Vaya con Dios - singing in Parliament to defend the Roma
"Just a friend of mine" was a huge hit for Belgian group Vaya con Dios in 1986. In the last 20 years the group - led by singer Dani Klein - have toured the world. On 7 April they came to the European Parliament to raise the plight of the Roma in Europe on International Roma day. We caught up with Dani Klein just after her rehearsal.
How did you become aware of the situation of the Roma?
My group gives concerts in Eastern countries where there are a lot of Roma. When I sing "Djelem djelem" - the Roma hymn - people are very enthusiastic and identify with the song. But they often adopt a rather discriminatory personal attitude to the Roma...I find that a bit repellent, on the one hand we appropriate Roma culture and take the best parts of it, and on the other hand we discriminate against it. I don't have a political message, just that we must respect each other.
You defend a more positive approach to the Roma, by underlining in particular their contribution to European culture?
Yes, because gypsy music has contributed to art in general. I am not a classical music specialist, but Brahms would not be Brahms had not gypsy music existed, and that is the case with many traditional types of music. Their music, their language, their traditions contribute to the wealth of European culture. The Roma are somehow unyielding and resistant to changing their ways, they want to travel, and they are not sedentary. I admire them, because they resist the efforts to change them.
At present, many Roma in Brussels are seen, in particular at red traffic lights. Many people say to me, "I do not give, it's easy to live like that". I think that it's very difficult to live like that! Is there anyone who would choose to breathe in carbon dioxide all day for 15 or 20 cents and a scornful glance? This is not a good approach. We must look at the positive.
Can Europe contribute anything to changing this approach?
I do not know what the powers Europe has, I am not political. But if it has means, yes. The initial aim of the EU was that France and Germany would no longer fight. If Europe's ambition is peace, that should certainly help in making the Roma accepted as part of Europe, but with their special characteristics.
As an artist, when do you decide to get involved with causes like the Roma?
I engage when I find the causes are just - to support the values of liberty and respect for others. Among musicians, racism is less palpable than in other milieus. To be an artist, is to be marginal. Artists are also disliked to a certain extent in society and fight to find ways to express themselves. Artists are sustained by all the influences that touch them - our music is fed by different music.
The fact that we are marginalised brings us close to other communities on the margin of society. Art has always broken taboos and opened minds and spirits.
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