The April 29 premiere of Flamenco India, a project by award-winning musician Oliver Rajamani not only sold out Zach's Topfer Theatre, but its exploration of the 14th century migration of the Romani gypsies of South India to the Spanish soil where they influenced the fiery and intense Spanish flamenco dance, mesmerized the crowd.
The performance was in part an effort to raise awareness of the University of Texas' Romani Archives and Documentation Center, the largest collection of its kind in the world. It also coincided with the release of Rajamani's ninth album, on which he performs with Jeronimo Maya and Tomasa La Macanita, Spain’s legends of Romani flamenco, and Indian masters Ustad Shujaat Khan and Ustad Aashish Khan.
Flamenco is a storytelling dance, and Rajamani’s production included just that: a story of the blending of cultures through migration told through music and dramatic movements designed to convey emotion of a message of long ago. The 17-member ensemble played the most powerful tunes with the traditional sitar and the Spanish harp, synching them with the live performance of an Indian classical dancer and Spanish flamenco artists. Once the music flowed, Daniel Caballero Perez, a flamenco artist from Spain, glided onto the stage and joined the rhythm with feet tapping and arms raised, sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly. Classical Indian dancer Preya Patel in Indian dance attire and Spanish dancer Tamara Adira in traditional traje de flamenca joined in, each following her own traditional steps passed down through her culture. They all danced to Rajamani’s music, flowing from violins, harps, sitar, guitar, and dumbek (Mediterranean goblet drum), and supported by traditional flamenco vocalist Champion Chaiyito, who has spent her whole life singing flamenco to Texas locals.
The stage glowed with calm, but there was passion in the hearts of the artists and the audience. “Ole!” came from the house, and conversation flowed with the tapping of the feet – those onstage and those in the audience united in the performance, each supporting the other. The mix of cultures left one thinking about the value of having immigrants and how much a society benefits from having new ideas come in.
Dr. Ian Hancock, a former United Nations representative and the UT professor who established and maintains the Romani Archives, spoke at the concert, saying that through Flamenco India, Rajamani was bringing the journey of the Roma full circle, from India to Spain and back to India again. It's a trip that Rajamani would like to make every year. As Mayor Steve Adler declared April 29, 2018, Romani Day in Austin, Rajamani hopes to celebrate the Romani culture on that day every year. You can look for future developments on his website.