Roma artists release new book and CD

Agnesa Horvatova

Today's edition is devoted to artists from the country's Roma community. We'll be looking at a new book that's hit the shelves and a recently released CD of the Roma band Terne Chave:

Terne Chave is a Roma band from the East Bohemian town of Hradec Kralove, which was formed in the late 1980's. For almost two years, it toured the Czech Republic, performing mostly Roma folk music. The Velvet Revolution in 1989, which brought down the Communist Regime and introduced new opportunities in all spheres in life - political, social, economic, resulted in the band's sudden break up as its members went separate ways. Twelve years later, they got back together and have been producing their own music for three years now. Gejza Bendig is Terne Chave's leader:

"We are all from Hradec Kralove and have known each other since childhood. We basically grew up together because we lived on the same street, played football together, and played all sorts of tricks on people and so on. That's how we eventually came to form our band. One day, one of us brought a guitar and we began to sing. After the long brake, we came together, kept the name Terne Chave and got two more band members. There are eight of us now, the last two new members are my brother and our violinist."

Terne Chave started off playing Roma songs that were popular in the community. But as the band matured the number of self-composed songs began to rise in number and popularity:

"About eighty percent of the songs we play now are our own. Most of them were written by me. However, all the folk music is created by our joint input. Since it is our traditional music, the lyrics remain the same but the melody is often changed. The problem is that we only know what we were taught by our grandmothers and it's quite difficult to keep the same melody as it was sung by our forefathers because many don't remember it. So, whatever has remained of the traditional Roma music, we try to preserve, the rest is added by our ourselves."

Despite having been enormously active since their "re-birth" three years ago, Terne Chave has no specific goal in the future:

"We Roma don't like to make plans. In fact, the word plan does not concern us. We play music because we enjoy it and the contact with our audience is the what gives us most pleasure. It is a wonderful experience for us, so I guess we can say that our only plan is to continue to make music. Last year, we performed quite a lot. We traveled a lot, taking part in numerous events around the country. We even played at a punk festival, before some one thousand punks. We also toured towns to play for the older generation on squares. Then there were also many festivals and clubs we performed at. So, our aim is to perform. We have no ambitions to go abroad... however, if someone would ask us to come, we would not say no of course."

Besides Roma music, Roma literature, under the Communist regime was also isolated from the rest of the Czechoslovak population. Here, however, it was mainly because non-Roma Czechs were not interested in works from Roma writers, who were then turned down by publishers. Those who wrote, did it mainly for their own pleasure and therefore were not as quick to cease the opportunity and publish their work once the Communist government fell. The past few years, however, have seen a rise in Roma publications and last week a new book called About the Mighty Rama and other stories by Agnesa Horvatova, hit the shelves. Mrs Horvatova lives in Prague but was born in Slovakia in 1949. This is her first published book:

"I have been writing for many, many years. My cousin and I always had creative minds, so, we've been writing, performing plays, and inventing fairy tales from a very young age. Unfortunately, we started under the Communist regime and at the time there was almost no chance for us to have any of our work introduced to the public. There was simply no interest. A number of my articles and poems came out in magazines but it was impossible to find a publisher for my books. That is why we decided to form a folk group instead. We danced and sang traditional Roma music at weddings, funerals, or other events and celebrations. This is why it took so long for me to publish my first book."

Mighty Rama is a book of five short stories, some based on true events and others fictive, written in Czech and in Mrs Horvatova's native language. The book aims at introducing the Roma community, using familiar themes such as love, relationships, fate, as well as the mystery behind witchcraft, represented by Mighty Rama:

"We Roma women, are well informed and also trained in witchcraft. We really know how to do magic. But we no longer use it, mainly because it does not belong in this modern world. Our grandmothers made use of this gift because witchcraft had a different significance at the time. I introduce it in the book and also talk about other Roma traditions. A long time ago, during our grandmothers' days a lot of children were born. Sometimes a mother left her newborn child at someone else's door or in the field. Whoever found the baby, took it in as hers. With time, Roma mothers also took in babies who were not Roma and that is why we are so diverse and act as one big family. Unfortunately, today, we no longer have this sense of closeness and it's a shame."

And those of you interested in more information about the Roma community in the Czech Republic, log onto, where you'll find quite useful web pages in English, French, German, and of course in Czech.