Words by Rebbecca Neofitou, Songlines intern
Musician Tim Bennett loves Eastern European Gypsy music. His interest was peaked after reading Songlines contributor Garth Cartwright’s book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians and fuelled by his Czech grandmother and Emir Kusturica’s 1995 film Underground. This passion has inspired him to work alongside charities to raise money for Romanian communities and musicians after visiting the country in April 2011.
The charity Humanity at Heart in West Sussex, funds and runs The Joshua Centre in Petrosani, Romania, a mining community which suffers from high unemployment. The centre provides a safe haven for young students to receive help with schoolwork from qualified teachers as well as IT resources for older university students.
When Bennett first visited the centre, he proposed a project – to record local traditional musicians and make it available for download in aid of Humanity at Heart. Bennett says of the project, “I was overjoyed with the welcome and warm response I received from the residents. Luckily, I was able to record some amazing music from local singers and musicians, and semi-professional bands who had been contacted by the team at the learning centre.”
With the money raised, Humanity at Heart will not only be able to sustain but improve the centre, which also acts as a second home for many of the town’s more vulnerable citizens by providing basic foods and shelter. Some of the proceeds will also go to another charity – Vis De Copil (A Child’s Dream). Run by Ken and Katie Cloke, Vis De Copil aims to support Gypsies that live on the outskirts of the the city of Arad as well as working with street children.
While visiting a Gypsy camp with Katie Cloke, Bennett was surprised by the level of musicianship many of them were able to achieve; “Despite the fact the families live in what amounts to a shanty town, they were welcoming and shared their time and what little they had with us. It was a very humbling experience.”
Since April, Bennett has returned to the centre to volunteer his building skills. Bennett’s next project will be to collect unwanted musical instruments to take to Romania for the homeless street children of Arad. To donate any unwanted instruments, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the recordings, please visit Bennet’s website, gypsyaradmusic.wordpress.com.