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Who are the bands in Latcho Drom?

Since first watching it nearly 10 years ago, “Latcho Drom” has remained one of my favorite films that consistently gives new insights each time. “Latcho Drom” is Romanes for “safe travels.” The 1993 film by Tony Gatlif is a narrative film often mistaken for a documentary because of how it follows musical performances and community practices of Rom along one of the many supposed paths of Romani migration out of North West India around 1100.

The film has almost no dialogue, most of it intentionally unintelligible to the audience. Starting in Rajasthan the film is in a number of Indian languages, Arabic, Turkish, Hungarian, Slovak, French, Spanish, and many variants of the Macro-Language Romani.

Gatlif’s works center around Romani cultures. My copy of “Latcho Drom '' is a VHS tape given to me by someone who collected it from the overflow of the Portsmouth, NH public library; though you can find the majority of Gatlif’s work across various streaming platforms often accessible by library card.


The film begins in India with a group of Kalbelia from Rajasthan. Talab Khan Barna performs Sat Bhayan Ki Ek Behanadli I and and Sat Bhayan Ki Ek Behanadli II. Following is Oh Kesario Hazari Gul Ro Phool performed by Daoud Langa. The climactic scene in Rajasthan is by Bade Gazi Khan Jeena Manganiyar, a legendary Manganiyar singer. The performance Kaman Garo Kanhaji draws influence from Indian Classical and Sufi music.


The next featured group is “Les Musiciens Du Nil,” from Luxor Egypt. This group settled in Egypt as early as the 11th century. “Musicians of the Nile, with Metqâl Qenawi Metqâl at the beginning, the great master and genius of “sa’îdî” music (from Upper Egypt) and Shamandi Tewfick, an epic poet from another time, are a symbol, being the first group of so-called “Arab” music to obtain, as early as 1975,” The groups perform Bambi Saidi and Ya Dorah Shami.


The film progresses through Istanbul with trained bears and a shot made through a telescope watching the full moon rise. The track, Istanbul Drom, is credited to Nicolas Naegelen, an audio engineer. The Turkish scenes of the film also feature Hasan Yarim Dunya & Ensemble performing the lively Hicaz Dolap Rom.


As the film moves west we begin to see a darker image of the Rom in Europe, where they have been persecuted for centuries. One of the biggest groups and memorable scenes are those in performed by Taraf de Haidouks. If you aren’t familiar with their music, you might be interested to know that the leading members have an NPR tiny desk as Taraf de Caliu.

“Taraf de Caliu, Romania After more than three decades of relentlessly touring all over the world, the founding members of Taraf de Haidouks reunited for a new project: Taraf de Caliu. The musicians from Clejani, Romania are the last generation of “lautari” that carry on this authentic traditional music from southern Romania, the music that defined them as one of the best gypsy bands in the world. Under the lead of Caliu, the iconic violinist of the taraf, they are on the road again.”

The scene opens with a violinist and cymbolist singing a ballad/doina to a young boy. The song Balada Conducatorolui tells the horror of Nicolae Ceausescu, the general secretary of the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 to 1989 and a brutal ruler. The violinist displays a unique extended technique of pulling a fishing line through the strings of his violin as a creaky and haunting wail. The same musicians (plus the rest of Taraf de Haidouks) are later seen gathering in the town square to perform Rînd De Hore, a fast song made of multiple individual melodies strung together into a suite. You can find the track on one of their many albums here:

If this music inspires you, a recommend watching Gatlif’s film “Gadjo Dilo,” about a French traveler inappropriately knocking on the doors of any Rom he can find to trace down the voice of “Nora Luca,” a singer on a cassette tape owned by the film’s lead. The film shows the mistrust between the Rom and Gadje worlds as well as the practices held by Romanian Roma in life, celebration, and death.


