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The Ökrös Ensemble

Wednesday, Jan 24 2001
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Across the world, gitano -- or Gypsy -- musical expression is characterized by a strange union of profound anguish and over-the-top exuberance. It's precisely this confluence of emotion that frequently leads the patriarch figure in the Gypsy-focused film Gadjo Dilo to toast with desperate bravado, "If I don't finish this bottle tonight, let me lay down here and die so the worms can eat out my eyes!"

From Andalusia to Romania, Gypsy families whose belief systems conflict with the political or religious mainstream have long banded together on the edge of towns to evade persecution. Often they do not escape; instead, someone razes or burns their ramshackle villages and wrongfully imprisons or murders their children. Perhaps that's why Gypsy singers and Rom fiddlers can't help but charge their melodies with a haunting combination of deep sorrow and almost reckless abandon, as if music were their only means of freedom.

In recent years, many gitano regions -- including Hungary, home of the Ökrös Ensemble -- have been swept up in a folk music revival, bringing an unprecedented level of respect and employment to elder outsiders like Transylvanian violinist Aladár Csíszár, who is now in demand as both an educator and performer. Along with cimbalom (hammer dulcimer) virtuoso Bálogh Kálmán, the veteran Gypsy player will fire up Ö:krös' conservatory-trained string slingers in a rare transcultural, transgenerational summit in Berkeley. The group's repertoire includes both "lamenting songs" and furious dance numbers from the Hungarian, Romanian, and Gypsy traditions -- intertwined in a way that cuts to the heart of gitano passion.

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Sam Prestianni

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