The definition of gypsy (considered pejorative) states that it means to be a member of a traveling people, the Romany or Rom, traditionally living by itinerant trade and fortune telling. Gypsies speak a language (Romany) that is related to Hindi and are believed to have originated in South Asia. Theirs is a culture we may or may not agree with. Their lifestyle differs greatly from ours. They seem to love the freedom of the road, the freedom of being. But is that really who they are? They are from a culture often misunderstood and shunned or pushed back by many. Often all the way to a national level. And yet, their history is rich, diverse and omnipresent.
Frequently we despise someone or something because we do not understand. For lack of knowledge, certain people, groups of people may be ostracized, herded and forced to live on the outskirts of society. I believe that to be an erroneous attitude. I like to keep an open mind and absorb what the world has to offer. Romany music is such a thing. It is – well simply – exhilarating, sad, romantic, passionate. One can feel immeasurable passion in any impromptu performance. Fascinating really.
Roma music –because that is what I will be talking about today—has had a tremendous influence
on popular culture. Listen to Brahms’ Hungarian Dances or Bela Bartok’s Romanian Folk Dances, and you will realize how much of the Roma folklore is included in their compositions. Pay attention and notice how Roma culture is present everywhere, from the early roots in Northern India to Hungary and Romania, passing through the plains of Spain and the birth of Flamenco, a hybrid mixture of Arabic, Jewish, Christian, and Gypsy music. Illegal until the 18th century, performed mainly in and for small groups of Roma
(gypsies), often in secret locations to avoid detection by the authorities. Persecuted already.
Romany music often represents the expansion of the many cultures it embodies. Instruments most characteristic to European Romani are the violin and the guitar. Romani are notorious in playing those. One of the better-known artists of the times, Django, excelled at it. He was the best.
I got to know Manitas de Plata in the late seventies. French-born Roma Ricardo Baliardo, musician (born Aug. 7, 1921, Sète, France—died Nov. 5, 2014, Montpellier, France), would rise from humble beginnings to become a virtuoso flamenco guitarist, selling millions of records worldwide. The personification of “Yes you can” as he grew up in a Roma caravan, was illiterate and received no formal musical training. His love of music made him teach himself to play the flamenco guitar.
He became known for his extravagance, as “the rage of the Riviera” attracting followers such as Brigitte Bardot, Dali, and Picasso. The latter even engraved a bullfighting scene on his guitar (I know, bullfighting …. Yuck … ) He went on to release more than 80 albums, recording and performing with his cousins José Reyes and helped pave the way for other popular Flamenco groups such as The Gypsy Kings which was formed with his own cousins and Reyes’ sons. They too went on to receive international attention and success.
Manitas de Plata went on to release more than 80 albums. He lived life as he saw it. He died in Montpellier, France on November 5th, 2014.
I am aware that I broke my own 350 words or less rule, but I felt it was important to convey what I feel is the music of a great and talented artist born to a people so unknown and so profoundly misunderstood. I can only hope that you enjoyed this little escapade into the realm of truly great music.
Until next week. Feel good. Feel bright. Feel well. Namaste!
Manitas de Plata | Britannica.com. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Manitas-de-Plata
https://youtu.be/PQhTpgicdx4 Django Reinhardt
https://youtu.be/tfS3GXltcEo Gitanos en Albaicin, Granada
https://youtu.be/Eex1aqbfP08 Manitas de Plata – Por el Camino de Ronda