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Petra Gelbart

The Kolpakov Family

Musical dynasties

Few cultures are as fertile for the growth of artistic family legacies as those of Roma and Sinti. Beginning with their mothers’ voices, young people in highly musical Romani families are surrounded not only by ongoing sounds from various instruments, but also by communities that place a high value on performance skills.

‘The director and founder of the Gilori academy was a wonderful, highly educated person.’

Moscow’s Romani theater alone has been the hub of several dynasties, one of which consists of the Kolpakovs. Born in 1943, Alexander (Sasha) Kolpakov is a seven-string guitarist, composer, and vocalist. Having achieved considerable success, he passed the seven-string tradition to his nephew, Vadim Kolpakov.

Family training and formal education

In addition to being taught by Sasha, Vadim also attended the Romen Theater’s Gilori (“Little Song”) school. In a statement for RomArchive, Vadim described the program as follows:

‘We had a very fine school, with numerous classes: stage speaking, the craft of acting, dance, vocal instruction, musical instruments. The director and founder of the Gilori academy was a wonderful, highly educated person – Vyacheslav Petrovich Demeter, the Romen Theater’s choirmaster, who passed away approximately ten years ago.

Some of the teachers were from the Romen Theater, others came from elsewhere. They were not all Roma; some were Jewish as well as other people. The great Romen Theater actor Boris Tashkenskiy taught the craft of acting to the students. ... We did not have many instrumental classes – all the boys wanted to play the guitar. ...

There was a class called Romani Language – the students spoke various dialects, but we were still able to understand one another. We also learned a bit about Romani history.’

Excerpted and translated from Romani*

As a result of his schooling, Vadim Kolpakov’s work involves not only virtuosic guitar playing, but multi-part vocal arrangements and truly impressive Romani tap dancing as well.

Alexander Kolpakov with Vadim Kolpakov

Rights held by: Mila Nesterova | Licensed by: Vadim Kolpakov | Licensed under: CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International | Provided by: Vadim Kolpakov – Private Archive

The Kolpakovs were prominently featured as soloists in Madonna’s show, and their advocacy resulted in the pop star’s decision to make a statement on behalf of Romani rights in Romania.

Partnership with Madonna

Sasha and Vadim Kolpakov have traveled extensively as performers, both together and separately. Their tour destinations have included North America, Europe, and Asia, as well as all of the cities in Madonna’s 2008-2009 Sticky and Sweet Tour.

The Kolpakovs were prominently featured as soloists in Madonna’s show, and their advocacy resulted in the pop star’s decision to make a statement on behalf of Romani rights in Romania.

The Kolpakov family project came full circle when Sasha’s grandson, the academically trained guitarist Sasha Kolpakov, Jr., became a protégé of his uncle Vadim. All three Kolpakovs have played repertoire ranging from centuries-old Romani pieces and Western art works to popular styles and their own compositions. They have made several albums in various genres and configurations.

audio

“Memory,” a piece composed by Alexander Kolpakov and performed with his nephew Vadim

audio

“Dui dui,” an instrumental version of a widespread Romani song, performed here by Alexander and Vadim Kolpakov

*Kolpakovs words in Original

Амэндэ сас бут лачи школа, амэндэ сас бут классы: сценическая речь, актерское мастерство, танцы, вокал, музыкальные инструменты. О директоро тай о мануш кон кердян о Гилори школа сас бут лачо, образованный человек - хормейстер театра Ромэн, Вячеслав Петрович Деметр – ёв мэя вари кана 10 бэрш палэ. Учителя или мастера сас вари савэ катар о театро Ромэн, вари савэ на катар театро сас. Тай на сарэ Рома сас – сас о Биболдэ, тай вавер манушa. Баро актеро катар театро Ромэн, Борис Ташкенский сыклелас чаворенгэ актерское мастерство. ... Амэндэ на сас бут классы ваш о инструменты, гитара сас, тай сарэ чавэ каменас тэ кхэлэл по гитара. ... Амэндэ сас о классо Романо чиб – о чаворэ сарэ вакеренас по вавер диалекты тай амэ вса ек поласас ек екхэс. Тай сиклоевасас на буд пал о роменги история.

Transliteration

Amende sas but lačhi škola, amende sas but klasi: sceňičeskaja rječ, aktěrskoje mastěrstvo, tanci, vokál, muzikalnije instrumenti. O direktoro thaj o manuš kon kerďan o Gilori škola sas but lačho, obrazovannij čelověk – chormajstěr těatra Romen, Vjačeslav Pětroviš Demetr – jov meja varikana deš berš pale. Učitělja ili mastěra sas varisave khatar o těatro Romen, varisave na khatar těatro sas. Thaj na sare Roma sas – sas o Bibolde, thaj vaver manuša. Baro aktero khatar těatro Romen, Boris Taškenskij, sikhľolas čhavorenge akťorskoje mastěrstvo. ... Amende na sas but klasi vaš o instrumenti, gitara sas, thaj sare čhave kamenas te khelel po gitara. ... Amnde sas o klaso Romano čhib – o čhavore sare vakerenas po vaver dialekti thaj ame vsajekh polasas jekh jekhes. Thaj sikhlovasas nabut palo romengri istorija.