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Gypsy Caravan Gathers in Durham

Four distinct nationalities joined Oct. 6 in the Page Auditorium on Duke University campus for the Gypsy Caravan 2.

They were brought together not only because of the quality of their rhythm but also because they all identified themselves as the gypsies or, more correctly, as the Roma.

The Gypsy Caravan 2 included the dark Maharaja from Rajasthan, India, the playful Esma Redzepova and Ensemble Teodosievski from Macedonia, the musicians of Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania and the raspy sounds and rhythm of the Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble from Spain.

This was their first tour together in the United States and their second night in the country.

In an interview, Oprica Costel Ivanesca, clarinet and saxophone player with Ciocarlia, explained the purpose of the concert.

"We want to show the people in this country who we are and where our culture and our music is coming from," Ciocarlia said.

Today the Roma are the largest minority group in the European continent. There are 12 million to 15 million of them living in the world. It is difficult to determine their exact number because many countries do not record them in official census accounts. Most live in Romania, central Europe and the former Soviet Union.

The Roma are thought to have migrated from northern India to the Middle East in the 11th century. The early Europeans, mistaking them for Egyptians, called "gyptians" -- which was later shortened to "gypsies."

"The soil is what makes the difference to every other nation of the world, but for the gypsy it is the music," said Helmut Neuman, the manager of the Fanfare Ciocarlia. "Their religion is their music."

This is perhaps why the Roma have never received formal musical training, although they often are talented. Roma music is fundamentally different than Western music because Roma have never used musical notation or written scales.

Neuman said the talents of gypsy musicians in Romania are very much respected, making gypsies the vast majority of all Romanian musicians.

"Gypsies have always had their own style of living, but they are also being quietly assimilated," Neuman said.

But Ian Hancock, professor of linguistics at Texas University, said although the Roma culture is rooted, it allows interaction with outsiders.

"The Romani culture does not allow assimilation but can allow integration," Hancock said.

The musicians and the officials in the concert seemed to have a lot more of a positive outlook about the condition of the Roma and their experiences in Europe. This probably is due to their class and the privileged positions of these musicians.

The language of the Roma, at its root being ancient Punjabi or Hindi, is surviving, and most of the musicians still speak it.

Because of their nomadic lifestyle, the Roma have never claimed a territory as their own. This has caused them persecution and oppression in every nation that they have migrated into.

Between the 14th and 19th centuries, the Roma served as slaves in the Romanian principalities. From early on, the Austro-Hungarian Empire disallowed the language, the music and many other parts of the Roma culture.

Spain began its own intolerance of this unique culture around 1500 by adapting similar regulations.

The Roma still are facing strong prejudice and inequality in countries where they have been living for thousands of years.

Miguel Marin, the manager for the Flamenco Ensemble, talked about the current living conditions of gypsies in Spain. "The gypsies who are integrated into the society are treated normal, but the ones who live outside of society can be marginalized," Marin said.

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The price of living the gypsy culture can be high. A 1985 report found that the average life expectancy of a gypsy male was 64 years, nine years less than the Spanish average. In Hungary the life expectancy of a gypsy is 15 years lower than the national average, a 1983 report concluded.

In a 2001 survey done in Slovakia, which has about half a million Roma, 80 percent of the people admitted that they were prejudiced against the Roma.

In another survey done two years before, 87 percent of Slovaks said that they did not wish to live next door to the Roma.

Although there are no comprehensive up-to-date population statistics, nearly a million Roma could be living in the United States. Most of the problems that Roma face in this country are related to police discrimination and housing, Hancock said.

The Roma presented a statement at the early September International Conference in Durban, South Africa asking that the Roma "should be recognized as a non-territorial nation," Hancock said.

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