The Gypsy Burden
© Magazine GQ "Uspeh" by Valeriy Parushkin
When Sergey Erdenko and his group "Loyko" play on their violins, they make people laugh as if they where on a wedding, and at the same time cry like on a funeral. Story told by Valeriy Panushkin.
It is now, the famous Gypsy violinist Sergey Erdenko along with his group "Loyko" give concerts on the best philharmonic squares of the world, like Ravi Shanker or Eugudi Munchkin. But thirty years ago he lived "passing by" in Samara, studied in a musical school, visited the wild Gypsy village Zubchaninovka and thought that the great violinist and composer Nikolaou Paganini was his great father, and the great violinist and horse thief Loyko Zobar - his far relative.
Just because of my journalist habit, I asked Sergey Erdenko where he is from. Only then, I understood that for a Gypsy it is a meaningless question. He doesn't name the concrete spot in the space.
He tells a story which doesn't have a beginning, which seems to continue living even today. Now we hear, and even see Loyko Zobar making people laugh and cry at the same time. Here the conservatoire's professor Grizhimali on a fair in Nizhniy Novgorod meets the Erdenko family. This family is a real ensemble of violinists. Soloist Mikhail Erdenko is five years old, and his parents are giving him to the professor, in order for their son to receive musical master classes. It would be wrong to think that all of this was happening last century. We are talking Gypsy's time, where it doesn't matter when it happened.
There Mikhail Gavrilovich Erdenko himself becomes a professor of the Academy of Music (conservatoire). Here is his successor Dmitriy Vasilievich Ponamorev, also finishes the conservatoire and brings in the tradition to the family- to give all the boys a classical violin-education. Here is Sergey Erdenko submitting to the tradition, is studying in musical school. His mother with the help of some Gypsy sighs, whimpers and special sounds known only to Gypsies, confuses and mystifies the school teachers' heads. After all this, they let Sergey have long hear and not wear a pioneer tie, which as turns out, is not good for a Gypsy to wear. And Sergey wears white shirts with a black bow on his neck. Looking like this, along with a violin in his hands, he goes to visit his relatives in Zubchaninovka. The boys that live there do not wear shirts neither shoes at all, and the only thing they do- is ride their horses without a saddle, from sunrise to sunset.
Nevertheless Sergey's Zubchaninovka Gypsy relatives strictly watch that Sergey did his music homework and practiced the Vivaldi concert everyday. They take him along with them to steal the village hay, only on the conditions that he would rehearse playing his violin. The cheery Gypsies ride in the field and even the kolkhozniks (collective farmers) kindly notify the Gypsies which hay is better to steal. When the night comes, the boys start washing their horses. The smith with a might which you can find in fairy tales- Uncle Kuzia picks up Sergey with his iron-strong hands, putts him in a toboggan and says: "Play, you haven't practiced today yet."
Sergey plays Vivaldi: The firewood in the bonfire clicks the rhythm to him. The crickets in the grass play along with him. The horses "furk" in tact. Everyone is sitting by the bonfire, and is listening the Vivaldi concert from the beginning to the end. Uncle Kuzia, the smith takes a simple, cheap guitar which cost back then seven rubles. The guitar in his huge "paws" looks like a violin. He stars singing with his hoarse voice and endless song about roads and journeys, His wife must sing along with him, so of course she does it with her beautiful voice.
Endless road… Samara, Moscow Erdenko is learning to be an actor, plays the role of a violinist- Sashka. He plays this role in the play "Gambrinus" and just in ordinary life. He goes to dirty Moscow beer bars and plays his violin for drunk muggers. These kinds of people usually divide on two categories. On those who want to beat up the violinist and those who scream out: "Don't listen to anyone! Keep on playing, Gypsy!"
Erdenko says that in Gypsy music of his, the most important parts are the contrasts. It is important that people laughed and cried at the same time, like from the sounds of Loyko Zobaro's violin. It is also important that these bandits in the cheap beer bar beat each other up during the sounds of the music. Because in the soul of one arose something very light and clean, and all the muddle floated up from the bottom of the soul of another. Sergey Erdenko tells that if a young woman dies, a wedding is played on her funeral. And also he tells that on this black wedding, it is much easier for a violinist to loose his mind, then to play. And that a real violinist needs to always keep this black wedding in his mind, and always play as if he was present on it.
Samara, Moscow, London. Sergey Erdenko along with his group "Loyko" came to London without a single penny in their pockets- just to see what fortune throws out to them. And "accidentally" meet with Chelsie- the owner of a bar called "Ashbiss". He is Serbian, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, at that time it didn't matter to him that he was Serbian, and not a Gypsy or an Albanian. Gypsy songs reminded him of home. He offers Erdenko to play in his bar, and for the whole year every evening the bar "Ashbiss" was so overfilled, that there wasn't space for an apple to fall. Groups such as "Duran-Duran", "Pink Floyd", "Rolling Stones", and famous singers like Alla Pugocheva, Norshtain, and a producer Bill Lovelady came to watch the Gypsy violinist play. After once hearing him play, Bill Lovelady immediately offered Erdenko a tour to Ireland.
London, then Dublin. Erdenko says that from a hundred Irish people, seventy are violinists, twenty are poets, and the other ten are deep thinkers. Everyone of their concerts in Dublin always ended with "djam- sayshen", it's when the Irish come up on stage and along with "Loyko", start to play a crazy combination from Gypsy and Celtic variations. Only after a year in Dublin appear already three orchestras with Irish musicians playing Gypsy music. And the group "Loyko" gets Irish citizenship for their music.
It is meaningless to continue listing countries and cities where he has been. There wouldn't be enough pages to do that.
"Is there a country in the world where there are no Gypsies?" I ask him. "Yes- he answers- Japan." He returned to Russia. But not for a long time, just to celebrate five hundred years of the first mentioning about Gypsy people on the territory of the Russian land. Erdenko with his group has recorded a new album, where in some songs Russian language in a funny way is mixed with Gypsy language.
We are sitting on a small kitchen. A new tea kettle and a washing machine next to old furniture and an ancient stove can tell a wordless story about Gypsies' time. Erdenko says that Gypsies do not notice time. For them there is no such thing as development, technology and continuous fashions that always change. There is no reason to prefer a wagon tied up with blankets to a jet "Boing". It is only now that these wagons for some reason disappeared.
Now we will finish the conversation, and the famous Gypsy violinist will again be leaving somewhere. Maybe to avoid some sadness and regret, or to share happiness with friends. To play a concert or to record a disc from the series of "Gypsy Soul". Or just like that.