Indeed, ‘Gypsy music’ as performed at UK music festivals may not reflect local Traveller/Romanichal identity. For example, “The 1,000 Year Journey” festival held at the Barbican in London in 2000 was billed as an event to “Get in touch with your inner gypsy [sic] ... Come and feel the heat of a Gypsy fire”.
Organised by experts in world music, the festival featured predominantly East European and Flamenco music genres. According to the Romani journalist Jake Bowers, no local Romani/Traveller groups were consulted; the organisers fell into the trap of “exoticism”, representing “Gypsies” as belonging to another place and time.
The exotic portrayal of “Gypsies” at such festivals as innately musical, wild and passionate reinforces commonplace ideas about “authenticity” that may lead to Travellers and Romanichals in the UK and Ireland being dismissed as “not real Gypsies”. This can have serious consequences. As Professor of Romani Studies Thomas Acton has observed, racism towards Travellers and Romanichals is frequently rooted in the perception that these groups do not match mythical stereotypes of the “true Gypsy” closely enough.
Songs performed by Irish and Scottish Travellers and British Romanichals may not be “easy listening” for most Gorjas. But they are, according to English folk singer and collector Shirley Collins, “totally fascinating”.
English folk artist Martin Carthy wrote in the sleeve notes to his CD Signs of Life (1998) that Mike Yates’s 1974 field recordings of English Romanichal Levi Smith “confronted everything I had thought made musical sense, and changed it”.
English folk singer Norma Waterson is an admirer of the singing of the Brazils, Wiggy Smith, Duncan Williamson, Jasper, Minty and Levi Smith, Mary Ann Haynes, Phoebe Smith, and Belle Stewart, to name but a few of the Travellers and Romanichals recorded by Mike Yates and other collectors.
It is ironic that ethnic groups so frequently excluded from official representations of British and Irish life became the carriers of a folk tradition that urbanisation, industrialisation and modernisation virtually extinguished in the Gorja population.