I met Anette Åkerlund in Latvia during 9th. International Roma Congress & Culture Festival held on 16-18 August, 2015 at Riga and Jurmala, where I came to know about her dedication in singing and promoting Romani music at global level. Here are some questions and her answers, which are mainly focused on her work and Roma community. - Dev Bhardwaj


An Interview with Anette Åkerlund
A Roma Flamenco Singer from Finland

Interview by: Dev Bhardwaj

Q : Roma people migrated from India about 1200 years ago under various hard and harsh circumstances. One theory is that they went on their own for a better future; the other-one says they were made captives by the Aliens and sold in central-Asian markets as slaves. There is also a saying that the king of Persia, Behram Gaur asked his father-in-law king, “Shankhla” of Lahore in India to send him 10,000 musicians and dancers for the entertainment of his royal court and his people, who were later asked to also work in the fields and this led to their unknown journey to Europe.
A : I have heard many theories about the history of Roma. Since the language is so near to Sanskrit and Hindi, I think that it is logical that Roma people are originally from India.

Q : History books in India are silent about the fact that Roma are the ancient migrants from India to Europe. Even now universities and scholars in India are least concerned to trace their history and identity. What interests your universities and scholars are showing?
A : It seems that at the university level it is concerned as one possibility that the Roma people are from India, but it seems that in the university level the Roma studies say that there is possibility of other background as well. I guess that because of the long time of 1000 yeas, that the Roma studies are more interested in the near history, for instance, how did the Roma people come to Finland in the 16th. Century.

Q : Do you know if any serious research has ever been undertaken by some Roma scholars on this account.
A: Many of the researchers of the Roma studies are not Roma themselves. These researchers are mostly interested in the recent history of Roma.

Q : Dr. Vania de Gila Kochnovasky had done a deep research about the origin of Roma. He visited several places in north India. He took 5000 blood samples of various communities from India and also of Roma in Europe and came to conclusion that most of Roma are Rajputs - a warrior community who serve in Army as soldiers.
A : I have heard that in India there are some people/communities, whose way of life is similar to Roma people and they still roam from place to place in Rajasthan & Punjab.

Q : There are some other theories that Dom of India are Roma people in Europe. But Dom are of low class community and remained untouchable in caste-oriented society of India.
A : I think that all people should be treated equally. That is God's will..... May be a Rom, a Dom or any else.

Q : Roma are known as a minority in Europe and often discriminated by the majority community especially in east European countries. How do you feel being a Roma in this atmosphere of racial label?
A : I never felt racism in my childhood, maybe because I was growing up in a municipality where every body knew of our family. But as grown up I really feel the difference in many situations. I think that Roma people should already have better possibilities in life... they should be part of the society at every level.

Q : Have you ever been discriminated being a Roma in Finland or elsewhere, particularly while studying in school or doing a job.
A : In my childhood when I was in school, all the people knew about my family. Our was the only Roma family in that municipality area, where I was growing up in the Capital area. My childhood was good and very social. Our family had friers - Roma and non-Roma. My parents are gospel musicians and Roma activists and very well known in the Roma community and also in the Christian pentecostal church community, with Roma and non-Roma people.

Q : You and your family is associated with an organization which works for the welfare of Roma community in Finland. Please tell something about its activities and achievements.
A : My mother, Tuula Åkerlund, is the director of the oldest Roma association in Finland, established in 1906. Her family is very active in Roma politics, my uncle is teacher of Romanés in Helsinki University and has been active in Roma politics in EU level and also in Canada where he studied in the University. My father, Valfrid Åkerlund is gospel musician, he has an own music studio and a firm, where he does music and his other profession, graphic design and photography etc.

Q : ‘Music is Life’ and ‘Life is Music’ for Roma. Is it true? How do you feel being a Roma singer?
A : Music is very important and I am happy that music is my main profession. I think that you can feel a lot of the culture listening to the music of it. Especially the Roma-singing tradition is something that reveals the atmosphere of the culture with the language and voice.

Q : How many Roma live in Finland and what are their social, economic and political conditions there?
A : There are about 10,000 Finnish Roma in Finland. Roma people have nowadays education, not many times academic, but still professional. Many Roma women do social work, for instance working with the young people and in schools. In Finland there are many Roma singers but not many who do concerts as the main profession. I think that the artistic carrier planning would be very important to develop in the Finnsih Roma community. In Finland the Roma women wear a big black dress, which is made of nine meters of velvet. It is very beautiful dress and the majority of the Roma women wear it.

Q : Is Romani being taught in schools in your country? If not, how Roma people are preserving this ancient language of the world?
A : The basic law of Finland says that the Roma people have the right to preserve and develop their language & culture. Since about last 20-30 years it is being taught in the schools. Still the situations is bad, because the Roma kids are studying it as a foreign language, and it is not the normal every day language spoken by their parents at home.

Q : Romani is the ancient language of India which is from Prakrit Group of languages of India. We still find ample of Romani words in north Indian languages.
A : I have compared many times some basic vocabulary of Romanés with Indian vocabulary and it is amazing how the main vocabulary is the same in Hindi for instance.

Q : Do you have Romani – Finish Dictionary?
A : There are some Romanés-Finnish dictionaries and also some Romanés study books of the Finnish Romanés dialect.

Q : Do you feel proud to be a Roma - the community migrated from India.
A : Yes, of course... I am proud to be Roma, there are so many beautiful things in my culture. I love being Roma.

Q : What you feel about India – your Baro Than (Big Place). Have you ever thought of visiting India to see the land of your ancestors?
A : I have dreamed.... may be 15 years ago, for the possibility to travel to India. I have heard many nice stories about India. That would be a great experience for me.

Q : Finally, please tell something about your own-self….
A : I am Anette Åkerlund, born in 1982 in Kirkkonummi in Finland. I have studied Folk Music in Sibelius Academy and Flamenco singing and dancing in Sevilla in the CAFS (Centro de Arte y Flamenco de Sevilla) school with the Roma singer, Esperanza Fernández in 2010-2011 and in Barcelona in 2014 in the Music Academy of Esmuc and with the flamenco dancer Alegria Suárez. Now I am doing cooperation with a Flamenco group from Madrid, Camerata Flamenco Project, where there is a flamenco pianist, Pablo Suárez, who is Spanish Roma. We have a concert in Helsinki in a World Music Festival this Autumn and in the concert there is visiting a famous Roma singer from hungary, Monika Lakatos. I am working with Roma young people as music teacher in schools. I teach them Roma songs from different countries and we have also done some performances where there are the young Roma people performing these songs. I also perform Finnish Roma songs together with my family. I performed the Finnish Roma songs together with my parents for instance in Latvia International Roma Music and Culture festival on 17-18 August 2015 and also I sing those songs a lot with my grandmother... mother of my mother, she has taught those songs to me and I feel that I am rich because of that inheritance

Q : What message you would like to give to the young generation of Roma?
A : Patience is important. If you work hard you will get everything you want. Love yourself... Smile.....

© Author
(Published in Kafla Intercontinental - Summer 2015)