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Petra Gelbart

Romani Festivals as Classrooms

This type of festival typically features information to be imparted, instructors in the form of lecturers or music workshop leaders, written materials, aural and kinetic examples of cultural products, illustrations in the form of exhibits, and films.

The Romani ‘nation without a territory’ exists thanks to the semantic collapse of the terms ‘nation,’ ‘ethnicity’ and, sometimes even, ‘race’ in various languages.

The Khamoro festival, held annually in Prague, brings together musicians from among Roma and related groups from all over the world.

Rights held by: Zuzana Jurková (recording) | Licensed by: Slovo 21 | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Slovo 21 – NGO (Prague/Czech Republic) | More at: Khamoro - World Roma Festival / Slovo 21

The Romani nation exists in the concerted efforts of Romani politicians over the decades to secure representation of Roma, Sinti, Gitanos and other Romanies as a group within the United Nations, other international bodies and national governmental agencies. It exists on the Internet, in record store display bins, within formal and informal networks of activists together with their family members and, increasingly, among Roma with no particular organisational affiliation or social distinction.

Romani musicians and dancers are frequently required to perform not just their music but also to promote the ideas that others hold about ‘Gypsies’.

The RomArchive Music Section has collected examples of festivals whose main focus is the idea of Romani nationhood and, as such, constitute educational tools that involve self-promotion along with the rejection or internalisation of popular stereotypes about Roma. When organising festivals – as a kind of pedagogical spectacle – that are oriented beyond their own communities, Roma are called upon to distil Romani culture for general audiences.

This type of festival typically features information to be imparted, instructors in the form of lecturers or music workshop leaders, written materials, aural and kinetic examples of cultural products (sometimes tactile, too, in the form of handicrafts), illustrations in the form of exhibits (at times showcasing Romani artwork), and films. The ‘students’ attending such learning-focused events often have opportunities to discuss with an invited speaker or to receive formal instruction in music and dance.

Romani musicians and dancers are frequently required to perform not just their music but also to promote the ideas that others hold about ‘Gypsies’: an excess of emotion, body-based communication and a mythical connection to the past (see Romani/Traveller Music in the UK and Ireland). However, through partnerships between musicians and Romani activists, who are often linked to like-minded allies, educational festivals paint a much more complete picture of modern Romani lives.