“I recently met them during the shooting of The Man Who Cried. For me they are a model in the way they approach life. Despite all that they went through — I’m talking about racism against Gypsies which went on for centuries and still exists today — these guys can play a music which express the most intense joy. They have this gift to make you feel alive. They are among the most extraordinary people I ever met.”
— Johnny Depp (in Studio Magazine, France, Jan. 2000)
The first time I came across the band Taraf de Haidouks, I didn’t even know who they were. I had taken a video,Latcho Drom, out of the library that traced the travels of gypsies or Roma from their beginnings in India, through the middle east to the west of Europe.
One of the stops the video made was in a small town in Romania. Since my mother’s family had immigrated form Romania in the 1800’s I tend to pay attention a little more when it’s being talked about. The clip opened with an elderly man sitting under a tree singing, in a cracked and mournful voice, about the oppressiveness of the former communist regime.
The next scene showed the band members leaving their homes and gathering in the central square of their little village to perform. The old man from under the tree was joined by a variety of other musicians to play some of the, literally, wildest music I’ve ever heard. Like a runaway horse, it took off and careened out of control until as suddenly as it started it stopped. It was breathtaking.
Somehow or other I missed seeing the name of that band and they remained a mystery to me until about two years ago when my wife and I rented the movie The Man Who Cried. Set in Paris in the days before the German invasion, and in the first days of the occupation, the central character is a young Jewish woman (Christina Ricci) looking to reunite with her father.
One of the people she meets is a gypsy (Johnny Depp). He and his troupe of followers have ended up in Paris moving away from the Germans. At one point the young woman goes back to the gypsy’s camp where they gather to play music. The people playing were the same people from the tiny Romanian village.
From the credits I was able to find out the name of this wonderful band and in turn do a search for them on the web. The number one result from Google was the web site for the Band Of Gypsies CD. The site told the story of how this album came about.
More than just an album, it was the commemoration of their first ever concert in Romania. This band that had played over one thousand concerts internationally had not once played in their own country. It appears their brand of gypsy music was just a little too “real” for the liking of most concert promoters and radio stations. They didn’t wear colourful folk costumes and sing schmaltzy love songs.
For these concerts, they invited the Kocani Orkestar from Macedonia, percussionist Tarik from Istanbul, and Filip, a clarinet player from Bulgaria. Even though none of them could understand a word the other was saying they were able to compose original material for the concerts in two days.
The music itself is phenomenal. At one point charging ahead like a wild animal, the next a broken hearted song for lost love. Through out, the music is filled with a raw passion that is missing from so much contemporary music.
Unabashedly sentimental without ever succumbing to melodrama, there’s no need to understand the lyrics. Their instruments, including voices, have the ability to communicate through sound alone. The scratch of a bow on a violin in this group says more than fifty pop love songs could ever hope to communicate.
“Taraf de Haïdouks is one of my very favorite groups. Their passionate, earthly sound is filled with ecstasy and sadness. They take their listeners to the essence of music: that place where the bow meets the string and a world of action follows. As a member of Kronos I admire the wealth of feelings Taraf de Haïdouks create. As a violonist I love this wild place they inhabit.”
— David Harrington, Kronos Quartet
Taraf de Haidouks are one of the wildest gypsy caravans you could hitch a musical horse to. If your tired of your music sanitized and mass produced for the radio waves than you’ll love their album Band Of Gypsies You may have to hunt around for this recording of their concert from the year 2000, but sometimes the more elusive the prey the better the feast. This is a musical banquet you’ll not want to miss