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House Of Tudor 

Gypsy caravans, heavily shellacked starlets, and eccentric emperors

Wednesday, Nov 7 2001
For centuries, the history of the Roms (or Gypsies) has been written only in their music, because of their nearly pathological distrust of the written word -- or rather a distrust of those who read it. In 1993, director Tony Gatlif stayed sensitive to ancestral tradition by creating Latcho Drom, an exquisite documentary that described the Roma Diaspora without narration. Gatlif allowed music to illuminate his subjects, following the varying sounds through India, Egypt, and Turkey, into the more Rom-hostile territories of Romania, Germany, and France, and, finally, into Spain, where Roma music has been elevated from beggars' perversion to national art.

"Gypsy Caravan II: A Celebration of Roma Music and Dance" is part of the effort to mobilize the fight against Roma persecution and carry the history into the annals of international scholarship via song. The night begins with Maharaja, a multi-ethnic ensemble of musicians and dancers from Rajasthan which embodies the Great Thar Desert by using the hollow, wind-swept sound of surnai (double-reed pipe), sarangi (a stringed instrument covered in goatskin), and kartal (wooden blocks that impersonate hooves), as well as sun-baked voices and snake-charming Sapera dancers. Also on the bill will be Esme Redzepova, who was named "Queen of the Gypsies" at the first World Festival of Romany Song in 1975 and is considered the first Roma artist to receive commercial success with gadjo audiences. The flamboyant Macedonian will perform with her world-famous Ensemble Teodosievski, a group comprised of some of the 47 orphans she and her husband adopted and trained in long-standing Gypsy fashion. Next is Romania's Fanfare Ciocarlia, one of the last big brass bands remaining in the world. Known to reach breakneck speeds of 200 notes per minute and to play for over 30 hours without pause, the ten-piece band will challenge the mental stability of free-jazz and techno-heads alike. Finally, the Antonio El Pipa Flamenco Ensemble from Andalucia, Spain, will repeat its flamenco-infused performance from the first "Gypsy Caravan." "Gypsy Caravan II: A Celebration of Roma Music and Dance" arrives on Wednesday, Nov. 7 at Zellerbach Hall (Bancroft and Telegraph in Berkeley) at 8 p.m. Ticket price is $18-30; call (510) 642-9988. There will also be a student performance on Thursday, Nov. 8 at Zellerbach Hall at 11 a.m. Ticket price is $3 per student or chaperone; call (510) 642-1068.

Few American women can compete with Esme Redzepova, but if I had to put my money down on someone, it would be Tammy Faye Bakker. Born the eldest of eight children in rural Minnesota, Tammy Faye married Jim Bakker in 1960 and went on to become the quirky, heavily shellacked, puppet-toting frontwoman of a televangelist empire. While most non-supplicants learned of her troubles after her husband wound up in bed with future Playboy centerfold Jessica Hahn and she'd checked into the Betty Ford Clinic, Tammy Faye's real depth, beauty, grace, faith, and foolish good intentions were not understood until the release of last year's documentary The Eyes of Tammy Faye. Within 79 minutes, the film's producers wiped away most of the prepossessed opinions about Tammy Faye, with one thought remaining: This woman should forget about men and get her own gig. And who better to enhance the societal cachet of this strange and future starlet than John Waters? In preparation for a new one-woman show, Tammy Faye Bakker will be treating San Franciscans to songs and snippets from her life, while John Waters will be answering questions from the audience on Thursday, Nov. 8 at the Castro Theatre at 8 p.m. Ticket price is $15-50 for general admission; $125 for Gold Circle seats which includes a 7 p.m. meet-and-greet. Call (866) 468-3399 or go to

Few characters more accurately epitomize the eccentric nature of San Francisco than Joshua A. Norton, who crowned himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico on September 17, 1859. Soon after his "coronation," Norton proved himself a worthy leader by firing the members of the U.S. Congress for failing to obey his royal order to assemble in the San Francisco Opera House. Thenceforward, Emperor Joshua Norton I's decrees -- such as "Whoever, after due and proper warning, shall be heard to utter the abominable word "Frisco,' which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor" -- were printed verbatim in the newspapers, and his powers grew exponentially. Local saloons and shops accepted the currency he printed, tailors occasionally obeyed his demand for royal finery, both Queen Victoria and Abraham Lincoln responded to his letters, and vigilantes threatening Chinatown disbanded at his imperial request. When Emperor Norton died, his funeral cortege was two miles long and comprised of tens of thousands of San Franciscans.

That day was January 8, 1880, so it seems that a monument to Norton is long overdue. The proposed Emperor Norton Plaza would be located at Vallejo and Kearny at the top of Macchiarini Steps and would feature a statue designed for this exact purpose in 1933 by the late, great North Beach sculptor Peter Macchiarini. A neighborhood meeting to raise money and support will be held on Saturday, Nov. 10 at the top of Macchiarini Steps at 10 a.m. Admission is free, but donations are accepted. In the spirit of Norton, all attendees will be treated to free coffee and bagels and a musical performance by the Sons of Emperor Norton. To support the cause, visit

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Silke Tudor


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