The Romani are an ethnicity mostly living in Europe (although there are some Americans of Romani descent). They originated in India and were nomadic, eventually reaching Europe. The Romani live all over Europe, with populations in countries such as England, Spain, France, Italy, and Romania. Sadly, they have been persecuted for centuries and there are estimates that anywhere from 220,000 to 1.5 million Romani died in the Holocaust (not much is known and it is difficult to find exact numbers). To this day there still is persecution because of far right wing parties being elected in parts of Europe.
Romani music itself has a wide variety of influences from Indian to Greek to Persian to Slavic to French and Spanish. Romani music was even the basis for the Spanish flamenco. Django Reinhardt, a Belgian jazz guitarist of Romani descent was very influential to rock musicians such as Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch, Dickey Betts, Jeff Beck, and Jerry Garcia. Django Reinhardt was the inventor of the genre “jazz manouche” in the 30s. Jazz pianist John Lewis said of Django “He was the first great European jazz musician”. Another interesting thing about him is that in a fire he lost a few fingers but continued to play guitar. He died in 1953 at the age of 43. Here’s a video of some Django Reinhardt songs:
There are a few musicians of Romani descent who have made contributions to classic rock, let’s explore! Disclaimer: There will be quotes from musicians about their backgrounds. Some of them have reclaimed the word “gypsy” to describe their ethnic backgrounds. This is how they wish to identify. The only usage of the word “gypsy” will be in quotes from musicians or in one case a band name. Otherwise I will not use it. Thank you. Adam Ant: Lead singer of Adam and the Ants. His grandfather was Romanichal. Adam and the Ants were formed in 1977. They gained popularity in 1978 when they toured Europe. In 1979 they did their first UK tour and released their first album Dirk Wears White Sox. Their music is best described as post punk. The band released 3 albums and broke up in 1982. Adam Ant had a solo career after the band broke up. As well as being a musician, Adam Ant also did acting and was in the movie Jubilee, playing The Kid. Also in the movie was Toyah Willcox, who played Monkey in the movie Quadrophenia. Some of my favourite songs to listen to of theirs are “Cartrouble (Parts 1 & 2)”, “Zerox”, “Kick!”, “Antmusic”, and “Stand and Deliver”. The most successful songs were “Antmusic” (UK #2), “Stand and Deliver” (UK #1), and “Prince Charming” (UK #1).
Albert Lee: An English guitarist who has worked with musicians such as Jon Lord (keyboard/organ player for Deep Purple), Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison (who played with Buddy Holly in The Crickets), Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Bill Wyman (former bassist for the Rolling Stones) and The Everly Brothers. His playing style is very fast His influences are R&B music, 50s rock and roll, and country music. He’s worked with jazz musicians and country musicians. As well as playing with other musicians he has a solo career. Here’s a a bit of Gemini Suite, which is made up of 5 movements (parts). The Gemini Suite has influences in classical and jazz music. Albert Lee played guitar on the album.
Denny Laine: Before he was in Wings, he was in The Moody Blues and Ginger Baker’s Air Force. He is from Birmingham, England. He was friends with many fellow Birmingham musicians such as John Bonham and The Spencer Davis Group. Of his background and inspirations he says “I come from a folk type background, an Irish/Gypsy background, and I was always into folk music and jazz.” One of his influences was fellow Romani musician Django Reinhardt. He joined The Moody Blues in 1964 and was only with them for their first album, The Magnificent Moodies. Denny Laine sang lead vocals on the hit “Go Now”. He left the band in 1966 and started The Electric String Band, who performed on the same bill as Jimi Hendrix and Procol Harum. The next band he started was called Balls and that later on broke up. Denny Laine joined Wings in 1971 and played an important role in the band. He co-wrote “Mull of Kintyre” and “No Words” (Denny Laine sang lead vocals on “No Words” on Band on the Run) with Paul McCartney. On Venus and Mars he sang lead vocals on “Spirits of Ancient Egypt”. On Wings At The Speed of Sound he wrote and sang lead vocals on “Time To Hide” and “The Note You Never Wrote”. “I Lie Around” is another song Denny Laine sang lead vocals. On London Town he did lead vocals on “Deliver Your Children” and “Children Children” (he co-wrote both of those songs with Paul McCartney). On Back To The Egg he did lead vocals and wrote “Again and Again and Again”.
