The fact that the Roma people have art in their blood is no longer a secret! Countless “actors” of the national artistic scene are of Roma ethnicity, and although they had a lot of work to break the barriers of racism, once their talent was recognized, they gained a lot of success. In the following paragraphs, we present the artistic path of three successful examples of this kind.

 

“I don’t explain, I paint. For whom? For everyone. Till when? Till the end”

 

The painter Eugen Raportoru was born on December 8, 1961, in Bucharest, in a Roma family with modest resources. There were eight brothers, he being the youngest of them. All were born with talent, but only he stuck to his talent and became a painter. His path in life was not a simple one, because he often had to face problems and outdated concepts about the Roma ethnicity. Although he grew up and lived in a wealthy neighborhood of Bucharest, Banu Manta, this fact did not benefit him because he suffered from the discrepancies between the two social classes: the Roma and the rich people.

However, he got lucky and met the stained glass artist Ion Brodeală from a young age, who took him under his “wing”, guiding him into the secrets of art. From the age of 12, Raportoru worked as an apprentice in the artist’s studio, who lived very close to him. He was the apprentice boy for everything in the yard: casting lead for stained glass windows, cleaning clogs, making lead bars, pewtering, anything. He went every day to master Ion Brodeală with his works, and he corrected it, a touch there, a more intense color over there. Thus, he got in touch with the work and perseverance behind each work of art. He considers himself “the most beloved of persons” because he had neighbors who loved art, well-known craftsmen, great artists who immediately recognized his talent and appreciated him, encouraged him. There were even three painting workshops on his street.

There is one thing that few people know about Eugen Raportoru: he is color blind. And he’s also a little “dim”, as he likes to say jokingly. This is the irony of God towards him! People wonder how he puts the colors, how he combines them, how he harmonizes them. He replies that he could paint with his eyes closed.

At the age of 14 he had his first painting exhibition, where 30 works were presented and he sold his first painting. The first money made from painting!

At the urging of the artist Ion Brodeală, whom he calls his spiritual father, Raportoru enrolled in the courses of the “Nicolae Tonitza” School of Fine Arts, where he was noted for his talent, but also judged for his ethnicity. That’s why he dropped out of school and followed a different path in life.

At 18, he married the woman who is still by his side today, and since then his life has taken a different path. In order to support himself, he worked as a wall-painter, but he always promised himself that he would return to his studies: “I’ll start in the winter, after I finish painting this work, then in the spring and so on!…”, but it took 20 plus years before he returned to school. At 40 he finished high school, and at 45 he got in college. In 2011 he also finished his master’s degree in painting. However, his rising came after the age of 50, a sign that it is never too late. He has only one regret: that his mother is no longer alive to see all his success. She always bragged to her friends, saying “my boy is a painter!”, but Eugen knew that this was not true because he did not have the necessary education. But today, he can truly say: “mother, now I’m a painter!”

In 2022, he participated in the Venice Biennale, being the first Roma artist invited to this grandiose event. Eugen Raportoru’s works were also noticed in the Vatican. He also had exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London, where he was very successful.

Despite all these achievements, the painter is still unusually modest: “I don’t know how others are, but when I arrive at the workshop in the morning and see my colors, canvases and brushes, I feel blessed by God. I paint as I breathe, as I drink water. It’s simple. Anyway, time will tell everything. I don’t explain, I paint. For whom? For everyone. Till when? Until the end”, declares the artist in an interview for the banutulazi.ro website.

 

Elvis Romano: “I bought my first stage costume from a second-hand shop”

 

Tudor Lakatos, known to the public as Elvis Romano, became famous at the end of 2014 when a BBC team came to make a documentary about him in his native village, Șomcuta Mare, in Maramureș.

Elvis “from Romania”, as he is also called, says that he was never interested in traditional Roma music and that he was mesmerized by the music of Elvis Presley, the famous rock&roll star.

He first listened to Elvis’ music as a child and says that the moment was a special one: “When I listened to Elvis for the first time, I panicked. When he played the guitar, I got goosebumps,” says Tudor Lakatoș.

Even though he grew up without electricity in the house and without a TV, he listened to Elvis’ music whenever he could, on a radio. In his songs, he sings about himself, his life, the life of the Roma people in the village, their troubles, poverty, etc. His first costume was made from clothes bought at second-hand store, a satin shirt, on which his mother sewed some fringes.

He is the only one in the world who managed to translate Elvis Presley’s music to the Roma language. How hard was that for him? Quite difficult: there are many things in Elvis’ songs that do not find a correspondence in the Roma language. For example “Blue Suede Shoes”, because Roma people don’t wear such things, and then he said briefly in Romani “don’t step on my foot”.

But Tudor Lakatoș’s life is not limited to music only. He is also a teacher of Romani language and history. At classes, children always ask him to teach them English, but he tells them that first they need to study the subject, and then English. He tries to set a positive example, to influence others to be honest people, to work, to be able to earn their living.

Few people know that Elvis Romano first appeared to the general public as an actor, not as a musician. He played in the film “California Dreamin” (2007), by the late Cristian Nemescu director and in “Marilena de la P7”, (2006) in which he played Elvis himself.

As for his personal life, the artist has five children: three girls and two boys. Three of them are named after the rock star he impersonates: Elvis, Elvisa and Priscilla (n.e. the name of Elvis Presley’s widow).

 

Fanfare Transilvania: from the streets of Cugir at the opening of Goran Bregovici’s performances

 

From ancient times until today, Roma people have been considered some of the best musicians. “He who doesn’t know how to sing is not one of us”, says a well-known Roma music performer. In fact, when they began their migration from India to Europe, more than 500 years ago, they were influenced by the music of the countries they travelled. Arriving in Wallachia, they became slaves, but were often used as clowns, singers or comedians because they had art in their blood.

Today, Romani people play rock music, such example is Elvis Romano above, and others folk music. An example like this is the Fanfare Transilvania from Cugir, Alba county.

“We sing folklore from Transylvania and Moldova, and sometimes at weddings we have to approach folklore from the regions of Banat, Muntenia, Maramureș, but in general we manage to sing folklore from all areas of Romania because it comes from our country,” says the leader the group, Nicolae Gălan.

The ensemble consists of ten members who come from generations of Roma musicians related to each other: brothers, cousins, uncles, etc. The roots of this family of fiddlers are in Vaslui County, where the grandparents of Nicolae Gălan, the group’s leader, are from. They had 12 children and who all carried on the traditional songs. In order to preserve the tradition in Cugir, every child is encouraged to learn to play brass instruments.

Fanfare Transilvania from Cugir quickly got the attention of Romanian audience, not only the Roma one, and they are nowadays invited to perform at many folk festivals in the country, but also abroad.

In October last year, the music group represented Romania (Transilvania region) in Spain, in Bilbao, and performed artistic programs in private events.

The activity of training and guiding young people in the secrets of brass band music continues by including them in the current group. Recently, the music group was promoted by TVR (Romanian Public Television) and BBC (Public Television in Great Britain), in shows that promote local traditions. In more than 20 years of activity, among their many artistic achievements is the fact that they opened the shows of Goran Bregovici.

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