Some background on the movie. According to my professor, Latcho Dram is an anthropological musical set in 1933 that details the travels of Roma, or the Gypsies from India to Spain over about one thousand years. The movie is an allegory, though for what I’m not exactly sure about. Since there were very few subtitles, I was unable to focus on the story line of the musical, which I do not think that the director wanted you to focus on in the first place, so I focused on the changes in musical style, instrumentation, and dance as the Roma migrated from South Asia to Central and Western Europe (Thanks Professor Al-Tikriti. In some instances, I noted the cultural changes as well but that was mostly in the beginning. Anyways, here are some of my observations:
- In India the movie depicts them as nomads, travelling with cattle and tents. The women wear very colorful garments while a majority of the men wear white. There was an image of a woman blacksmithing and I thought “Girl Power!” and “Egalitarianism!”. The elements of Indian culture the dress and the drum heavy music and the dancing. Instruments in the music were unique, sounded like a can clanging. Drums were ceramic vases made out of clay.
- In rural Egypt, there is a change in the musical style, more heavy sounding drums, maintenance of “scratchy violin” and finger cymbals. Also, the dance changes, with more hip motion.
- By ship, the Romas travel to Istanbul and make their living doing jobs like selling flowers and such. Although they live in impoverishment, the Romas maintain their close ties each other. One observes that music incorporates new instruments such as clarinet, guitar, violin, finger guitar, tambourine, and drums. Fun fact: My professor knew the clarinetist in this movie, named Selim Sesler, he died in 2014.
- Move to Romania. I observe the following instruments, violin and hanging xylophone. The instrumentalist had a weird technique of pulling the violin strings. There was a structure shown in this number, that was the Nicolae Ceaucescu palace, the largest building in Europe by a dictator, which is now surrounded by city. According to my professor, the creation of this huge-ass palace came at the destruction of a Jewish neighborhood. Through the music, one understands the resistance to the persecution of the Roma (I’m going off of the tone of the song, because it sounds pretty sorrowful. This sad song is exchanged for a song that is mostly violin driven but accompanied by the accordion and a sitting string xylophone (I think that this is a cimbalom but it might be a gusli, not sure) and some type of lone recorder. Overall the music has lost the busyness of drums and cymbals characteristic of their Indian roots.
- By this time, the Romas are fleeing by train into Hungary singing about their woes and misfortune. By this time they are Christian. However, further along on railroad, a family is singing a joyous song in which they bring back the vase, although this time it is made out of tin or aluminum. They also using spoons, a homage to the finger cymbals
- The train turns into a train carting the Roma to Auschwitz. Here, a woman who survived the camps, sings about her time in the camps. The following scene shows the Roma living in above-ground tree huts, singing lyrics that translate to “God has condemned us to wandering, we have fled misery and hate”.
- 1993: The Romas are in France, and they are living in what look like trailer cars, although my Wikapedia article said they are called vardos, wagons that are complexly carved on the inside. But back to the music! The music is mostly guitar based with one lone bass. The melody comprises a lead guitarist making an array of notes and the rest following by trilling on notes. the bass strikes with the followers as well.
- This scene leads into the pilgrimage to Saintes Maries de la Mer, the holy site of the Roma patron saint, St. Sarah—Abraham’s wife, who laughed at the thought of bearing children at over eighty years old and then bore Isaac at ninety years old. In the music, the violin leads and guitars accompany in the A Section. In the B section, the guitar leads and other guitars accompany along with the violin.
- In modern age in Spain there is dancing! The dancing, involves a lot of jumping, fancy footwork and hip movement, the majority of which is deliberate. At least for the younger dancers, there is a lot of reliance on sex appeal. And I just realized while I was typing this that I did not see any males dancing like I have seen in previous scenes. As they arrive in Spain, the inhabitants brick up houses because they do not wish the Romas to arrive in Spain. This prompts the final number, in which four female members of the flamenco group the Gitanos sing about the prejudice and mistreatment they receive because of their ethnicity. And they are speaking Spanish which I loved because I could understand it without the subtitles!
I would reckon to say that this movie is a great example of syncretism, or the fusion of different culture, intellectual thought, and religion. As to what prompted these changes in musical style, that is a topic for another paper, which I just finished writing one for this class so “no thank you” right now, but I would guess that it would have to do with the desire of the Romas, or any culture, to fit in. I know that with Sufi Islam, the Islamic missionaries allowed the incorporation of Hindu ideas into Islam in order to attract more converts in India and Southeast Asia, so maybe the reason would work the other way around, or maybe not. Oh well, maybe I will think about it more next semester when I take Intro to Human Geography.
I have articles and videos for your literary and intellectual enjoyment:
For more about St. Sarah: http://romove.radio.cz/en/clanek/18906
For more about vardos: http://gypsywaggons.co.uk/varhistory.htm
For more about cimbalom: https://www.britannica.com/art/cimbalom
To hear gusli being played: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDWwHONEvxY
For the full movie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTuXveZStUo