The Biggest Roma Culture Festival in the World
Khamoro (which means sun in the Roma language) is the largest and most famous professional Roma festival in the world. The festival, which has been organized by the NGO Slovo 21 in Prague since 1999, regularly organizes unique Roma band concerts consisting of groups from all over the world, as well as putting on exhibitions, film events, dance workshops, specialized seminars and conferences. Nearly 140 000 people from both the Czech Republic and abroad have attended the Khamoro festival in recent years. The foundation of the festival is without a doubt Roma music, which represents an important part of the world's cultural heritage.
Over the past 17 years, in which the festival has brought the best of Roma culture to Prague every year in the last week of May, the Khamoro has established itself not just as a celebration of one community but also as a social cultural event. It is an event of which Prague and the whole of the Czech Republic can be proud. The Khamoro is no longer only attended by the Roma; on the dance stages and in the halls people of every age and nationality have great times together. And in addition to introducing Roma culture with all that it can offer to the world, this is the festival's main mission.
From the very beginning, the festival has been entertaining people from not only the Czech Republic but also the US, Canada, and South Africa. Throughout the life of the festival, over 160 professional Roma bands from more than 40 countries around the world have had the chance to entertain the concert visitors. was and the Khamoro has enjoyed the support of many famous Czech figures, such as Václav Havel, Petr Pithart, Libuše Benešová or Ramiro Cibrian.
In 2014 for the first time, the World Roma Festival Khamoro moved also out of Prague to an additional venue in Pilsen which is particularly fitting as in January 2015 Pilsen became the European capital city of culture. Every year the European Union awards this title to one or more European cities and these cities then have the opportunity to present their cultural life and development to the whole of Europe for a year. In 2015, part of this was the Khamoro festival program.
Program director of Project Pilsen, the European capital city of culture 2015, Jiří Sulženko said: "the Khamoro Festival is an energetic, happy, lively and colourful celebration of tolerance and freedom and at the same time of music, which has the ability to erase borders and prejudices. Besides that, it has an admirable tradition and has completed a number of successful years. I am glad that many local organizations, such as ARA ART or Ponton, have taken place in the expansion of Khamoro to Pilsen. This ensures that we have planted a tradition into a fertile land and that there will someone who will be able to ensure further cooperation even after the year 2015."
History of the festival
The idea to organize a world Roma festival came into being literally overnight. And it should be noted that it was not initiated by a positive event …
Jelena and Džemil Silajdžić, a film producer and a professor of music, left after the tragic breakup of Yugoslavia their native Sarajevo and settled down in Prague. At that time, they organized a big cultural event and invited Czech pop stars as well as a Roma band. Everything went on smoothly until the boys from the Roma band took the floor. Suddenly, the sound system began to fail, with moments of complete silence. The experienced musicians coped with it in their own way and left the stage to join the crowd. Their performance was a huge success despite technical obstacles. Soon it was found out that the problems were caused on purpose by the sound mixer. The Silajdžićs were shocked by such an extreme xenophobia. They still remembered what an ethnic hatred caused in their native Bosnia and Herzegovina…
The same night they decided to establish a tradition of a cultural event with a stamp of quality, uniqueness and professionalism – this is how the concept of a World Roma Festival Khamoro came into being. In commemoration of the mentioned Roma band called Khamoro – Sun, as a symbol of something that radiates positive energy, warms up hearts, arouses in people enthusiasm and get them together in their desire for joy and happiness.
The Khamoro Festival in the course of its existence has not focused only on the Roma traditional music but introduced also interpreters of the contemporary Roma music and the world-known gypsy jazz, as it was particularly the mixture of traditional and modern elements and avoidance of stereotype, that the Festival was endowed with by its founders. Namely for this reason, the Festival has never concentrated only on music and dancing as this would foster the deep-rooted preconceptions on the Roma being nothing more than brilliant musicians. The basic concept of the Festival is to present everything that the Roma culture brings to the world, and thus connect people.
The idea of organizing a professional Roma festival in Prague at the end of the nineties met with a highly favourable response of the then Lord mayor of Prague Jan Kasl and Vladimír Drábek who was responsible for the section of culture in the Prague City Council, who offered their cooperation. The same response came also from the Ministry of Culture.
