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There is an old Roma folk saying, “In the beginning the Jews were Gypsies and the Gypsies were Jews until God made us change places!” It recognizes how deeply intertwined the cultures of the Eastern European Roma and Jews are as a result of their shared experiences and suffering. Musical Fortunes explored this intersection of Romani and Jewish music and cultures.

For the project, composer Dan Cantrell co-created original music exploring this cultural conversation with the assistance of Balkan-Romani instrumentalist, vocalist, and arranger Rumen Sali Shopov and Yiddish vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and cultural historian Michael Alpert. Shopov and Alpert also helped the collaborators with incorporating dance and movement from their cultures into the final performance. The Jewish Music Festival managed the collaboration that included vocalists from the ensemble Kitka and instrumentalists from the Romani Routes Ensemble.

Adding poignancy to the project was the decision to premiere the work in West Berkeley’s Aquatic Park, which was the site of a Romani encampment at the turn of the 20th century. Cantrell wrote a site-specific processional for a parade that led the audience and artists from the park to Congregation Netivot Shalom, the concert venue.

Dan Cantrell began composing at age 11. His main instruments are the piano, the accordion, and the musical saw. His compositions are eloquent, eclectic and hauntingly harmonious. Among other influences, he has given close attention to the story of folk and popular music from Eastern Europe. He’s written many scores for film and television.

The Jewish Musical Festival was deeply committed to presenting programs that reflect and celebrate cultural diversity as well as to creating new work based on traditional sources.