(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Five Gypsy musical bands cross America in a documentary and a different sort of concert film. Featuring many kinds of Gypsy music from India, Macedonia, Spain, and Romania, this film tells of the lives of the players, their family, and a little of the history of the Roma people. Featured on the tour is famous singer/songwriter Esma Redzepova. The Roma are seen through the camera eye of cinematographer Albert Maysles whose work includes GIMME SHELTER and GREY GARDENS. Jasmaine Dellal directs. Rating: low +2 (-4 to +4) or 7/10

In 2006 five Roma (Gypsy) bands put together one concert show and took it on tour across the United States. Jasmaine Dellal documents the tour on and off stage as well as showing the Gypsies in their home countries. The bands were Maharaja from Rajasthan, India; Antonio El Pipa and his flamenco ensemble from Spain; Esma Redzepova from Macedonia; Fanfare Ciocarlia from Romania; and Taraf De Ha´douks also from Romania. One premise of the film is that all Gypsy music has influenced music of their individual countries and that all Gypsy music is one. The former assertion is probably easier to believe than the latter. The differences in the styles of music are more obvious than the similarities. Indian Gypsy music sounds a lot like classical Indian music. The Spanish Gypsy music is flamenco. Romanian Gypsies make music sounding most like what one thinks of as the Gypsy flare, with lots of strings. And Esma's Macedonian music is a powerful lament. It is four different styles that may not obviously have the unity that the players claim, but each is interesting in its own way. They have contributed to the music of their individual countries, but the influence seems to have gone both ways. In some ways even the players are as strange to each other as they are to us. In one sequence a European Gypsy tries Indian Gypsy food and finds it too spicy. Even the bread is spicy.

But for the style of the music and the performers this is not an unusual sort of concert film. We follow the performers from city to city and, of course, see the performances. We see them on- stage; we see them back-stage preparing. The camera follows them as they sightsee and we see them in the lands of their origin. There are discussions of the prejudice against Gypsies that may be somewhat undercut by the sold-out performances in every city they visit. GYPSY CARAVAN celebrates the music that is the soul of the Roma people. The camera returns repeatedly to two major figures in Gypsy music. One is the Romanian Nicolae Neascu, the founder of the band Taraf De Ha´douks (literally Band of Brigands). He is their maestro, a man of eighty who always wears a hat in public in the style of the Eastern European Gypsies. He is taciturn and with a hollow frown that speaks of missing teeth. But he is a different man when he is playing vibrant music on his violin. He has modified the violin to have one loose string that he uses effectively for special music effects.

The diva of the show is the Macedonian Esma Redzepova, almost the exact opposite of Neascu. Where he is thin and angular in a modest jacket and hat, she is fleshy and dresses in traditional costumes of bright red. She talks of a past of forty years of singing and of unofficial title as "Queen of the Gypsies." She and her husband could not have children so adopted 47, some of whom play in her band. Her band has played over 150 concerts, but the most impressive musical instrument in the band is her voice singing songs that are joyful or songs that are laments.

Along the road there is time for some fun sightseeing. They pose for pictures near Niagara Falls. And the film shows us something of how the musicians live in each of their homelands. There is a bit of drama when there is a tragic turn toward the end of the tour. One instantly recognizable celebrity (who chooses to have his name omitted from publicity for the film) talks of his time spent living with the Taraf De Ha´douks band in making previous films and of the situation of Gypsies.

For those who like a melange of music with an international flare, GYPSY CARAVAN is a pleasure. I rate it a low +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 7/10.

In the interviews one Gypsy complains that Gypsies are always portrayed as bad in films. No specific film is mentioned. I question the truth of the assertion. In films I have seen Gypsies can be portrayed as exotic and frequently as a people wielding supernatural powers or prey to supernatural curses. I would be curious to know what films have presented them as being unjust or dishonest. I do not deny that there is a great deal of prejudice against them in the real world. But I am curious what films they think reflect that prejudice.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper