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Updated: September 12, 2013 19:29 IST

Of love, pain and music

Harshini Vakkalanka
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Bringing in the right mood Norig makes her music versatile Photo: K. Gopinathan
Bringing in the right mood Norig makes her music versatile Photo: K. Gopinathan

French singer Norig says gypsy songs are about love, and pain, or family and children, they’re about life

It’s not just that it’s passionate, powerful and emotional, but when she listens to Eastern gypsy music, says singer Norig, she feels like crying.

“Gypsy music is both sad and happy at the same time. It’s not one or the other and I like this mix. I first listened to music when I watched a movie called Time Of The Gypsies more than 12 years ago and I fell in love with the language and the music,” recalls the singer who is known for her rendition of Eastern gypsy music. Norig recently performed at the Alliance Francaise with her band comprising Joris Viquesnel, Mathias Levy and Olivier Lorang.

“I would like to sing Flamenco, which is a gypsy tradition in Spain. But it’s another technique and I need more than one lifetime to learn all the techniques. So I chose to stick to the Romanian tradition.”

Traditionally, explains Norig, it is mainly women who sing while their husbands play the accordion or the violin. “What’s strange is that lots of people didn’t like gypsies in Romania but they are the stars in music. They play for everybody.”

Eastern gypsy music, or Romanian music, she says, is a mixture of influences, both oriental and occidental. “It has its roots in India. And what’s funny is that in our concert in Chennai, we played a song which they recognised as an Indian song. I didn’t know that, I learnt it from the Romanian people. The music actually travelled from India to Egypt and other places and is also influenced by gypsy jazz in France. That’s what I like about it, it’s so rich.”

One of her most important teachers was Martina Catella, of Italian origin. “She worked a lot with Pakistani musicians like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Faiz Ali Faiz and she worked with qawalli music and I think she was a good teacher because she exposed me to many kinds of music. With her I discovered Italian music, Bulgarian music and Iranian music and my ears then opened up to music from around the world. She taught me the technique and now I know that there is no one technique.”

Gypsy voices themselves, she says are diverse, with base and shrill voices. Though initially Norig tried to emulate a Hungarian singer she was fascinated by, she learnt to sing with her own voice. “I don’t always sing in a powerful voice. Sometimes it’s intimate and sometimes it’s strong. When you sing you have to put the right things in the right way. Most gypsy songs are about love, and pain, or family and children. It’s about life. And when you sing you can even change the words if you want to, it’s improvisational.”

At the same time, Romanian gypsy music is ancestral, passed down from generations. “The gypsies people are not political, it’s hard for them to integrate in society, it’s complicated. But I think maybe their music is their politics, it’s their way of life.”

Norig is not all set to release her album, Ionela, written in French and named after a gypsy woman she met. But as of now, she says she is living her dream.

“The dream is here, it’s everywhere I can sing. I want to travel and discover the world. Though I hope that our album will be well-received by the audience. And I hope that my voice will remain even when I’m an old woman.”

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