It was a journey that began centuries ago when nomads from India began moving westward into West Asia and Europe. They settled in various locales, mingled with the locals, created unique cultures, and they also made unique music. Their descendants came to be known as Gypsies. Today they are better known as Romany or Roma. Charlotte-based musician Vadim Kolpakov is Romany with roots in Russia. He is a virtuoso on the Russian 7-string guitar, where his fast moving fingers become one with the instrument. He dances and sings as well and is the artistic director and leader of the Romany band Via Romen.
Founded in 2004, Via Romen (which means “The way of Roma” or “Through the Roma”) has performed across North America and overseas. They are master musicians, dancers, and singers and have created an original blend they call “Nuevo Russian-Romany music.” The sound is deeply rooted in traditional Romany repertoires and regional European dialects, but enhanced and expanded further by jazz, classical, Jewish and Latin styles. “We offer a glimpse into the lives of real Romany musicians and their relationships, historical and current, with other performers,” the group says on their website.
Via Romen’s music evokes flamenco, haunting ballads, feisty Gypsy dance music, and a blend of world musical styles arranged and performed in their signature style.
Born in Russia, Vadim Kolpakov cut his teeth in music under the guidance of his uncle Alexander Kolpakov, a celebrated musician in his native Russia. “I’ve always been involved in music and dance,” Vadim said during an interview. “My uncle Alexander Kolpakov is a famous guitar player and was my idol when growing up.” Alexander Kolpakov started to teach Vadim guitar and became Vadim’s mentor. “I worked at the Moscow’s Romen Gypsy Theater since I was fifteen and then later performed in bands and ensembles in Moscow. Flamenco, in the 16th Century when the Roma came to Spain they blended their music with Spanish original music and Arabic influences and created what is now known as flamenco. It became a part of Spanish culture,” Kolpakov explained.
The Romany people have been discriminated against for centuries. “They didn’t have their own country that’s been the problem. They left India in the 10th century and traveled all over and settled, much like the Jewish people. Russia is one of the better countries for Romany people, not as bad as Eastern Europe like Romania or Czech Republic…they have been there for more then 500 years but the discrimination is still there…it’s difficult to talk about,“ Kolpakov said.
In 2008 and 2009 the Kolpakov Trio got a taste of the pop world as soloists in Madonna’s world tour.
“The biggest project I’ve been involved in. We did a two year tour. First we went to her birthday party via mutual friend Eugene Hütz of the band Gogol Bordello. He used to work with her and is an actor and musician. He gave her a CD of our music. She used some of our music in the film she directed and she wanted us for her birthday in London where she lived when married to Guy Ritchie. We went to her house for the party and played for her. She liked our music and personality I think…and asked us to tour with her. I was amazed at how that’s going to work. We are representing traditional Gypsy music but she is an amazing person and artist who can put together different types of styles and traditions and put them together. We did about one quarter of the show with her and had a solo number in the show, it was one song written by my uncle in Romany language, which then all Madonna’s fans were singing at every show. We played all over the world except Asia and Australia.”
Via Romen perform at varied venues all over the world, including festivals, cultural gatherings, even private parties and weddings. Vadim Kolpakov occasionally performs solo guitar at Luciano’s restaurant in Charlotte on sporadic Friday nights. He is also a professional guitar teacher and gives private lessons. His guitar wizardry can be seen on videos on his website. “I grew up on jazz and also classical and all kinds of world music…Russian and Indian..all types.”
Vadim and his wife Marina have also performed with Dr. Maha Gingrich’s “Dances of India” show in Charlotte. Marina will dance in the upcoming 2015 edition of “Dances of India” in April. She dances in flamenco and Gypsy styles. “Flamenco and all Gypsy dance are similar to the Indian Kathak where you have the spinning and the taps with the foot keeping rhythm” he said.
The members of Via Romen include Kolpakov (founder), Petra Gelbart (lead vocals, accordion and dance), a founding member who is also a Romany singer, activist and scholar. She received a PhD in musicology at Harvard and calls both the Czech Republic and the U.S. Arkadiy Gips (violin, backup vocals) emigrated from Ukraine in 1994. Eugenia Zolotariova (lead vocals) is a multi-lingual Romany singer. Sergiu Popa (accordion) is an accordionist originally from a Romany family dynasty of musicians in Moldova. Marina Shanefelter is a professional dancer, choreographer and instructor, originally from Estonia. Marina, who is also married to Vadim, specializes in Flamenco, Latin and Russian-Romany (Gypsy) dances.
Via Romen’s musically fluid album My Two Homes was released a few years ago and the band is working on a new CD to be released sometime this year.
For more details on Vadim Kolpakov and the band Via Romen visit www.VadimKolpakov.com and www.ViaRomen.com