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Jewish-Romani Solidarity
Project

The Jewish and Romani diasporas represent two powerful histories of migration, resilience, and perseverance that crisscross the world. These diasporas intersect and intertwine in complex and intriguing ways, each one carrying its unique cultural traditions, values, and stories, yet sharing a common thread of exile, survival, and the struggle for identity and recognition. 

Demystifying the Shtetl

The literature we have been left with presents the image of the shtetl as an insular Jewish community. However, demographic information, evidence of musical-linguistic exchange, and historical text proves this to be far from true again and again. Record production in early 20th century New York would perpetuate this ideology as an insular people where music made by Jewish people was only marketed to Jewish audiences. The word Klezmer, was "originally defined not the music but the musicians who played it (Sapoznik, 1999)." Old-world Klezmorim played for all audiences as did Romani musicians.

 

For more information on the musical exchange of "folk-music" in Europe, I encourage you to read our articles about O Dewel, and Zoltan Kodaly, which highlight the role of Romani in the fabric of European music as a whole.

 

We find many of the "author-less" tunes of Europe exist both within the repertoires of Klezmorim and Romani as "traditional." Dark Eyes (Очи чёрные), is one of the most recognizable European "folk" melodies and is often directly associated with Russian-Romani folklore. Borrowed from the "Valse hommage", Op. 21 for piano, written by Florian Hermann and published in 1879. It is also seen as an author-less folk song, Kale Jaka (Romanes); Ochi Chernye, as performed by countless Jewish artists/Klezmer bands, sometimes translated as "Shvartze Oygen" (Yiddish); Les Yeux Noirs (French Sinti); and covered as "Dark Eyes," by American Jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong.

ABOUT

The Revival

The recordings, Romani still playing their music in Europe​, and festivals

The "Klezmer-Sound," we know today has three major players to thank.

I. The recordings. The earliest "Klezmer" recordings come from immigrant Jews and 1st generation American Klezmorim. By this point, the textural landscape had focused more on horns, brass, drums, piano and louder instruments than the traditional tsimbl/cymbalom, bowed strings, wooden flutes, and other folk instruments.

 

II. Hugely influential artists in the first wave of the Klezmer revival studied the music of Lautari and Romani musicians at the forefront of their musical lineages. Andy Statman studied with the Halkias Family Orchestra (a Greek Rom band), to learn the inflections that would become what we now know as "Klezmer."

 

III. The Klezmer, Balkan, and Folk music camps/festivals of the world have made enormous contributions to what tunes are played and passed down. These events act as a platform for cultural exchange.

Goals

Representation & Using Our Privilege

By acknowledging our shared histories and struggle, we can combine our voices and address the healing, stabilizing, uplifting, and transforming of our diasporic communities. We acknowledge our intention to use the economic mobility Jewish peoples have found in the United States to uplift Romani music and culture bearers here. 

"Whereas Jews are over-determined in the realm of the Holocaust, Roma are over-determined in the realm of music. The Gypsy musician is a very powerful historical stereotype; Gypsies are assumed to be genetically talented, to embody music and, with it, to draw out the souls of their patrons. But while Roma are revered for their music, they are reviled as people (Silverman 2012)."

By showcasing the talents and contributions of Romani and Jewish musicians, representation in the arts can uplift and empower these communities. This visibility allows for a broader appreciation of their cultural richness, challenging stereotypes and discrimination that both groups have faced historically. 

 

Musical solidarity has the potential to transform the Romani and Jewish communities by fostering connections, understanding, and empathy between them. By recognizing their shared struggles and celebrating their unique cultural contributions, these communities can build a foundation for mutual support, combating discrimination, and working towards a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

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