O’Roma Bashavel, a group that plays traditional Gypsy folk music, will present a concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 29, in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium at the University of St. Thomas.
The concert is one way to begin to understand the culture of the people commonly called Gypsies and more accurately called Roma, says Bill Duna, a jazz musician and member of the St. Thomas music faculty.
O’Roma Bashavel is led by Eastern European Gypsy musicians Gregory Ballog, a Detroit violinist of Hungarian descent, and Alex Udvary, a Chicago cimbalom artist of Slovakian heritage. (In the foreground of the picture above is a cimbalom, a type of hammer dulcimer native to Hungarian folk music.)
Also featured at the April 29 concert is Nevada singer Mary Godla, who will sing Romany songs both centuries-old and recent. The concert acknowledges 30th Romany National Day, which was celebrated worldwide April 8.
Tickets may be purchased for $15 in advance by calling the UST Box Office, (651) 962-6140. Tickets also will be available for $18 at the door.
Duna, of Romany descent, is president of Sa-Roma, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Roma and the elimination of the racism and persecution they have suffered for centuries. Duna also is a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.
Duna works to correct a variety of misconceptions and stereotypes about Romany people; one is that they are fortune-tellers and peddlers and not to be trusted. “My ancestors in Europe have lived in the same towns in Hungary and Czechoslovakia for centuries. My own family has been in the United States for over 100 years,” Duna explained in a 1988 magazine profile. “Many [Roma] are tradesmen and professional people.”
The Roma originated in northern India and moved into central Europe to escape war during the ninth and 10th centuries. They fled in different directions, resulting in varying lifestyles, linguistic dialects and religions. Their long history of slavery and persecution in eastern Europe includes the extinction of more than half of their population by the Nazis during World War II. Roma were rounded up in Germany and incarcerated in camps as early as 1927 and 1929. Today they continue to struggle for acceptance and for basic human rights, Duna said.
“Roma are victims of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Kosovo, where some 80,000 Roma have been forced to flee their homes during the war and are now scattered as refugees in Europe,” Duna said. “The United Nations, for the most part, has turned a blind eye to the suffering of the Roma.”
Despite their persecution, Romany people submit music — emotional, spontaneous, lively music — as an important hallmark of their culture. Duna offers his own family as evidence: the orchestra pictured above includes (left to right) his great-grandfather, his cousin, his grandfather, another cousin and his great uncle. He’s quick to point out that composers such as Liszt, Brahms and Kodaly counted on Gypsy folk music to shape some of their greatest works.
“At this concert you’ll learn about a people who are extremely creative and have been able to survive a hostile environment for centuries,” he added. “A great paradox is the fact that many of the non-Gypsy people of Europe have hated the Roma, but for centuries have loved their music.”