‘As regards myself, I’ve realised that I’m already making a statement just by performing.’
RomArchive: What are your favourite genres of Sinti and Romani music in Germany and of music in general, and how does your own creative work draw on these?
Tayo: I really enjoy the variety of our music, be it jazz, classical, swing or so-called traditional music. Ferenc Snétberger, for instance, is a musician I really admire. I also love soul, funk, R’n’B, gospel and African music. All these musical styles taken together are actually the music I grew up with.
I believe that every song an artist actually enjoyed listening to has made an impact on them in some kind of way. It’s all part of you. And, of course, your own story, the history of your family. You can sing ‘Djelem Djelem’ in the most perfect, artistic way, but how different is it when the story this song tells us is talking about your family’s history?
The lyrics of my own songs are in English, Romanes and German. These are the languages I grew up with and feel comfortable with and I want to share this with my audience.
RA: Has your sense of purpose or identity changed as a result of your education and work history?
Tayo: Yes, totally! I’m so thankful to be part of the initiative IniRromnja. We’re a group of Sinitzza and Romnja who came together to work against racism towards Sinti and Roma.
‘Seeing what our people have to offer when it comes to academia, art and activism is just amazing and empowering at the same time.’
During the last decade or so, there has been such enormous development and fusion within our group as well as the building of an international network. We’re connecting with so many awesome women in Germany, Spain, Serbia, the Czech Republic, the US and other countries. Seeing what our people have to offer when it comes to academia, art and activism is just amazing and empowering at the same time.
We’re not a homogeneous group, unlike what’s been said in books, movies and other media, but we’re a diverse group that has many beautiful contributions to make. Seeing Roma and Sinti working in numerous different fields is very healing. I, for instance, identify as an Afro-Sintizza or Black Sintizza. I embrace my identity, and in doing this – by being myself – I can’t separate it from anything creative I do, which are the things we call art.
RA: You have been involved in various socially progressive projects with RomaniPhen, including performances and conferences. Who are the audiences or target groups for this work, and how do people react to it?
Tayo: RomaniPhen is a feminist, Rromnja-led archive located in Berlin, Germany. Of course, people often ask why it’s a feminist archive. Well, if we look at the history of racism towards our people, we can see that the picture of ‘the Romani woman’ is actually the main target of racism towards Sinti and Roma. There are so many examples in opera, music, literature and other areas. At the same time, there are so many fantastic Romani women who have given us so much: authors, filmmakers, painters, artists, activists, scientists. We want to highlight these women and put emphasis on their tremendous work.
‘One of our aims is to highlight the fact the we’re not objects but subjects.’
Usually, people are amazed and impressed because what they hear and learn at one of our events does not tend to be taught at schools or universities. One of our aims is to highlight the fact the we’re not objects but subjects. There’s a lot of information – or what seems to be common ‘knowledge’ – in our societies about Sinti and Roma. This knowledge is usually full of racism.
Our aim is to show other perspectives, which are, in fact, the truth. One of our important projects is the Romnja Power Month. We celebrate this month from 8 March, International Women’s Day, until the 8 April, International Roma Day. Throughout this month we host various events such as readings, panels and concerts. People are usually amazed when they hear about women like Ilona Lagrene, Anita Awosusi, Fatima Hartmann, Ceija Stojka or Alfreda Noncia Markowska for the first time.
RA: Your very successful concert at the Prague Pride festival was an example of coalition-building between Sinti and Romani groups. Could you give us some thoughts about such interconnections and their meanings?
Tayo: To be honest, I really love such interconnections. I feel like there is such a deep, common history we can learn from. I think it’s fantastic to come together, exchange thoughts and work together. Some of our sisters and brothers are facing very difficult, sometimes life-threatening conditions. We Sinti and Roma should unite more closely and fight together against this ugly thing called racism.
RA: Have you been involved in mentoring other Sinti and Romani performers or other individuals?
Tayo: Yes – for example, I have mentored a group of young musicians at a youth conference. Seeing how our young people are coming together and how talented they are is just fantastic. This was a group of young Sinti and Roma who were working together musically, bringing their own experiences, music and lyrics. They enjoyed meeting through music and learning about the variety of our (Romani) language. It was beautiful.
I’m also planning to start a Romnja choir in Berlin, hopefully very soon.
RA: How do you see the future of Romani and Sinti communication in Germany and beyond? Do you think music has any effect on mutual understanding between people from different language or dialect groups?
Tayo: I can see that Sinti and Romani groups are coming closer together, and that is definitely the right direction to follow. I know of young musicians – Sinti – who actually learned another variant of our language, in this case the language of Serbian Roma, through interaction with those people and their music. That’s fantastic.
'I’m a female singer. I’m black. I’m Sintizza. I’m German.’
There are different contexts in which Roma and Sinti are coming together – churches, professions, private situations. Music can be a beautiful tool to help people connect even more. As regards myself, I’ve realised that I’m already making a statement just by performing. I’m a female singer. I’m black. I’m Sintizza. I’m German. I sing English lyrics but I also sing in Romanes – the Sinti Romanes I grew up with but also the Romanes of Serbian, Czech and Spanish Roma.
I hope and pray that I can reach more and more people and make a stand against racism towards Sinti and Roma.
Rights held by: Petra Gelbart | Licensed by: Petra Gelbart | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC 3.0 Germany | Provided by: RomArchive