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Gypsy Caravan II

Sunday, November 11

Any concert that tries to bring the musical world of the gypsies to a single stage is bound to fail. It can't be done. The gypsies are scattered across too many countries; they have mastered too many disparate strands of what we in America arrogantly lump together as "world" music. This concert wisely doesn't purport to represent all of gypsy music. What it does instead is trace their route from 11th-century India to several European countries today.

By including the Rajasthani group Maharaja on the bill, the Caravan places the gypsies within their often overlooked context as refugees from India. Although the gypsies' exodus took place almost a millennium ago, Maharaja still plays the sacred and secular, folk and popular, and Muslim and Hindu song traditions the gypsies heard before they headed west.

One place they settled was southern Spain, where they came in contact with Moorish influences and learned flamenco. The Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble, from Seville, represents south Iberian gypsy flamenco dance and song. Gypsy flamenco is melismatic in the extreme and characterized by the dominance of emotion (duende) over text. Look for Andalusian-Indian fusion on "Maharaja Flamenca," which adds flamenco vocals to Indian drone and rhythm.

Esma Redzepova is the gypsy Big Mama Thornton.
Esma Redzepova is the gypsy Big Mama Thornton.

In the West, it is all but forgotten that until 1918 much of Eastern Europe was under Turkish control, but reminders live on in the gypsy music of such countries as Romania and Moldova. In the hands of groups like Fanfare Ciocarlia, the marches of the Ottoman military brass bands are still thundering on, albeit in wilder, much less martial form. In Romania, Ciocarlia is known as the wildest (if not necessarily the most proficient) band in this rhythmically intricate, raucous genre.

The concert's showstopper is huge-voiced Esma Redzepova, a sort of gypsy Big Mama Thornton. Esma, or The Queen of the Gypsies, as she is known in her native Macedonia, was discovered at the age of 14 by bandleader Stevo Teodosievski. Teodosievski passed away a few years ago, but before he did, he and Redzepova adopted almost 50 orphans, many of whom became musicians and eventually joined their band.

Wherever the gypsies have gone, they have more than learned the local music. They have made it their own.

 
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