Everybody assumes the people most refer to as Gypsies, who prefer the name Roma, are travellers. In fact the common stereotype we have of the Roma is that they travel around in caravans stealing from regular hardworking folk like ourselves. Since most decent hardworking folk tend to spit on the Roma as soon as look at them, their opinions and views, on the whole, can probably be safely disregarded. Even the one part of the picture they manage to get partially right doesn't even begin to tell the story of these people. For, if they are such wanderers by choice, why are there permanent Roma settlements throughout Eastern Europe?
The people we call the Roma are descendants of folk who left the Rajasthan province of Northern India some time during the early part of the first millennium. The best guess is that their migrations began around the same time the Mogul Empire began its expansion into Northern India from Persia. Maybe they were simply fleeing the fighting, or maybe they had no wish to live under the rule of this new Empire, we'll never know for sure. What we do know is that they began to make the long trek West following the Silk Road through the Middle East and eventually made their way into Europe following the Danube River. A wonderful documentary movie, Latcho Drom, retraces the route they took through visits with musicians in each of the countries the Roma have settled in.
As with any diaspora, not everybody left, and there are still many in Rajasthan who are the descendants of those who didn't make the migration. However, as their role in the history of the Roma has been a relatively recent discovery for the world at large, we still know only a very little about the people and their culture. Aside from the movie mentioned above, their music was also featured in the film When The Road Bends: Tales Of A Gypsy Caravan, a documentary which followed the North American tour of Roma musicians from all over the world. Unfortunately both movies only offered samples of the type of music on offer from the people of Rajasthan, and releases by individual bands from the region were scarce and hard to come by.
Thankfully that situation looks like it's beginning to improve. While there might be something slightly cynical about talking about a few-thousand-year-old culture being "discovered", a benefit is the increased availability of music from the region. One such example is a new disc out on the very good international music label, World Village Music, from the French based Rajasthan band, Dhoad: Gypsies Of Rajasthan, called Roots Travellers. Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, the review copy I received didn't contain the DVD included with the CD as a bonus feature. However judging by some of the stills you can see of them performing at their website, both dancing and fire breathing appear to play a role, and it has the potential for being quite the spectacular.