various artists,
Gypsy Caravan
(Putumayo, 2001)

Like many people, I equate the sound of a wild, passionate fiddle with the music of the wandering Gypsies.

But that assumption is only partly true, as the musicians on Putumayo's collection Gypsy Caravan will ably demonstrate. While there are certainly well-played, passionate fiddles to be heard on this excellent album, they're rarely the focus. Instead, these songs and tunes from the Gypsy traditions of Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, France, Spain and more focus on the wonderful diversity of that varied roving culture.

The album gets a strong start with Romanyi Rota, which uses choral vocals as well as mandolin, bouzouki and percussion for "Diri Diri, So Kerdjan." Kalyi Jag, one of the first bands to record in Romani, the language of the Gypsies, performs a rolling and lively lullaby, "Mori Shej, Sabina," an original from the Hungarian band. Then the elusive Saban Bajramovic, a renowned Serbian Gypsy, sings of a search for hidden love in the energetic "Pena."

The lush, seductive "Gipsy Song" by Vlatko Stefanovski, which calls upon the forces of fate and luck, is one of the album's highlights. So, too, is "Les Yeux Noirs," a slice of instrumental Gypsy jazz performed with amazing dexterity by French guitarist Coco Briaval and a sweet, unnamed violinist.

Thierry Robin draws several Gypsy and other musical styles together in the fandango "L'Amour S'Envole." Miguel Angel Cortes revels in the connections between Gypsy culture and Spanish flamenco music, blending his intricate guitar with various hand percussion for "Al Likindoy," a lively tanguillo. Then Romanyi Rota returns for "Korkore Zav Ande Kalyi Rati," a peppy song about toasting life even in times of woe. Amara Suno sings "Kutka Avel E Sej Bari," a courtship song about a prized girl who is both beautiful and smart.

Another of my favorites on this album is "Codru," a lovely, sultry song from the multicultural band Djelem, which has roots in Moldova, Ukraine and Quebec. The album concludes with Ando Dromo's "Sza Tele Zsav," a choral song of the separation that occurs when Gypsy men must seek work far from their families.

Putumayo's superb liner notes provide a brief but thorough history of the Roma, as Gypsies often prefer to be called, as well as details on all selections and musicians featured on this album. All in all, Gypsy Caravan is a triumph of Gypsy culture, an educational and entertaining blend of diverse music from the world's most famous nomads.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



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