Tuesday, October 06, 2009

NY Roma-Gypsy Film Fest ’09: Gypsy Caravan

Life on the road is a fact of life for musicians of all genres, not just Roma artists. Yet, when the World Music Institute put together the Gypsy Caravan Tour of “five bands from four countries speaking nine languages” it posed some obvious 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, which makes it a fitting film to close the NY Roma-Gypsy Film Festival on Friday evening.

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 Roma 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, led at the time by the distinguished violinist Nicolae Neascu. Antonio El Pipa’s Ensemble also added to the tour’s diversity representing Roma-rooted flamenco music, eventually collaborating with the Indian company Maharaja for some quite 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 is what the tour was all about anyway. There are some great musical sequences, including vintage groovy 1960’s television footage of Redzepova. Sadly, the charming Neascu, who seemed to greatly enjoy his late-in-life popularity, passed away shortly after returning from the Caravan tour. As a result, probably the most emotional scenes in Caravan come as his fellow musicians pay their respects 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 again previews at this year’s NY Roma-Gypsy FF on Wednesday, provided translation services and on-screen commentary. Remarkably, Dellal’s primary cinematographer was the celebrated Albert Maysles of Grey Gardens and Gimme Shelter fame.

Caravan does indeed look and sound great. It is a spirited film that has become a closing night tradition for the festival. It wraps up the NY Roma-Gypsy Film Fest this Friday (10/9) at Mehanata Bulgarian Bar, concluding a full week of screenings.