Oriental & Flamenco Gypsy Festival,
Zurich, Switzerland
(28 October 2005)

When Christian Fotsch told me about his project with international gypsy musicians, I decided to visit one of the shows of their 2005 tour in Switzerland. It was a wise decision. The musical journey led from the north of Africa through Andalusia in Spain and passed through Switzerland down to the far Orient and was spiced with breathtaking dance shows and an awe-inspiring fakir performance.

Mohamed Issa, a violin player and singer from Lebanon, brought along his Arabian orchestra AREZ. Their music was played on original instruments, including the kanun, an interesting dulcimer-like instrument, and several percussion instruments including the darabuka, def and riq. They were joined by two female oriental belly dancers. I felt like I was in a dream of 1001 nights and wondered if they would start serving the sweet mint tea before the delicious couscous. The last dance with Chrisitan Fotsch on an old string instrument, the oud, and Marem Aliev on flute was the first musical highlight of the evening.

Then a dancing company from Spain, Flamencos en Route, came on stage. Nieves Diaz, the female singer, was accompanied by two guitarists, Juan Gomez and Pablo Garcia. The two brilliant flamenco guitars and Nieves' beautiful lament carried us off to the south of Spain, somewhere in Andalusia. Almudena Hernadez and Fernando Alfaro entertained us with their passionate and acrobatic dancing.

The last set before the break was Ssassa, an oriental gypsy cocktail, featuring different string instruments (bouzouki, lotar and oud), woodwinds (saxophone, clarinet and ney), accordion, bass and percussions (darabuka and davul), as well as the hauntingly beautiful singing of Gordana Svilarevic. Ssassa's music is jazz and oriental music fused with the rhythmic sounds of Europe, and it is excellent.

During the break the stage was prepared for Dhoad, the gypsies from Rajasthan. Wonderful singing and laments, an Indian harmonium and a sitar were accompanied by typical Indian percussions, two pairs of tablas, a dholak and cartels (castanets). Within the first minutes Dhoad inspired the audience and received a big hand after each of their sets. The tabla players let the audience join in by clapping the rhythm and the two singers managed to communicate with us without words. It was pure joy to see and hear them playing. Later, a fakir came on stage and surprised the audience with a breathtaking show of fire and magic. His walking on broken glass was as awe-inspiring as the dance of the female contortionist. The atmosphere was now so excitingly hot that you really felt as if you were at a bazaar somewhere on the edge of the desert Tar in Rajasthan.

When Dhoad was joined by Flamencos en Route, they played a mixture of flamenco and Indian dance songs. Both oriental dancers as well as flamenco dancers came on stage and the differences between those two cultures seemed to vanish. One by one the different musicians, dancers and magicians joined in and after three hours of music and show the five different cultures melted together and we heard something so beautiful and rich that only a multicultural society is able to create.

by Adolf Goriup
7 January 2006