various artists,
The Rough Guide to the Music of the Gypsies
(World Music Network, 1999)

Gypsies are found from India to Europe and beyond. Their name comes from "Gyptians," which is what the Europeans first called them, mistakenly believing they originated in Egypt. Gypsies prefer the name Roma and first left the Indian subcontinent a millennia ago, made their way through the Middle East and entered Europe after about 400 years of migration.

Wherever they have travelled, Gypsies have both influenced as well as incorporated the musical traditions of the lands they occupied. The World Music Network has released the compilation The Rough Guide to the Music of the Gypsies to showcase various Gypsy musical styles that prevail today. The CD contains 16 tracks representing Gypsies from Spain, Italy, Turkey, Greece, India, Albania, Romania, England and Hungary.

The CD starts off with the flamenco-stylized song "Yo Me Quedo En Sevilla" by Pata Negra, a group headed by Raphael and Raimundo Amador. Pata Negra has added a little blues and some Gypsy swing to create a flamenco style all their own.

One of the prettiest songs on the CD was recorded live. Quoting the liner notes, "The Song of the Gypsies" by Eleni Vitali "is a slow lament accompanied by hunting stringed instruments." The Greek vocals are somewhat rough; however, the strings are what matter in this case, so the vocals are easy to forgive. Besides, like most of the tracks on the CD, I do not understand the lyrics anyway.

One track on which I can understand the lyrics was recorded in 1975 by Jasper and Levi Smith. These English-based brothers perform and sing six short ditties that last an average of 26 seconds each! These Celtic tunes are performed mainly on the mouth organ accompanied by heavy percussion.

The Hungarian Gypsy Orchestra of Jozsef Lacatos plays music that the West would traditionally think of as "Gypsy music." "Fast Csa'rdas" is an instrumental track focusing on the sounds of the violin, viola, clarinets and cellos. The tempo starts off a little slow before building into a more frenzied celebration of sound.

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Gypsies has more tracks than I can talk about here. Some of the selections are quite good and aptly demonstrate the musical talent of Gypsies throughout the world. Unfortunately, the World Music Network's compilation might pale a bit in comparison to Putumayo's Gypsy Caravan. The Rough Guide is, at times, very rough, and the lack of consistency between some tracks can be jarring.

There is a lot of wonderful material here but, as the title suggests, it simply isn't polished.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 26 April 2003

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