Dudek (a Romany nickname) works as a driver; he despairs at the way a minority of Romanian Roma beggars are held up as representative of all his people. “I don’t approve of their behaviour,” he says. “I feel ashamed of them.”
At the moment, Gypsy Stars are just one of several Polish Roma bands who play largely at eastern European gatherings across Britain. Dudek is keen to get the band before a broad British public. “I want people to see the positive side of our culture and, with Gypsy Stars, we offer that.”
The band’s manager is Phillip Minns, a music-technology lecturer who, enthused by the eastern European music he began hearing, often from proud buskers, set up Best Foot Music, a not-for-profit organisation that promotes émigré sounds — so it looks as if Dudek’s dream may come true.
“I did my first recordings in 2009, after I got fed up with the negative headlines, and I bumped into Marysia Nowinska, a Brighton-based Polish singer who performs a mix of cabaret, poetry, dance and folk,” Minns says. “Since then I’ve come across many amazing musicians.
“It’s interesting seeing what is happening across the UK — along the Thames estuary, there are lots of Roma communities, while Bognor Regis is home to a big Polish rap scene.” We chuckle at the thought of Bognor Regis rappers, before recalling that the pop star Rita Ora arrived here as a Kosovar refugee. “There’s a lot of creativity,” Minns adds, “but many musicians work two jobs — the women are often cleaners, so they rise early — which makes organising gigs difficult.”
Romanian migrants have been lashed with clichés about vampires, beggars and ATM fraudsters. Yet two London-based Romanian musicians front brilliant bands: the violinist Bogdan Vacarescu leads the folk fusion unit Paprika, who have played everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to Glastonbury, while Monooka’s Caravan are an elegantly offbeat combo fronted by Monica Madas. “I’m from Transylvania,” Madas says with a wry smile, “so I’m used to people having funny ideas about me.”
She came to the UK in 2007, “one month after Romania entered the EU”, and initially worked as a care assistant for a disabled man. A singer, actress and puppeteer, she formed Monooka’s Caravan in 2010 to “play the folk music of my childhood”. Thus, the band convey a spectral Transylvanian beauty.
“Both British and Romanian people love the music we make,” Madas says. “They tell me that it touches them, even if they do not speak the language.”
Like everyone else I spoke to, Madas is cautiously optimistic about relations between eastern European émigrés and the British. “I’m a bit scared,” she says. “I’ve seen xenophobic posts on Facebook, and I’m aware that it’s a hot political topic. But the British cities are cosmopolitan — I think we can all get along.”
She pauses. “Our music is so beautiful, I think you might end up liking having us here.”
Visit bestfootmusic.net to hear and download music by eastern European émigrés