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Roma and jazz: How a Roma jazz band keeps its front

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Pap Jazz Quartet is one of the most famous jazz bands in Ukraine and abroad. The musicians are often referred to as a phenomenon of Roma jazz music, although the musicians call themselves “Transcarpathian jazzmen”, and in their music they play a mixture of Roma, Jewish, Ukrainian, Hutsul and Balkan motifs.

Django Reinhardt and the history of jazz

Willi Pap Jr. is the founder of the Roma jazz band, known in Uzhhorod, a musician who has been popularising jazz in Transcarpathia for many years. He believes that Roma music has its own unique sound, rhythm, and melody and plays an important role in creating an artistic context for Roma communities both in Ukraine and abroad, that for the second decade is one of the popularisers of jazz in Transcarpathia.

If we talk about Roma jazz, then first of all it is worth mentioning Django Reinhardt – a French guitarist of Roma origin. Django Reinhardt was the first European jazz artist to have a powerful influence on American musicians (primarily guitarists). Later, he significantly influenced the development of American and world jazz, making Roma culture more open and deeper for others.

Jazz is still played in Uzhhorod

In Uzhhorod, the tradition of Roma jazz has been continued and popularised by Pap Jazz Quartet for many years. The band consists of four members – where each of the musicians is part of a entire musical organism. In the spacious hall of the Uzhhorod Palace of Children and Youth “Padiyun” is noisy. Various groups of the city, such as dance, music, and children’s groups, work here. Among them, the members of Pap Jazz Quartet hold their rehearsals. We walk down a long, bright corridor, Mr. Willi, together with other musicians, open the studio door. They immediately take up musical instruments. They improvise. The rhythms of the saxophone, guitar, piano and percussion slowly immerse and transport somewhere in a completely weightless state. At some point, one of the members of the band starts to sing solo, the others join him on the piano, and then the bass guitar sounds again. Mr. Willi lays out the notes on the piano.

Now we will improvise something”,— Mr. Willi says comfortingly, adjusting the glasses on his nose. He keeps his fingers on the white keys. He starts playing.

Ancient melodies combined with modern European jazz trends create an original mix of emotions and meanings. Plunging into the depths of Ukrainian, Roma and Jewish melodies without forgetting about current jazz.

Jazz is always a lot of work and more work. These are long years of education and the desire to live by music, — says jazzman Willi, slowly completing his piano playing. After all, any improvisation always demonstrates, first of all, professionalism and skill.

War and music

The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine did not stop the musicians from performing and holding concerts. Only now they are performing on a volunteer basis to help our army fight the invaders. Funds are collected, which can be obtained for concerts in the open air and transferred to the needs of the Transcarpathian battalion of Ukrainian and Roma fighters.

Recently, the musicians joined the charity musical marathon “128 – music on a hat” held in Uzhhorod. This musical event, in which various vocal and choreographic groups participate, unites artists and creative groups of Transcarpathia to help the Armed Forces and raise funds for the fighters of the 128th Separate Mountain Assault Transcarpathian Brigade. Pap Jazz Quartet is one of those who joined the charity marathon. Musicians say that the cultural front during the war is one of the important components of our struggle, because it is about our identity, self-identification, culture and connection with our ancestors, that the enemy is trying to destroy. But that cannot be taken away from us.

Willi Pap sits down at the piano again, turning the white sheets of the notes. He gently presses each key. The mountains, gilded by the evening sun, are seen from the studio window. Each participant joins a new play. They improvise again.

Read also: The Roma volunteer and help the army,” — said film director Ivan Sautkin

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