Carute Roma, our hometown Gypsies

Gypsy music may be the forgotten party music.

When American musicians raised on rock stumbled upon traditional Gypsy music and started composing their own take on it, the sound they created was a mesh of traditional Eastern European sounds played with some good old aggression. While some may favor bluegrass, electronic DJ music or – God forbid – rock ’n’ roll, as the sound to listen to, Gypsy often gets the castoff.

That’s a shame. Thanks to bands like Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box or other bands with Eastern European members and influences, Gypsy music has taken hold. Its bass lines, stomping rhythms behind a fast-paced violin and call-and-response lyrics are ripe for inciting drinking and rowdy behavior everywhere. Durango’s own Gypsy band Carute Roma will celebrate the release of their debut CD “Gadjo Caravan” this evening with a free show at the Lost Dog.

The band is Michael Rendon on violin and vocals, David Sachs on drums, Brian Arens on guitar and vocals, Nicole Mosher on trumpet, Alexi Carey on bass, Robert Aspen on accordion and vocals, Hannah Burnett on violin and Brian Lock on mandolin.

Carute Roma has been together in Durango and outlying areas for the last nine years, but being a band has never been at the forefront of anyone’s activities. Every member has a full-time job, from teaching to nonprofit work, so their output and live performances have been busy or spotty. That hasn’t mattered. They’re Gypsies, after all. Theirs is a friendship before business.

“The people in the band are some of my favorite people in Durango. That’s partly why we stay together,” said Rendon last week from the office of his “real” job. “Everybody really likes each other, and what we’re doing is totally unique and it’s kind of cool.”

Gypsy bands like Carute Roma’s place in the world of music is often as the house-band for weddings. That’s where Carute Roma plays most of its shows, and the up-beat nature of the music is a natural fit.

“In Romania and Eastern Europe, the Gypsy musicians make their money playing weddings. It’s known as rowdy music, and it’s funny because we mostly play weddings here,” Rendon said. “We kind of like it that way, it feels like we are connecting with the musicians over there.”

Sitting down with Rendon to talk Gypsy music is like sitting down for a lesson in Romanian and Eastern European culture, something many Americans could use. In an specially fabulous episode of “The Andy Griffith Show,” a rag-tag group of Gypsies led by Jamie Farr rolls into Mayberry to sell junk to the rubes of the town, eventually jinxing the town and its residents. That stereotype may be unfortunately universal, but Rendon thinks one benefit of playing in a Gypsy band is he’s given the opportunity to dispel such negativity.

“It gives us a chance to educate people on the Roma culture. The word ‘Gypsy’ is a negative term – they call themselves ‘Roma’” Rendon said. “What’s neat about the band, too, is we’ve gotten into the culture.” Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.