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Boundless Roma pride makes opening Explorez Festival something not soon to be forgotten. 

Kinan Abuakel took his Syrian classical music with him when he fled the country. With his Saz, a Syrian stringed instrument similar to the Greek bouzouki, which in turn is derived from the Turkish Buzuk, he plays a mixture of new and classical Syrian music. I heard it by surprise at Amsterdam's Podium Mozaïek. Thus I discovered live what I already knew in theory: in music you can hear how culture and borders do not mix. The classical Syrian music Abuakel plays is Flamenco, but from the other side of the Mediterranean. 

We owe that spread of musical technique and atmosphere to the Roma, the stateless people who fled oppression in western India in the early Middle Ages and have since spread their musical and artistic influence around the world. Of course, Flamenco culture is the most famous result, but what about Elvis Presley and Charlie Chaplin? That they too have Roma blood flowing in their veins was never a secret, but it was always also a bit tricky knowledge, because in Europe we are used to Roma being mainly as a criminal people to see. 

Yacka Collective

Enter the Yacka Collective, the same night at Mosaic. A new generation of Roma, flamboyant, energetic and mostly queer, showed themselves at the opening of the Explorez Festival, and it made a deep impression. Three young women and a man, accompanied by one of its members, a trans woman, on video, presented themselves with a pride that made them a head taller and a few more degrees more beautiful than they already are in reality. That's what pride does to you, especially if it comes from a tradition of persecution, expulsion and exclusion. Because that was, and sometimes still is, the deadly reality for a people who never wanted to adhere to borders.   

They bring performance that is raw and unpolished, but touches precisely because of that. They tell stories of resistance and oppression, and the inner power of persuasion caused the occasional wet cheek on this side of the footlights. That even a middling evergreen like Bella Ciao becomes alive again in their performance is a great artistic achievement.

That the Explorez Festival, hitherto unknown to me, makes such things possible is reason enough to check it out. The offerings don't always have to be of superior quality, as the opening proved, but you do run the risk of discovering gems you won't easily come across in your regular or oatmeal cultural consumption pattern. 

Explorez Festival by Zid Theatre lasts until 18 May. Information.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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