Hungary has a long and shifting relationship with Romani. At one point Romani music was seen as high art and a symbol of national identity. Though the musical influence of Hungarian Rom persits in almost every popular Hungarian genre since the late 15th century, they remain second class citizens in the eyes of most. This scene portrays that relationship through a small boy singing alongside a Roma family to cheer his mother despite her judgments of the family. The composition performed by Rostas Szabina is simply called “Cigany Himnusz” (Romani Song).

Whereas some of the bands in Latcho Drom are part of the film because of their popularity, groups like Kek Lang (Blue Flame) gained notoriety from the film. Kek Lang comes from a village near Nyabator in eastern Hungary and performs Gili Béga Sitya, a joyous song in the midst of a struggling post communist Hungary.


Slovakia features Auschwitz sung by Margita Makulova. A train moves along a barbed wire fence as Mukulove sings. The camera moves to reveal her imprisonment tattoo from Auschwitz. Though Latcho Drom is in too many languages, and touches upon too many cultures for the average viewer to connect with all the scenes, this scene is inescapably heavy.


Ausvicate hi kher bro

Odoj besel mro pirano

Besel, besel gondolinel

Te pre mande pobisterel

O tu kalo cirikloro

Lidza mange mro lilro

Lidza, lidza mra romake

Hoj som phandlo Ausvicate

Ausvicate bokha bare

Te so te chal amen nane

Ani oda koter maro

O blokris bibachtl


In Auschwitz there is a great house

And there my husband is imprisoned

He sits and sits and laments

And thinks about me

Oh, you black bird!

Carry my letter!

Carry it to my wife

For I am jailed in Auschwitz

In Auschwitz there is great hunger

And we have nothing to eat

Not even a piece of bread

And the block guard is bad

Another of Gatlif’s works, Kokoro, addresses issues of Porajmos (the Romani holocaust) in long form narrative. The story was inspired by accounts of Romani who escaped the Nazi regime through the aid of French villagers. It also tells the story of those who were less lucky in their struggle.


The scenes in France didn’t require much research as in Sinti music and Django style circles, these guys are legends. The ensemble consists of Dorado Schmitt (violin/guitar), who is father to Samson and Amati (two amazing musicians in their own right), Tchavalo Schmitt (guitar) who starred in Gatlif’s “Swing,” and Hono Winterstein (rhythm guitar). Hono is on every record by any Manouche star. He is the preferred accompaniment for Bireli Lagrene and even appears in the Etienne Commar biopic “Django.” Here is one of my favorite performances of Dorado and Hono playing “Deed I Do,” sung beautifully by Nona Schmitt.

This scene of the film is to show one of the last legs of the journey to worship Kali Sara (Black Sara), the patron saint of the Romani, at Saint-Maries-de-la-Mer, a pilgrimage site for the Rom of western Europe. Later they demonstrate a bit of the 1970’s Django revival where the Jazz and Swing influences of these player’s parents had since seeped into their practice as a folk music present in religious ceremonies and parties. They finish their scene with Tchavalo Swing.

The influences of Django on Sinti communities and the influence of Sinti communities on acoustic jazz are complicated. In addition to adopting swing as a performance practice in the tradition of Django Reinhardt, swing music is played amongst Manouche as part of religious practices not shared with outsiders as part of the “Vie et Lumiere” movement. Gatlif has another film, Swing, starring the young Tchavalo Schmitt who tutors a young Gadjo boy from the suburbs in the style of Manouche guitar. 10-year old Max falls for a young Romni girl and struggles as he navigates the prejudices held by the adults of his Alsacian community.


The scenes in Spain show a Kalo community at the edge of the European continent being blocked out of their neighborhood as the windows and doorways are shut in by bricks. The progression of each song/performance shows the Rom being pushed further and further from the bounds of the city. The scenes show Les Gitans de Badajoz performing Ramona and La Caita performing El Parajo Negro. Caita’s singer, Maria del Carmen Salazar, can be seen in another Gatlif film “Vengo,” about two Andalusian Rom families feuding for power. Like most of Gatlif’s work the music and dialogue are inseparable elements of the story telling of the film.

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