To be a 21st Century Gypsy in Serbia involves navigating a potentially explosive cultural and social minefield. Currently no one acts as a more forthright guide through this mess of history, myths, traditions, prejudice and community pride than Belgrade’s Kal.
Kal are a young band, rock’n’roll in attitude, fuelled on dance beats and rooted in the Balkan blues. In their wit, imagination, ability to throw disparate sounds together and refusal to play by “folkloric” rules Kal mark themselves as both part of Balkan Gypsy tradition and 21st Century Roma cultural activists.
The identity Kal carry forward is racially proud yet ethnically inclusive, forward looking while embracing the treasure of the last thousand years of lungo drom (long road), a culture determined to operate as equals in the ever evolving Nu-Europe we all share. While our post-modern, polyglot times may find employing terms like “commitment” and “mission” unfashionable Kal are a band who aim to make a difference.
Kal the word is Romani for “black” were formed by the Ristic brothers, Dushan and Dragan, to confront the prejudices and clichés the Roma face. Dragan, a theatre producer who has set up Romani theatre groups in Budapest and Belgrade, and Dushan, a painter, aimed to use Kal to blend influences from traditional Balkan Gypsy music with the contemporary music they heard whilst living in Belgrade and Budapest.
The Ristics grew up in Central Serbia, sons of Sreten Ristic, a school teacher (“our father was the first openly Roma teacher to graduate from teachers college”) who also played music: this album is dedicated to Sreten. Their parents benefited from President Tito’s efforts to include the Roma more in Yugoslav society and they encouraged Dragan and Dusan to take pride in their heritage while getting an education. This they continue: every summer they lead the Amala Summer School (www.amala.com), a two week gathering at their home village in Valjevo where students from across the world come to learn Roma language, music and history.
I’d previously met Dragan at his apartment amongst New Belgrade’s blighted housing estates. My visit coincided with Dragan recording a session for this album at his home studio. As we broke for cigarettes and coffee he explained his musical philosophy: “Other than legends like Saban Bajramovic very few people in Serbia are playing Gypsy music in the traditional manner. Most are using the electronic keyboard, which is a curse upon Balkan music. Our ancestors on our father’s side have always made music, for centuries they travelled around playing at weddings, funerals, baptisms, so we feel we are continuing this tradition. But we are not living in the past. I admire Manu Chao, how he mixes things together, has fun with sound. I’m an urban person, belong to the modern world, go to rave parties, so by mixing traditional and urban is the best way of presenting our culture.”


Radio Romanista

Label: Asphalt Tango
Release date: March 12, 2009

Almost three years on from Kal’s groundbreaking debut album band leader Dragan Ristic appears both weary and excited about the release of “RADIO ROMANISTA”. “We went from being this tiny Belgrade band to touring Europe and the US, hearing DJs blast our music in clubs, playing festivals, getting to spread the word and music of the Rom.” For Kal’s first CD Dragan drew upon a pool of Belgrade Roma musicians, for “RADIO ROMANISTA” he relied upon the musicians who now compromise Kal’s touring band.“What you get here is our live sound. We spend a lot of time touring and when we’re back home we’re playing clubs along the Danube, bars that put on live music. This has really shaped our sound, it’s Rock’n’roma! I strongly believe this album leads a new wave of Gypsy music. All of my life I have been acting like the bridge between two different cultures, Romani and non-Romani.” On “RADIO ROMANISTA” Kal’s polyglot band leader sings in Romany and Serbian, French and Spanish. As a very special guest Serbian rapper MARCELO joins the band on the first title of the CD, “Krasnokalipsa“.

KAL - Radio Romanista