Thursday, July 17, 2008

NY Gypsy FF: Gypsy Caravan

Life on the road is a fact of life for musicians of all genres. When the World Music Institute put together the Gypsy Caravan Tour of “five bands from four countries speaking nine languages” it surely posed some logistical challenges. However, as documented in Jasmine Dellal’s documentary, Gypsy Caravan: When the Road Bends (trailer here), the resulting headaches apparently were confined to the producers and promoters, with a spirit of camaraderie prevailing among the musicians.

Over the course of their American tour, the Caravan ensembles learned to mix their diverse styles from three European countries and the original Roma homeland, India, into a new fusion of Gypsy music. Having been officially awarded the title: “Queen of Gypsy Music,” Macedonian Esma Redzepova was arguably the senior member of the tour. She was joined by the Romanian groups, Fanfare Ciocarlia, a brass band with a hint of klezmer, and Taraf de Haïdouks (Band of Brigands), a somewhat jazz-influenced string and accordion band, then led by the distinguished violinist Nicolae Neascu. With Antonio El Pipa’s Ensemble, Caravan reminds the audience of flamenco music’s Rom roots. As the tour progresses, Maharaja joined their Andalusian counterparts for some distinctive Spanish-Indian flamenco—world music indeed.

If there was any backstage drama, Dellal declined to show it. Instead, she focuses on the music, which what the tour was all about anyway. There are some great sequences, including vintage groovy 1960’s television footage of Redzepova. Appearing in the film as a charming elderly man, greatly enjoying his late-in-life popularity, Neascu sadly passed away shortly after returning from the Caravan tour. Probably the most emotional scenes in Caravan come during his memorial.

In filming Caravan, Dellal attained the services of both an aspiring documentarian and an acclaimed master. George Eli whose debut film Searching for the 4th Nail previewed at this year’s NY Gypsy FF, provided translation services and on-screen commentary. Remarkably, Dellal’s primary cinematographer was the celebrated Albert Maysles of Grey Gardens, Salesman, and Gimme Shelter fame.

Caravan does indeed look and sound great. Having completed the festival circuit and a theatrical run, it bows on DVD late next month. Its NY Gypsy FF return engagement made for an entertaining conclusion to the spirited festival last night. Hopefully, the NY Gypsy FF is not really over for the year, as organizers are hoping to take the show on the road, which would certainly be appropriate.