Anti-Gypsy-ism in Action

The town council of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer bans the playing of Gypsy music during the Kali Sara pilgrimage

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

France: In May 2008, just in time for the annual Romani pilgrimage to Saintes Maries de la Mer to honor Kali Sara, often perceived as a Saint, and thus venerated but never, as far as we can ascertain, ever canonized, the local authorities banned the playing of Romani music in the streets during this festival.

Gypsies from throughout Europe travel each and every May to the town of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer in the Camargue region of France on a religious pilgrimage to honour their Saint Sarah in prayer and music. The festival takes place every 24-25 May.

Over the years this gathering at the end of the road in France has developed into a crossroads of Romany music, inspiring and pollinating other types of Gypsy music from flamenco to Django Reinhardt's Gypsy Jazz, traditional Hungarian and Balkan brass to the Gipsy Kings' Rhumba.

Now, however, the city council has banned the Romani people from performing music in the streets during the festival. According to Canut Reyes from Gipsy Kings, and many others, this new music ban is going to ruin the festival, and they fear for its future.

While the music, obviously, is and was always part of the celebrations to honor Kali Sara and while this ban may affect the Gypsy music festival that has sprung up, basically, around the Kali Sara celebration, it may not affect the religious part of the pilgrimage.

On the other hand the city may have also cut its nose off in spite of its face for they must understand that the festival, both the pilgrimage and the Gypsy music festival, bring tourists to their town.

Along with an appeal to allow the Romani People to continue to play music in the streets in May 2009, an online petition has been started which is to be sent to the Mayor of Les Saintes Maries de la Mer, Mr Roland Chassain.

“Music plays a huge part in the tradition and culture of the Gypsy people. Please, Mr Chassain, help to resolve any problems, but let the music play on!,” the appealers say.

The petition can be signed online here:

While I support this petition and have, myself, as the General Secretary of the Gypsy Union, signed it, I would like to make any who go to the website aware of the fact that after signing you may be asked for a donation to make via Pay-Pal so, do not, unless you wish to donate, click the “next” button when presented with the screen after you have added your voice to the petition.

© M Smith (Veshengro), June 2008