And, the idea of Khamoro was naturally welcomed by the Roma themselves. For instance Emil Ščuka, one of the main leaders of the Roma community in the post-revolutionary years and the then president of the International Roma Union, has supported Khamoro since the very beginning, similarly as the Roma activist Karel Holomek and Roma researcher Jan Rác. We should not forget about the pioneer of the Czech Romani studies Milena Hübschmannová and ethnologist Eva Davidová, who have been dealing with the Roma issues, including Khamoro, for a substantial part of their life. Countless enthusiasts have helped turn Khamoro into the currently best known festival of its kind in the world.
This articleis not big enough to capture all the efforts of the small festival team and all the magnificent artistic experiences ofthe passed fifteen years. Among those associated with Khamoro was also Václav Havel, who had a unique ability to put people together. This is also the main effort of the Festival and it may be for this reason that it was organized under the auspices of the first Czech president. He also invited its participants to the Prague Castle and on that occasion he said: “Already last year the Khamoro Festival was a big event. I wish Khamoro 2000 to lay foundations of a long tradition of a “sunny” festival where we get together with the Roma through pleasant experiences so much needed within our coexistence.”
Slovo 21 is a non-governmental not-for-profit organization that launched its activities in Prague in 1999. The organization was founded mostly in relation to the World Roma Festival Khamoro which is until nowadays the most known project of Slovo 21. But it is by far not the only activity of Slovo 21 focused on betterment of the position of Roma within the Czech society and its coexistence with the majority. Slovo 21 has for a long time been involved in many Romani projects from the fields of education and employment of Roma and strengthening of Romani identity. The Slovo 21 team has naturally formed as multicultural, including Czechs, Roma as well as foreigners from different parts of the world; thus, the organization is involved also in programmes for integration of foreigners. The most known one has since 2004 been the Family Next Door project – a platform for informal personal encounters of Czech and foreign families. In this field, we are engaged also in multicultural education and raising of public awareness as well as in publication activities including our information bulletin aiming at making lives of foreigners in the Czech Republic easier.
Our main goal is the improvement of coexistence of different groups in the Czech Republic. For this purpose, we fight against racism and xenophobia, we are engaged in human rights protection and development, we help to build a multicultural society and improve media image of minorities.
Studio Production Saga
Studio Production Saga was established in Prague in 1992 by the producer Jelena Silajdžić and the musician Džemil Silajdžić. Saga implements and supports cultural projects aiming at cooperation of the cities of Prague and Sarajevo. The main goal is the spread of cultural wealth between the two cities, endorsement of multiculturality, and organization of cultural exchange in the fields of music, theatre, dance, film and literature.
Team of Khamoro festival
SLOVO 21, z. s., a Studio Production Saga, s. r. o.
ART DIRECTOR AND PRODUCER
HEAD OF PRODUCTION
Dušan Matić, Michal Miko, Josef Novák, Marie Brendzová, Claudie Laburdová, Sabina Badžová, Bulgan Otgonsuren Rico, Ljiljana Batovanja, Monika Peulić, Denisa Miková, Františka Hanousková
Julius Bily, Karla Čížková, Filip Davydov, Michaela Demeterová, Eva Džobáková, Adéla Gálová, Jiří Gorol, Martin Gorol, Jana Gorušková, Kateřina Horová, Josef Horvát, Petr Horvát, Jannete Horváthová, Martina Horváthová, Izabela Chlaupníková, Soňa Kalejová, Johana Keltová, Jiří Ličartovský, Boro Peulić, Renata Plachetková, Eliška Siváková, Sylvia Saševá, Petr Ščuka, Ise Severo, Darko Silajdžić, David Tišer, Robert Tonelli, Martin Zajac
Antonín Jelínek, Vojtěch Lavička, Jan Schroth, 2media, s. r. o.
David Hýsek, Petr Pelíšek, Petr Šišovič, Jaromír Mikeš, Jakub Patócs
Marija Petrinjac, Johana Kratochvílová
Tomáš Bystrý, Pavlína Matiová, Iveta Demeterová, Jarmila Balážová, Lukáš Kotlár, Milan Koritjak, Matyáš Říha
PHOTO AND VIDEO
Tomáš Vrána, Lukáš Houdek, Aleš Vlachovský, Jan Mihalíček, Silvie-Anežka Matić, Ludvík Kučera
DIRECTOR OF THE DOCUMENTARY
Datapont, s. r. o., Petra Barkmanová