Colorful Khamoro

Czech Position

Week-long festival in Prague celebrates the richness of Roma music and traditions

The colors, the dancing and most especially the music is what you’ll take away from any event you attend at this week’s World Roma Festival Khamoro in Prague. Organizers hope you’ll remember something else as well. In addition to the Roma music concerts, a fashion show, traditional craft exhibition and theater performances, there will be a two-day international conference on intolerance towards the minority group. It’s this intolerance that first led the founders to begin the festival.

“The idea to organize the festival belongs to Jelena and Džemil Silajdžic,” Rena Horvátová, the festival’s PR manager, told Czech Position. “They came to Czech Republic in ‘90s and were organizing cultural events for international companies. One activity involved a performance by a Roma band called “Khamoro.” When the band was performing, the sound engineer was causing problems by switching off the sound. So, Džemil Silajdžic decided to organize an event where no one would be discriminated. The first Khamoro festival was organized in 1999.”

Now in its 14th year, Khamoro is best known for the opportunity to see top Roma musicians and bands from across the continent. Groups from the Czech Republic, Romania, France, Spain and more will be playing either traditional or contemporary Roma music. On Tuesday and Wednesday the groups will be showcasing contemporary Roma music, while on Thursday and Friday will feature more traditional tunes. Prague venues include Jazz Dock, Roxy and SaSaZu. The final concert on Saturday (June 2) will feature all the bands, seven in total, plus two special guests; the band Nightwork and blind Roma singer Martin Svátek.

Magical music

The Gypsy jazz concert May 30 at Jazz Dock will feature German-Dutch group Sonnekai. The swing ensemble will take you back to the ‘20s and ‘30s Paris scene, symbolic of the early years of European jazz. On May 31, you won’t want to miss the soulful singing of Spanish flamenco singer Carmen Fernandez who will be accompanied by the equally talented Spanish dancers Irene Alvarez and Federico Ordonez. Her set will be followed by Romathan Theatre, a Slovak-based group whose performances center around music written by Roma composers. Fifteen musicians, singers and dancers will participate.

For a taste of some “local” Gypsy music, check out Ceský Krumlov band Cindži Renta on June 1 at Roxy. All five musicians also sing and say that the music they play is not based on musical education but passion and energy. That evening you’ll also get to experience Macedonian group Kocani Orkestar, a swinging group of 11 men who play everything from the accordion to trumpet. Their music is best known for its thundering rhythm section consisting of a drummer and four tubas.

“Every year the program is becoming richer and more attractive,” Horvátová said. “The accompanying program is getting deeper, it includes exhibitions, film screenings, seminars and this year will be added two theatre performances.”

“My Neighbor, My Enemy” is a stage collage being performed May 30. Created by the National Theatre and directed by Viktoria Cermáková; it’s designed primarily from public documents and speeches that reflect the coexistence of Czechs and Roma. On June 5 and 6, “Open for Everything” offers a fresh look at contemporary Roma society and touches upon the life of the Roma community and their search for home and a cultural identity.

Other hot tips include an outdoor fashion show at Lyskovo námestí in Karlín on May 29. It was prepared especially for the Khamoro festival by well-known Cuban fashion designer Osmany Laffita and his designs will be shown by both Roma and non-Roma models. At the festival’s opening press conference, Laffita said he was pleased for the opportunity to participate in the festival.

“Cuban and Roma cultures have many things in common, they are joyful, happy, love music, family, bright colors,” he said. “The new collection is called Corazon Gitano (Gypsy Heart) and expresses the good things about the Roma, which we don’t hear too often.”

Two exhibitions, one on traditional Roma crafts being held in the New Town Hall, and the second exhibiting Mila Doleželová’s paintings covering a variety of Roma themes on loan from the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, add to the variety of elements organizers would like to present.

Colorful costumes, dancing and more will bring a dose of energy to city streets via the artists’ parade on June 31. Starting at noon from Mustek, seven bands from this year’s festival will play their way through the city center ending up at Old Town Square, accompanied by 14 Czech music and dancing ensembles.

Two symposiums will also be held. One entitled “New Forms of Intolerance against Roma in Modern Europe,”” looks to address the current intolerance against Roma in Europe and make the fight against it a priority at the European level. A workshop called “We are on the Long Way” brings together Roma youth from the Czech Republic, Italy, Lithuania and Bulgaria. The aim of the workshop is to help young Roma find their place in society through a greater sense of identity.

With the multitude of events happening in Prague right now, Khamoro does stand out as being one of new experiences and discoveries.

“The Khamoro festival is a unique event of this kind, where Roma culture is presented in all its richness,” Horvátová said.