Byline: NICK RODDICK
JASMINE Dellal's high-octane documentary, When the Road Bends, is set topropel gypsy music into the mainstream musical consciousness. Five years in themaking, it's a joyous celebration of an incredibly vibrant musical culturewhich surfaces in different forms but with similar traditions in differentparts of the world.
The film, which follows a caravan of gypsy troupes on a concert tour andinterweaves dazzling music footage with individual stories and circumstances,features Fanfare Ciocarlia, a band that brought down the tent at the CambridgeFolk Festival this summer, alongside fellow Romanians Taraf de Haidouks;Rajasthan song-and-dance performers Maharaja; and the Antonio El Pipa FlamencoCompany from Spain. Outpowering them all is the statuesque Macedonian singerEsma Redzepova, who has a voice that could halt traffic and is more popular inthe Balkans than Shirley Bassey in Tiger Bay.
Adding a little rock 'n' roll, Johnny Depp also puts in an appearance, havinggot to know Taraf de Haidouks while filming The Man Who Cried (Sally Potter's2000 film about a refugee travelling from Russia to America who falls for agypsy horseman). "Johnny is the one who basically puts into words the goal ofthe film," says Dellal, "which is to make people see that what you believedabout gypsies your whole life is not true." The Romathe term "gypsy", once distinctly pejorative, has recently been re-embracedstarted their migrations from India around a thousand years ago.
They were one of the most victimised groups of the 20th century: a million ormore died in the Holocaust, and persecution persists today in many parts of theworld, notably the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.
And not just there, either: the demonised gypsy is the stuff of popular legend.Remember the clapping song that went "My mother said I never should/Play withthe gypsies in the wood", with all kinds of dire consequenceslike your hair never curlingif you did? But, says Dellal, even the idea of a nomadic existence is part-myth.
"The truth is that gypsies were forced to start moving in their origins; thenthere were laws against them settling in most places, so it was an identityimposed from the outside to say that gypsies are travellers.
A large majority of gypsies today are sedentary and have been for at least acentury." Dellal, who turns 40 tomorrow, was introduced to contemporary Romaculture when she made a documentary for US public television called AmericanGypsy about a family living in Spokane, near Seattle, and began to realise thedegree of official suspicion and hostility. "It turns out that there arehandouts passed around different police departments to label typical 'gypsycrimes'," she says. "They have lists of typical gypsy names, ways to recogniseand outfox gypsy criminals.
They actually have these things published and circulated." The sister of filmdirector Gaby (One Fine Day) and daughter of colourful property tycoon "BlackJack" Dellal, Jasmine, who studied journalism at Berkeley after Oxford, stillhas an impeccably English accent despite 11 years in the US, but found areluctance there to believe that there was such a thing as Roma culture. "MostAmericans don't have any idea what the word 'gypsy' means," she says. "When Itold people I was making a film about gypsies, they'd say: 'Oh, my collegeroommate is a gypsy: he used to follow the Grateful Dead.'" To make When theRoad Bends, the director did a fair bit of following herself: the film recordsa gruelling, 16-city tour of North America in 2001, followed by two years ofcatching up with the bands on their home turf, shooting in places far from thecomfort of hotels and catering trucks. "Being in the middle of the desert inRajasthan is very beautiful and peaceful," says Dellal, who spent summers inIndia as a child with her Indian grandmother, "but it's not very good forcharging batteries. I had to get over to the wine merchant's house and beg themto let me plug in. …