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Unfortunately, there’s no “Gypsy Music” category in either the Billboard charts or the Arbitron ratings, so it’s awfully hard to know exactly how many people are even interested in hearing, let alone have actually heard, the music of the Roma (or Romani) ethnic diaspora. But for those of you with a closet curiosity, you have until tomorrow night to see the documentary Gypsy Caravan. (Mark Jenkins’ review of the film is here.)
Directed by Jasmine Dellal (who also made 1999’s acclaimed American Gypsy) and shot by the legendary Albert Maysles, here follows five Romani music acts on American tour together: Two (Fanfare Ciocarlia and Taraf de Haidouks) from Romania; Maharaja, from India; Antonio El Pipa, from Andalusia, Spain; and Esma Redzepova, from Macedonia. Their music, though strongly founded in folk forms, is complex and unexpectedly polished, and is one of two major themes in the film; the other is of the musicians hanging out between shows and getting to know each other. Dellal also fills in the blanks by telling stories about the musicians: particularly pleasurable are anecdotes about Taraf de Haidouks’ leader busking around Berkeley while the band was playing there, and about Esma Redzepova and her 47 adopted children. Oh, and Johnny Depp gives his insights as a fan of Romani music, too.
Though it sounds arcane, like an ethnomusicology project, Gypsy Caravan is warm, human, and features lots of thrilling and deeply moving music and moments. You can see it either today or tomorrow (Friday, July 12) at the Avalon Theater, 5612 Connecticut Avenue NW, where it shows twice each day (3:20 and 8:15 pm).