Sinti and Kampers
Lisa Weiss was born in an itinerant camp in Venlo in Holland, a border town close to Germany and Belgium, in 1958. Her mother came from the Kampers (travelling) community and her father was a Sinti. The Sinti and Kampers communities of the region remain intertwined to this day: they share the same camp sites while retaining their separate identities.
Until the age of five, when her father left her mother and was forced by the maternal family to stay away, Weiss was brought up bilingual in Sinti and Dutch. This created an enormous rift between Weiss and her Sinti family, until she reconnected with them at the age of sixteen.
All her life, Lisa Weiss felt that she lived between two worlds, never fully connected to one or the other. In the Kampers community, she felt out of place and was discriminated against because of her Sinti descent. In the Sinti community at a later stage of her life, she felt a disconnect as she did not have sufficient command of the language.
Weiss began singing as a child, performing popular songs to the applause of family and friends. She eventually began taking guitar lessons. As a female guitar player, Weiss is rather unique in the Sinti community, as in general Sinti women do not play guitar; in general, instruments belong more to the man’s world.
Weiss may be perceived by some Sinti as perhaps overly outgoing in her artistic life, and her lack of conformity to certain rules of the group may be explained by the formative years she spent outside of it. However, times are changing and there are other women who are exceptions to such rules.
Song themes and civic engagement
Lisa Weiss has actively embraced her Sinti heritage and has been involved in representing it for the past fifteen years. She writes music in the Sinti language and take part in projects on behalf of her people. She has been featured in Dutch television performances and a number of festivals, as well as making numerous studio recordings.
Her songs contain experiential truths but also a large dose of nostalgia and emotional catharsis. The themes she portrays are very often about living free and travelling, but also about real-life struggles and love stories. In addition to her music, Weiss has written stories about her father’s absence and about the persecution of Sinti and Roma in the Holocaust. She has also worked as a professional actress.
Weiss has put together an educational project in which she invites Dutch children to visit her studio and listen to her perform. Through stories and pictures, she introduces them to Sinti culture with the intent of countering prejudice.
In addition, Weiss has had more than 1,400 children visit her trailer at the camp in Venlo, which has meant overcoming quite an obstacle in the form of most of the parents, as the camp has a bad reputation among the majority population. In this way, she is providing a first-hand opportunity for young people to experience an environment that is as feared as it is romanticised.