Here’s Denny Laine’s version of “Go Now” from Wings Over America:
The Gipsy Kings: French musicians of Spanish Romani descent who perform in an Andalusian dialect of Spanish. They wish to reclaim the term for themselves, according to this article from the BBC. The band were founded in 1978 and released their first album in 1982. Nicolas Reyes started the band with his brother, Andre, and some cousins. Nicolas and Andre are sons of Jose Reyes who was a Spanish Romani flamenco artist who fled Catalonia in the 30s. Before they were known as the Gipsy Kings they were known as Los Reyes (reyes means kings in Spanish). They began to gain popularity in the late 80s with their self titled 1988 album. Their influences range from rumba to salsa to pop music. Their music has been featured in movies such as The Big Lebowski and Toy Story 3. Their best known songs are “Djobi Djoba”, “Bamboleo”, “Volare”, and “Baila Me”.
Mariska Veres: Lead singer for Dutch band Shocking Blue. The band were best known for the hit, “Venus”, which went to #1 in 1970 in the United States. In fact, the song did better in the US than it did in her home country, where it reached #3. The song was written by guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Mariska Veres started her music career in 1963 and released one single in Mariska Veres’ father was a violinist, he was Hungarian of Romani descent and her mother was German. She joined the band in 1968. She was known for her unique voice and her Grace Slick like stage presence. Shocking Blue broke up in 1974. Mariska Veres had a solo career afterwards and the band reunited in the 80s. Mariska Veres died of cancer in 2006, aged 59. Some other Shocking Blue songs I recommend are “Never Marry a Railroad Man”, “Boll Weevil”, “Acka Raga”, and “Mighty Joe”.
Robert Plant: Frontman of Led Zeppelin. Romani on his mother’s side. Of his background he says in response to a question about how he keeps his hair the way he does: “Well, I don’t know. We could be quite serious about it. I have just been very lucky. My mother was a gypsy, and she had a lot of dark blood in her, and her hair was very, very thick – she couldn’t even get a brush through it. So I have been fortunate.” He left secondary school in his mid teens to focus on music, his passion. Robert Plant’s influences were mostly blues musicians such as Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson. He was in a band with John Bonham called Band of Joy. Jimmy Page was searching for a singer for a band he wanted to start and he came across Robert Plant and they hit it off and they started writing songs together. The lyrics Plant and Page wrote were inspired by Lord of The Rings, Norse mythology, and various parts of the world they would visit such as Wales and Morocco. Robert Plant is forever known as a rock god because of his stage presence.
Here’s one of my favourite songs he wrote, “All My Love”, the story is sad because it was written for his son, Karac, who died:
And of course you gotta love his vocals in “Black Dog”:
Ronnie Wood: Member of The Jeff Beck Group, The Faces, and The Rolling Stones. He played bass with the Jeff Beck Group. Also in the Jeff Beck Group was Rod Stewart, who also was in the Faces – made up of former members of the Small Faces (except Steve Marriott), Rod Stewart, and Ronnie Wood (of course). Some of my favourite moments from his time in the band are the songs “Let Me Love You”, “You Shook Me”, “All Shook Up”, and “Spanish Boots”. The Faces released their first album in 1970 and were around until 1975. Some songs I recommend are “Devotion”, “Flying”, “Stone”, and “Ooh La La”. In 1976 Ronnie Wood joined The Rolling Stones, replacing Mick Taylor. Some songs from the late 70s era of the Rolling Stones that are my favourites to listen to are “Hot Stuff”, “Hand of Fate”, “Miss You”, and “Beast of Burden”. “Hot Stuff” and “Miss You” had more of a disco influence than earlier Rolling Stones songs.
Wally Tax: Singer and founding member of Dutch band The Outsiders. Was born to a Dutch father and a Russian Romani mother. His band opened for the Rolling Stones in 1966 and his band were successful in their native Netherlands. Kurt Cobain was a fan of his and even tried searching for him when he was in Amsterdam. He was friends with musicians like Little Richard, Johnny Hallyday, Tim Hardin, and Richie Havens. He even played with Jimi Hendrix and was at Woodstock. After The Outsiders broke up at the end of the 60s, he had a band called Tax Free and released solo albums. Wally Tax died at the age of 57 in his hometown of Amsterdam.
Have your say in the comments section! Tell me your favourite songs by these musicians or tell me about your favourite musicians of Romani descent!
Until next time!