Un-silenced voices: Romani voices
Mike Cheslett author of In a Mirror at Midnight, a collection of adult fairy stories.
Janna Eliot writes about Romani life, and has translated two books about the Roma Holocaust: Settela about a Dutch gypsy girl killed in Auschwitz and her second volume of short stories, The Gypsy Piano Tuner, will be published next year, as will her translation of Sofia Z, by Gunilla Lundgren, a graphic novel about a Polish Roma girl who survived the concentration camps. She is also author of Spokes and three Romani story poems for children.
Valdemar KalininRom writer following the Russian Roma Literary School. He is the author of the poetry collection Romany Dreams written in Belorussian, English and Romany: in Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. He was awarded the Hiroshima Prize for Peace and Culture in 2002 and the Roma Literary Award by the Open Society Instittue of Budapest in 2003. He has also written a translation of the Bible in Romany language.
Damian Le Bas (“Danes”) poet, was born in 1985 to a large Romany Traveller family from the south coast of England. He read Theology at Oxford University, graduating first in his year in 2006. Damian’s poetry has appeared in Magma and the TLS, and he writes drama and journalism with a special interest in Romany and Irish Traveller issues. ‘Danes’ also writes in his native English Romani tongue, which mistaken academics believe is now a dead language. The poet David Morley says Damian’s poetry “fizzes with life” but ” doesn’t give away trade secrecies”.
Music by Antonio Riva’s “Le Gazhikane Muzikante” band
Hosted by Clare Paul
Unsilenced Voices: Romani Voices
22 January 2012
Cover of ‘Settela’s Last Road’ – a novel by Janna Eliot
Exiled Writers Ink support and give a platform to exiled writers from around the world. Nicole Fordham Hodges went along to one of their monthly readings at the Poetry Cafe. She heard some Romani voices, and they certainly hadn’t been silenced.
It was a striking audience flamboyantly dressed: black hats, beards, dark skins, green eyes. I joined a scattering of Anglo-Saxon looking ladies at the back of the small basement room.
The evening began with Antonio Riva’s band Le Gazhikane Muzikante: ‘the Non-Gypsy Musicians’ who play Gypsy music “just because it is amazing.” By the end of the first haunting, life-affirming song I was inclined to agree. Antonio Riva sung in the many different Roma languages, translating only a few fragments: “Please don’t wake up. Wait for the sun to rise on Romani people.” At the end of the set, Anthony Riva introduced ‘Opa Cupa’: the song, he said, was known amongst all travelling people. I noted a darkhaired girl in front of me listen intently, look down, shake her head.
Valdemar Kalenin was the first of four writers. He read first in English then Romani, with no need to glance at his lengthy collected works. He spoke of the conflict between a gypsy son seeking an education “newspaper under his arm”and the traditional father: “who will look after the horses?” In Romani the poem became spellbinding.
The spell was broken by Janna Eliot, a British Gypsy from London, who read from her novel for young adults ‘Settela’s Last Road.’ Based on the true story of a young Sinti girl killed in Auschwitz, it was painfully direct in its style. Janna Eliot, who also teaches Gypsy dance, read with a dancer’s lightness, finishing with a simple, lyrical description of the moment of Settela’s extermination: “there was a song that would never stop singing.”
Poet Damien le Bas followed on with some virtuoso wordplay. In ‘Words I Like’ he effortlessly juggled English Romani with Latin and Greek in order to “feed my needy traveller brain.” As poet David Morley says, Damien’s poetry “fizzes with life….but doesn’t give away trade secrets.” In the most memorable poem of the evening, Damien described a gypsy wedding in the New Forest, in “the lilac tint of the Hampshire dust” lacking “only of hautiness/ perhaps some thin unknowable inscription.”
The final reader was Mike Cheslett, who read his comic adult fairy story ‘In a Mirror at Midnight’, in which a refreshingly feisty heroine cuts off her Dad’s head. Following the theme of the night, even the severed head started to sing.
The evening finished with ‘Le Gazhikane Muzikante’. As another extraordinary song began, the dark-haired girl in front of me nodded deeply and began singing. The chairs were pushed to one side, as Janna Eliot offered to lead everyone in a gypsy dance. Some of the audience melted away. I felt privileged to have heard these varied, haunting, lively voices. But it was time to leave.