Khamoro - Romany musician Harri Stojka: "Roma in the Czech Republic need to integrate"

Photo: CTK

The Khamoro world Roma festival is once again under way in Prague. For the eighth year running Roma musicians have been flocking to the Czech capital from all over Europe and the United States to perform everything from Gypsy jazz to traditional Roma folk songs. The festival has also been offering film screenings, book readings, and an exhibition of photographs. It all culminates with a gala concert of traditional music and an international seminar - a tribute to Milena Hubschmannova, who founded the Romany studies department at Prague's Charles University and died last year.

While the festival's main goal is to introduce Roma culture and traditions to the rest of society, it also hopes to bring the different Roma communities from around the world closer to one another. Viennese guitarist Harri Stojka presented his project "A Tribute to Swing" at Prague's renowned jazz club Reduta. He may live just a few kilometres away from the Czech-Austrian border but believes the lives of the Roma in Austria and those in the Czech Republic are worlds apart. Dita Asiedu met up with him after the show:

"I grew up in Vienna in what you would call a gypsy ghetto. We were very depressed and suppressed and it was horrible for us all at school. The only way to get out was through sport, music, or any kind of art. My father always said to me that I need to leave the place. He would say: 'become a musician, famous, and be good and then you won't have to come back here'."

Photo: CTK
You'll be turning fifty next year. How have things changed in Vienna since your childhood?

"We are very close to the east and many gypsies, Turks, Latinos, blacks, and many Asians are in Vienna now. It's an absolutely multi-cultural place now. When I was a child we were the gypsies onto whom the whole 'power' and depression concentrated on. Now, you should see how everything has completely changed. So, it's good for us."

Do you ever hear about the Czech Republic being criticised about the way it treats its Roma community? Is there any advice that you would give to the Roma here?

"All I can say is don't isolate yourself. Go to the people, talk with them, be friendly, and try to integrate. When I went to New York, I had to look at the way the people are and could not be the 'loud Austrian with the beer'. I had to look at how people there reacted and viewed things. The Roma here should do the same. Just as we do in Vienna. We are very integrated in most ways but we also have our traditions without disturbing anyone. In Austria, it works."

For more information on the Khamoro festival, please visit its official website: