki

Fot. https://miedzyrzecz.biz/aktualnosci/miedzyrzecz-miedzynarodowe-spotkania-zespolow-cyganskich-romane-dyvesa-2020/

Edward Dębicki was born on 4 March 1935 in Kałusz to a Roma family. He spent his childhood and adolescence in the same tabor as the Gypsy poetess Bronisława Wajs, also known as Papusza.

 

He is a recognised poet, accordionist, author and composer of musical shows, co-author of film scripts and music. He wrote over 200 songs.

 

In 1955, Edward founded a gypsy band Terno, which was based in Gorzów Wielkopolski. He also established the Bronisława Wajs-Papusza Association of Creators and Friends of Gypsy Culture. In the 1960s, Terno started to be successful. In 1964, the vocalist of the band, Randia (who also performed with the Chochoły band), won a distinction at the Second National Festival of Polish Song in Opole. Right next to Randia, another star Masio Sylwester Kwiek appeared on stage.

 

The group Terno performed at many festivals and won many awards and distinctions. Outside the country, due to the political system in Poland at that time, it was the easiest to travel and give concerts in countries belonging to the Eastern Bloc. Terno performed, among others, in Sofia in 1965, Moscow in 1970, Bratislava in 1972 and Budapest in 1974.

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Miklosz Deki Czureja


Photo. https://www.poznan.pl/mim/info/news/koncert-krola-czardasza-na-dziedzincu-urzedu-miasta,96636.html

Miklosz Deki Czureja grew up in a Roma family in southern Poland in Niedzica. His family comes from Hungary and Czech Republic. Many members from his family are also musicians and instrumentalists  – his grandfather, Jan Czureja and his father, also Miklosz Czureja, are both violinists. However, the greatest influence on the artists’ creativity and musical development was his father, whom Miklosz inherited his talent from.

 

As a teenager Mikosz moved to Śląsk, where he studied at a music school. Later, in Poznań, he got a job with a Gypsy song and dance band, Roma. At the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s he began performing with the group, giving concerts in many places all over the world. During his career he worked, among others, with Sandor Lakatosz, a world-famous violinist, the Warsaw Studio Buffo Theatre and Michał Urbaniak.

 

The breakthrough in his solo career was the First International Roma Festival in Ciechocinek where Mikosz won the soloist Grand Prix award.

 

His career as a soloist continues to this day. Together with his family members, he also founded his own music band, Tatra Roma. The band consists of his daughter Sara, a great cimbalom player, his son Miklosz Marek – a singer, violinist, pianist and two twins, Sandra and Sylwia who dance and sing.

 

Mikosz works with the Bahtałe Roma (Happy Gypsies) – a foundation thanks to which the Miklosz Deki Czureja Private Music School in Poznań was established.

 

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Sara Czureja-Łakatosz

Photo. prywatne archiwum Sary Czureji

Sara Czureja-Łakatosz was born on 23 April 1991 in a Roma family in Kluczbork. She grew up in a musical family, among great violinists: her grandfather, uncle and father, Miklosz Deki Czureja. From her father’s side she belongs to the Polish Highlander Roma group and from her mother’s side – to Polish Roma. She lives in Szczecin, but has already announced that she’s planning a small change.

 

Sara started to learn the cimbalom herself at the age of five, then she took individual lessons with the Slovakian master Józef Klempar. Sara also has an amazing vocal talent. The young artist knew from the start that she would play and sing like the rest of her family, and when asked what encouraged her to learn an instrument, she replied:

“A Romani guy from my dad’s band played the Hungarian cimbalom at the time, and I really liked it. Luckily for me, he would leave his instrument at our house. Quietly, when no one was around, I would pretend to play. One day, my dad heard me and took advantage of it. That’s how my adventure with the instrument began.”

 

Sara performed with the Tatra Roma band, which was founded by her father, the virtuoso violinist Mikosz Deki Czureja. They performed all over Poland and in many other countries around the world. The band consisted of: Miklosz Deki Czureja, Sara Czureja and her brother, Marek Czureja, giving all the virtuosity to the family band.

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Michaj Burano

Photo. https://bit.ly/3jaSke4

 

Michaj Burano’s real name is Wasyl Michaj. He was born in Tashkent, in a Roma family belonging to the Lovari group. He has been dealing with music since his childhood, as he grew up in a family of singers, instrumentalists and dancers.

 

After the end of World War II, he and his family moved to the territory of the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. However, in 1952, the family moved to Poland and settled in Lublin.

 

When Wasyl was a teenager, he went to Gdańsk where he was noticed by Franciszek Walicki who had a great impact on his further development and career. In 1959, he started performing with a band Ryhm and Blues. Because of his music performances Walicki gave Wasyl his artistic nickname. From then on, he appeared on stage as Michaj Burano.

 

In 1975, Burano moved to Los Angeles and founded his own record label, Arlow Land.

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