IJ: Adéla Gálová has written that all your parents’ efforts to allow your musical talent to blossom provided you with experiences that few of your peers in the Romani settlement had. She also wrote that your contacts with professional musicians opened up the world for you and that you became a full-fledged member of both the Romani and the majority cultural communities. That said, do you think you were born with an extraordinary talent?
Gejza Horváth: What was key to my maturing into a professional musician was the era in which I grew up. Elvis Presley, The Beatles and [Czech bandleader] Karel Vlach were at the height of their fame. Songs by Suchý and Šlitr were being played, too. My parents were fond of this music, and they supported my musical education. I attended a music school, where I befriended some non-Romani boys and began playing in their big band at balls. That was the greatest schooling – the combination of playing in my family band and in a non-Romani big band.
‘Most important, while writing [the song], I think about other Roma. I want them to find themselves in my song and to have a sense of ownership.’
IJ: Tell us about some of the ideas that inspire your songs.
GH: My inspiration most often comes to me early in the morning. If I am entirely clean, from a psychological standpoint, then a muse comes to me and I just wait for the muse to caress me, so to speak. I often recall scenes from my native Slovakia, and I write songs about them. Then I make my own judgment as to whether the resulting song is amateurish or not; and, most important, while writing [the song], I think about other Roma. I want them to find themselves in my song and to have a sense of ownership.
IJ: But have you ever written a song in response to external circumstances? When you knew of a certain theme that you wanted to develop?
GH: Yes, I wrote a song that’s a manifesto against discrimination and racism. I saw television footage of violence in the north of the Czech Republic, including Nazis and their representatives marching. I knew at that moment that I had to write a piece about it.
IJ: You compose music, but you are also a writer – you’ve even published a book of short stories, Trispras. What’s closer to your heart, music or literature?
GH: I feel the same sense of responsibility whether I’m composing or writing lyrics, because they’re both equally important to me. And in that same exact way, writing stories is important to me, too.
‘The kids have made great strides not only in music; many of them have done so in their academic and working lives, too.’
IJ: You’ve been presiding over a music workshop for more than ten years as part of the organization ‘IQ Roma Servis’. Why did you decide to work with young Roma specifically through music?
GH: I spent most of my life touring the world as a musician. When I retired, I began to listen more closely to the music of the former Czechoslovakia, and I didn’t particularly like it. That’s why I decided to pass on my knowledge. I want to help those who are interested in improving their lives and recording quality music. During the time I’ve worked with the organization, the kids have made great strides not only in music; many of them have done so in their academic and work lives, too. Combining ‘IQ Roma Servis’ with a music workshop is ideal because some of the participants might otherwise be interested only in music, but once they’re with us they’re motivated to attend our tutoring service as well. This way, the whole person grows. Sometimes I organise concerts with [the participants], and the resulting praise from the audience raises their self-esteem, which is invaluable for their development.
IJ: Your latest brainchild, which was long hoped for, is the non-profit recording studio Amaro Records. What are your thoughts now that it has been in operation for a year?
GH: For quite some time, I didn’t understand why it seemed like there was no [majority group] interest in Romani music played by Roma, although when [non-Romani singer Zuzana] Navarová or Ida Kelarová sang Romani songs, the interest was enormous. I realised that the problem lies in the lack of quality recordings. Now we have Amaro Records, a studio in which we have some sort of evening programme almost every night. Most of the time, Roma and non-Roma get together and play. And that’s always been my dream.