Taraf de Haidouks: Interview
by Garth Cartwright (January 2002)
Taraf De Haidouks arrived in London a few days before the Radio 3 World Music awards. This was for practical reasons - noted soundtrack composer Gabriel Yared (The English Patient) has hired the Taraf to play on the soundtrack of his latest movie project. I met them in Abbey Road studio’s cafeteria where they displayed their usual good humour and earthy charm. Mentioning to the Taraf that these studios are the very same as frequented by The Beatles brought raised eyebrows all around. They are Taraf De Haidouks - second to none! The interview was done with the band’s star violinist Caliu and their Belgian manager Michel Winter who gamefully translated questions and answers.
Q: To be nominated for and then win Best European Act at the first ever Radio 3 World Music Awards: how does that feel?
A: We always know that we are the best! (laughter) We are very happy and honoured. Thank you.
Q: What set will you play at the Radio 3 World Music Awards?
A: One old ballad of Neacsu Nicolae (the band’s veteran violinist who invented the technique of dragging a horse hair across his violin while playing) and then a more modern uptempo number.
Q: Is it important for people to understand the culture that the music comes from?
A: It is not enough for people to love the music if you don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s not enough to love the music and hate the people it comes from. People should respect our culture and accept Gypsies as they are. Some of our customs may be difficult to understand but the music and the culture are one. It’s a unity.
Q: Is there any danger that the process of fusion between traditional and modern musics we are currently seeing amongst so many ethnic musicians will bring an end to traditional musics around the world?
A: Perhaps. In Romania many of the younger Gypsy musicians are trying to make fusion music with jazz-rock or Turkish pop music, and it is not often so good.
Q: What do you think of World Music as a category?
A: World music is now a name for music that is not pop but music coming from traditional musics - it’s a lot of things. Anyway, world music has to be represented. We are happy it is something that is now represented and it’s nice that the BBC organise this.
Q: Has your success made much difference for the people of your village of Clejani?
A: It’s made it that people from Clejani get to meet the world as journalists and academics and fans from all over the world now come to Clejani. So Clejani is now on the world map. So somehow all of Clejani is travelling as Taraf have made this little village known across the world.
Q: Has your profile risen at all in Romania after the concerts of December 2000 which became the Band Of Gypsies album?
A: It’s difficult to say exactly but we have the feeling that things are changing slowly. Probably the BBC award will change something. They begin to hear so much of the Taraf in Romania so they will have to like us!
Q: How is the situation for Gypsies in Romania at the moment?
A: For Gypsy people who have a job, a role in the social life, it’s OK. It’s still not easy. It you are a Gypsy looking for a job - say a secretary - it is very difficult as the prejudice is against us. And for those Gypsies in the traditional jobs (iron mongers, horse trainers etc) it is a catastrophe.
Q: In England we have heard reports of the Transylvanian town of Piatra Neamt whose mayor is trying to force all the town’s Gypsy community to go and live in a converted chicken farm 6km outside the town. Are you aware of this?
A: There are always people who try and resolve problems with simple ways... with stupid ways. Fortunately, I don’t think the mayor has succeeded. The good thing is Romania wants to be part of Europe so it will make an effort not to allow such stupid things to happen. We hope.
Q: Why do you think such deep seated prejudices against Gypsies exist in Romania and other Eastern European countries?
A: Prejudice against Gypsies exists everywhere in the world. Not just in the Eastern countries. in Western countries there are much more years of democracy so it is easier to resolve. In the East fifty years of communism kept the problem silenced. Only now it is open.
Q: Why does Romania produce so many great Gypsy musicians? Beyond your fellow band members who are your favourites?
A: First, Romanian music is great music. And Gypsy musicians are great musicians since they left India. You now have more than one thousand years of father to son musical training. And in Romania there was the belief that being a musician was not a serious job so many Romanian musicians gave up making music but Gypsies never did.
Q: Why do you think people in wealthy Western nations respond so strongly to traditional Romanian Gypsy music?
A: It reminds them of something they have lost... a kind of strong music of tradition. Because Gypsy Romanian music is not so far from what we know here. It’s really authentic music and maybe Western audiences tire of those big stars that are so distant. We are ordinary people who play music.
Q: Do you believe music can help heal divisions and bring people together?
A: That’s the big question. Until now there is still war everywhere but it’s the big hope.
Read our Taraf De Haidouks profile.
// Radio 3 Awards for World Music