Romani music with an international flair

The group Parno Drom is made up of musicians from various cultural backgrounds.| Photo courtesy of Parno Drom.

A group of musicians, with various cultural backgrounds, share their distinct and unique music to a perhaps less aware North American audience.

Parno Drom, a band influenced by the Eastern European Romani style of music will be performing at the Heritage Grill in New Westminster on June 19.

A musical smorgasbord

Parno Drom was formed in 2011 by Bob Kozak, a Polish born accordionist and music director who has been involved in the B.C. music scene for decades. When he contacted a few musicians he knew, and put out a call looking for new ones, Kozak searched for those he felt could best handle the music he wanted to play.

“I was looking for musicians that can handle Romani music,” he says. “Not everyone can play Romani music; you can be the best sheet-reader, but if you don’t feel it you won’t be able to follow with it.”

Out of his auditions emerged the still-evolving group that makes up Parno Drom. It is a nationality-rich ensemble, with Kozak’s polish roots complemented by some from Russia, Ukraine, Venezuela and others; this large range of countries fitting the Romani influence they play with. Better known by the name “Gypsy” (which is considered a derogatory term by many), the Romani people emigrated from India centuries ago, and spread all across Europe and into the Americas. Evidence of this travelling manifested itself in their music.

“As they travelled through all these different countries,” says Kozak, “they would pick up music from all the different cultures. We now have quite a few different styles of Romani music, so when you listen to it you can find elements from Arabic music, Greek music, Polish, Russian, Spanish music…it’s all mixed.”

This blending of cultures and styles is evident even in individual tunes. Each song can be a musical tour of its own – as many are sung in multiple dialects – and even the beat is liable to change mid-song.

“Lots of times even one song can change tempos three, four times,” says Kozak. “The only way for musicians to perform it well: they have to feel the music. It comes from the heart.”

A distinct performance

For Kozak, the question of what music he wanted to play was obvious. Parno Drom specializes in Eastern European Romani music, which is what he has loved his entire life.

“It’s a little bit different,” says Kozak, “and people will find we sing very romantically and happily, with fast changing rhythms and beats. I grew up with this style, it’s in my heart.”

While focusing on a style of music that isn’t familiar to many people in B.C. can be disadvantageous in some respects, Kozak sees the challenge of introducing it to be a worthwhile one.

“I want there to be a great variety in music,” he says. “We’re living in a multicultural community, and if we have a variety of music everyone can find something for themselves. I like the challenge, to introduce something that is not around here too much yet.”

The group, who also offer their services at private functions, gives performances across the Lower Mainland throughout the year.

“The show brings lots of happiness, lots of colours, lots of flavours,” says Kozak. “We are a very energetic group, and we sing in all different Romani dialects. The music is very friendly, it comes from the heart.”

For those who might not have experienced Romani music before, Kozak hopes those attending will come with an open mind and a readiness to have a fun night.

“Be yourself, be loose. I would like for people to see how Romani artists perform, and this music [is] for all ages. I don’t know exactly how else to describe it; the best way is to come see us at the show!” he says.


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