Sani Rifati was born and educated in Kosovo in former Yugoslavia. He was a member of the ‘Kheljen Romalen!’ Folklore Dance Ensemble in Pristina, in 1978. He is a drummer (dumbek and trap drums, Cajon), singer, dancer and dance instructor.
In the 1980’s, Sani was a drummer in a professional band, touring throughout Yugoslavia but moved to the United States during the wars that broke up that country, almost immediately beginning to carry out the kind of cultural activism that had nurtured Roma activism, in his former country.
He started an annual Herdeljezi Festival in California, modelled on the folk celebrations he had known growing up; these became linked to Herdeljezi (Hdrılez) celebrations across North America and more explicitly political 8th April International Romani Day celebrations. He has organized tours of well-known Roma bands across the US and Canada, including Esma Redzepova, Ivo Papasov and Yuri Yunakov, and Kal. Strongly criticizing the commercialized musical tours of ‘Gypsy Caravans’, ‘Gypsy Spirits’ and ‘Gypsy Kings’, Sani is committed to making the events he organises reflect the real lives and challengers faced by Roma.
With its strong online and radio presence, his Voice of Roma organisation became a central public voice in Roma anti-racist campaigns in North America. He formed an NGO with an office in Kosovo, directly helping the Roma refugees throughout Europe and campaigning to stop forced deportation by western European governments.
Currently based in Berlin, his work and campaigns are amongst the most important symbols of the determination of the Roma diaspora, to help the oppressed Roma millions of Eastern Europe.