International Roma Day on April 8 offers an opportunity to remember that Romani people have been an integral part of Slovakia for centuries.
The Roma have a rich cultural heritage shaped by their migration across Europe and Asia over the centuries. Their customs and traditions are diverse, as they have adapted and incorporated elements from the various regions they have lived in.
For example, their language, Romani, is an Indo-Aryan language with elements of Persian, Turkish, and Slavic languages.
Despite the many challenges they have faced, the Roma have retained elements of their culture that make them exceptional and authentic. These include their strong family ties, an emphasis on hospitality and community, as well as creativity and resilience in the face of adversity.
An important aspect of the Roma culture is oral traditions, storytelling and passing on their cultural knowledge. Their music is also unique, characterized by its lively rhythms, passionate vocals, and mixture of various instruments, which include violin, accordion, and cimbalom. Many famous musicians and performers, such as the legendary jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and Esma Redzepova, were of Roma origin.
In Slovakia, the unique Roma music group Sendreiovci has an exceptional status. Hailing from around the village of Kokava nad Rimavicou, Central Slovakia, Sendreiovci are a family band renowned for their vibrant performances of traditional Roma music. They sing in both Romani and Slovak, and their notes incorporate elements of traditional Roma music and modern influences.
Although the band started with musicians who did not know how to read music, their vibrancy and creativity won them international recognition, as they have collaborated with musicians from all over the world. Their talents have transported them all the way from their native village to Hollywood’s red carpet.
When renowned composer Hans Zimmer was travelling around Slovakia in search of authentic Roma tunes for his new film, he turned up unannounced at their concert. Afterwards, he requested the band to record a demo for him. Lead singer Vladimír Sendrei admits that they did not know how famous the composer was at the time. Zimmer later invited them to record tracks for the movie, even encouraging them to play as authentically as possible, not requiring musical precision, he recalls. The band’s unique musical style has been immortalized in the soundtrack to the global blockbuster Sherlock Holmes - Game of Shadows.
During the world premiere in London, Vladimír Sendrei and movie director Guy Ritchie were on a first-name basis and the band was invited to an afterparty. Everyone was eager to hear their remarkable music.
A dream come true. This is precisely what the Slovak Roma band Sendreiovci has achieved. Its members have performed at festivals and concerts around the world, from the Wroclaw synagogue, to Carnegie Hall. In addition to their music, the Sendreiovci are also known for their activism in favour of the Roma community. Through their talents they promote its culture and help bust myths.
Photo: Daniel Deme, Astor & Barth Photography