Adrian Gaspar, the pianist who merged jazz and manele
Adrian Gaspar is a talent who, at only 24 years old, made already a name on the European jazz scene, proposing the exotic sound of Roma music, inherited from his family. When they discovered his talent, his parents decided to emigrate so their son would have the opportunity of a good education, which Romania could not provide. He studied to become a concert pianist, but his ancestors’ music got a hold of his destiny and turned him towards jazz – the genre of complete musical freedom. In October, Adrian came to Romania to hold a concert and talk to the Roma children from the school in Ştefăneştii de Jos about the importance of education.
Your parents emigrated in the 90’s, when you were really young. Why did they do it?
When I was 7, a teacher with a lot of experience noticed my potential and told my parents that, if they really want me to be a musician, it can be done, but not in Romania. I have a lot of relatives that used to play instruments, wihtout necessarily being musicians. Even my mother used to play the accordion when she was little. She was the one who made things happen. In 96, my parents emigrated to Vienna and it took 5 years until we got citizenship.
Did you talent make any difference in obtaining citizenship?
Yes. My piano teacher and the principal of the school in Vienna made an effort. They contacted a lot of other professors from the Conservatory, they put me play a lot, and then they all made a common request to the Austrian Ministry of Internal Affairs to grant me citizenship.
Do you speak Romani?
Yes. I can’t talk to my mother in any other language. Rarely, when other people need to understand us, we talk in Romanian.
Did you ever avoid declaring your ethnicity as being Roma?
I did not, because for me everything went as it is supposed to be in life. But my parents faced another situation, they grew up in communism. My mother didn’t declare herself as Roma in those times, not because she was ashamed, but out of the fear of being ostracized by her colleagues. Because I speak the Romani language, it was always clear to me that I was Roma, I never thought of myself of being Romanian. I have to admit I was very lucky to grow up in Austria, a country in which the Roma ethnicity has been recognized as a minority since 400 years ago.
How did you get to jazz?
I studied classical piano for 12 years, but at the age of 13, I realized I didn’t want to become a concert pianist. I was thoroughly prepared for it, but I broke my hand and I had to postpone my Conservatory exam. I started to play anything that came to my mind with my other hand. At that time, the trend was playing manele.
What pushed you towards manele?
I really like the genre. What I don’t like is that nowadays the accent is on quantity rather than quality. Theoretically, it’s a modern genre of Gypsy music from the Balkans, absorbed from the Orient, from the Turks and the Arabs. It’s not traditionally Gypsy, the way the fiddlers are. My father saw that I liked it and bought me a keyboard, on which I started composing and arranging songs. One of the first important songs, whit which I stood out at a classical music competition, was Jelem Jelem!, a well-known traditional Gypsy song. I wrote an arrangement for violin, cello and piano and I got an important prize in the contest, which motivated me to push forward. The next one was a popular theme from my part of the country, from Banat.
So traditional Roma music was literally the catalyst to your transformation into a jazz musician…
Yes it was. Through this oriental-manele style, I eventually got to Bulgarian music and to the Macedonian one. My role model was an accordion player who plays a mixture of Bulgarian folklore, Gypsy music and jazz. I had him as my special guest in 2005 at my first concert, at the Radio Hall in Vienna.
You come to Romania regularly to hold concerts. Did you notice any changes in the situation of the Roma community between your visits?
I think we’re on the right track. I’ve noticed among my relatives, among my cousins, that they don’t hide their ethnicity anymore. It’s harder for the older ones, those who have a career and are probably scared that they’d lose some advantages if they declare themselves as Roma. Some just got used to living like this, in hiding. It’s a pity not to declare yourself as Roma and therefore to cut all your connections with all this culture, with everything that is good about it.
How important is education in relation to this?
My grandfather didn’t have the opportunity to go to high school, he used to work in constructions, but he always thought that education was very important and my mother inherited this. She was always at the top of her class and had very good grades. After high school, in 85, she had the opportunity to have a job at a chemistry laboratory, but she didn’t get it in spite of her grades. The head of the laboratory made it clear from the beginning: “you really expect me to give a white coat to a Gypsy?” In 2000, my mother started studying sociology at the University of Vienna, and two years ago she got her master’s degree.
What would be the most important thing you’d tell your community?
They have to stop being afraid of declaring themselves as Roma. They need to have a plan in life. If you want to have five children by the age of 20, that’s your business, but you won’t get very far.
You have to have a goal in life and work to achieve it. People usually find an excuse in the fact that they didn’t have the possibilities. It’s true, but you need to get out of this mentality of victimization. And don’t blame others. The Balkan mentality generally urges us to complain. The Roma also have the argument of discrimination. We need to get over it! Try, do something!
What do you think about Romani Criss’ campaign “Be proud to be Roma” implemented before the census?
The campaign will work only if the Roma people see and advantage in it. It helps, but it depends on how you work with them. Today I spoke in front of 40 children. I can’t tell all of them: do this and you will feel proud to be a Roma. Who wants to learn the language does it for themselves or the family. You need to talk to people in their area of interest, on their level. You can’t use the same message for everybody. You can’t tell 2 million Roma that “you are all the same”.