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Světový romský festival Khamoro - History of the Festival

The idea to organize a world Roma festival came into being literally overnight. And it should be noted that it was not initiated by a positive event …

Jelena and Džemil Silajdžić, a film producer and a professor of music, left after the tragic breakup of Yugoslavia their native Sarajevo and settled down in Prague. At that time, they organized a big cultural event and invited Czech pop stars as well as a Roma band. Everything went on smoothly until the boys from the Roma band took the floor. Suddenly, the sound system began to fail, with moments of complete silence. The experienced musicians coped with it in their own way and left the stage to join the crowd. Their performance was a huge success despite technical obstacles. Soon it was found out that the problems were caused on purpose by the sound mixer. The Silajdžićs were shocked by such an extreme xenophobia. They still remembered what an ethnic hatred caused in their native Bosnia and Herzegovina…

The same night they decided to establish a tradition of a cultural event with a stamp of quality, uniqueness and professionalism – this is how the concept of a World Roma Festival Khamoro came into being. In commemoration of the mentioned Roma band called Khamoro – Sun, as a symbol of something that radiates positive energy, warms up hearts, arouses in people enthusiasm and get them together in their desire for joy and happiness.

The Khamoro Festival in the course of its existence has not focused only on the Roma traditional music but introduced also interpreters of the contemporary Roma music and the world-known gypsy jazz, as it was particularly the mixture of traditional and modern elements and avoidance of stereotype, that the Festival was endowed with by its founders. Namely for this reason, the Festival has never concentrated only on music and dancing as this would foster the deep-rooted preconceptions on the Roma being nothing more than brilliant musicians. The basic concept of the Festival is to present everything that the Roma culture brings to the world, and thus connect people.

The idea of organizing a professional Roma festival in Prague at the end of the nineties met with a highly favourable response of the then Lord mayor of Prague Jan Kasl and Vladimír Drábek who was responsible for the section of culture in the Prague City Council, who offered their cooperation. The same response came also from the Ministry of Culture.

And, the idea of Khamoro was naturally welcomed by the Roma themselves. For instance Emil Ščuka, one of the main leaders of the Roma community in the post-revolutionary years and the then president of the International Roma Union, has supported Khamoro since the very beginning, similarly as the Roma activist Karel Holomek and Roma researcher Jan Rác. We should not forget about the pioneer of the Czech Romani studies Milena Hübschmannová and ethnologist Eva Davidová, who have been dealing with the Roma issues, including Khamoro, for a substantial part of their life. Countless enthusiasts have helped turn Khamoro into the currently best known festival of its kind in the world.

havel-vaclav-smThis articleis not big enough to capture all the efforts of the small festival team and all the magnificent artistic experiences of the passed fifteen years. Among those associated with Khamoro was also Václav Havel, who had a unique ability to put people together. This is also the main effort of the Festival and it may be for this reason that it was organized under the auspices of the first Czech president. He also invited its participants to the Prague Castle and on that occasion he said: “Already last year the Khamoro Festival was a big event. I wish Khamoro 2000 to lay foundations of a long tradition of a “sunny” festival where we get together with the Roma through pleasant experiences so much needed within our coexistence.”

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