Romani music, culture take spotlight 

click to enlarge The Sazet Band headlines the Herdeljezi Balkan Romani Music Festival in The City. - COURTESY CENTER FOR TRADITIONAL MUSIC AND DANCE
  • The Sazet Band headlines the Herdeljezi Balkan Romani Music Festival in The City.
The music of Gypsies (who prefer to be called Roma or Romani) is so hypnotic, it's being performed widely by others.

Dozens of Northen California bands playing this type of music, but made up of musicians of a different heritage, rarely have the opportunity to hear and learn from real Roma, says Sani Rifati, a Rom from Kosovo who immigrated to the United States in 1993 and is among the organizers of this weekend’s Herdeljezi Balkan Romani Music Festival in The City.

“This year, Bay Area residents can learn the music and dance at a series of workshops, and explore the music's Balkan contexts at a panel discussion, " says Rifati, describing the 18th annual festival Saturday at the Croatian American Cultural Center.

Sazet Band, an eight-piece Romani band from New York City featuring musicians from Macedonia, is the headliner, playing an evening dance party and hosting singing and instrumental workshops earlier in the day. The group, formed in 2011 by clarinetist Sal Mamudoski and saxophonist Romeo Kurtali, performs what it calls "New York City-style” Romani music – traditional folk music from the Balkans mixed with elements of classical, jazz, funk and fusion.

The festival, named for the Romani spring holiday of renewal and fertility called Herdeljezi, aims to bring attention to Romani people (an estimated 1 million are in the U.S.) and the Balkan region, which has the greatest concentration of Roma, according to Voice of Roma, an advocacy group dedicated to promoting Romani culture and tradition.

Roma people are among the most persecuted ethnic groups in Europe, throughout their thousand-year history since migrating from Northern India. Thousands perished in Holocaust concentration camps along with Jews and gays, and in Central Europe, discrimination and persecution exist today.

University of Oregon anthropologist Carol Silverman, who wrote “Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora” and leads a talk on Saturday, says the festival has several goals: to “renew interest and attention on the continued struggles of Romani people around the world, to counter negative Gypsy stereotypes and support efforts by Roma to rebuild and maintain their communities, [and to] improve their lives and strengthen their international voice and visibility."


Herdeljezi Balkan Romani Music Festival

Presented by Voice of Roma

Where: Croatian American Cultural Center, 60 Onondaga Ave., S.F.

When: 3 p.m. May 2

Tickets: $20 to $60

Contact: (800) 838-3006,

Note: The dance party begins at 8:30 p.m.

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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