The New Gypsy Kings

This is a documentary by Liviu Tipurita investigating the rise of a new form of Roma music in Romania called manele. Romania is home to a large population of Roma, which he claims have an 80% unemployment rate. They are denied access to banks, so have to rely on loan sharks when they need extra money.

But there is a new breed of Roma musicians who have emerged since the collapse of the Soviet system, that of manele who earn huge amounts of money, allowing top performers to live in huge mansions and drive top-of-the-range sports cars. We see them at their major money making events, that of weddings where they sing the praises of their employers and are literally showered with large amounts of cash by men showing how bountiful they are. One of the musicians sings about how the money comes from the mafia, but the filmmaker struggles to get confirmation of this, though it seems likely in a country with such a struggling economy.

All this money should be good news for the Roma underclass, but it is detracting them from dealing with the very real problems they face. It is creating a widespread belief that it is possible for any of them to become filthy rich by playing this music, so young children are picking up instruments, apparently instead of attending school or learning any life skills. Added to this mix is the Roma tradition of having large families, so the money seems not to be trickling down to the rest.

The filmmaker shows us the traditional band Taraf de Haidouks, popular on the world music circuit, and championed by no less than Johnny Depp, are struggling to make ends meet despite regular international tours.

In particular, we see their singer struggling to survive. she is raising her grandchildren who don’t bother to go to school, while she is out collecting firewood and hooking her house up to a power line to steal electricity. She explains her daughter is homeless in London, but we later see her returned, saying how much she hates Romania, how there is no future there, so she is moving her family to England where the benefits are so much better. I can’t say I blame her, but we keep getting told that such immigration doesn’t happen, yet here it is from the source, and it is clear this is not unusual, as many of us living outside of La-La-Land of London know.

What worries me most about this documentary is how a group of people, targeted for extermination by the Nazis, are still being treated so badly in a country that is now part of the EU. I am also concerned, as was the filmmaker, of the apparent amount of dirty money doing the rounds, and how accepting it seems to be the only way to survive for the Roma. It is also tragic that this new wealth may be the death of such wonderful traditional music. 

This is them in concert:

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