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
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
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
A : Patience is important. If you work hard you will get
everything you want. Love yourself... Smile.....
(Published in Kafla
Intercontinental - Summer 2015)