Sun 30 Oct 2011
How comes it that I did not know at least her name before? Sanda Weigl is a superb musician, with a deep and moving voice, whose art has its roots in the Gypsy and Romanian traditional music which she processed with the help of her colleagues in formats specific to the jazz and cabaret genres. In a good location but with too little publicity and out of the circuit of the jazz concerts she succeeded to give tonight in Tel Aviv one of the best music shows I have attended in the last few years.
Born in Bucharest (as I was) Sanda was exposed and attracted since childhood by the music of the Gypsies she could here in the streets of the city. Her out-of-ordinary biography that can be read at http://www.barbesrecords.com/SandaWeigl.html tells about a life of permanent wandering and search, search for art and for freedom.
‘Sanda’s family was forced into exile in the early 1960s, due to persecution by the harsh communist regime in Romania. They settled in East Berlin, joining her aunt Helene Weigel. Bertolt Brecht’s widow and director of the Berliner Ensemble, Weigel immersed her niece in the innovative musical and theatrical world of Brecht and Weill. Sanda put her training to use a few years later when she joined the popular rock band Team 4 (lead by future East German Deputy Minister of Culture Hartmut Koenig). While she tried to find an audience for the Gypsy music she loved, Romanian songs had no cache in East Germany, particularly among young people who were looking to the West and rock ‘n’ roll.
Her insistence at sharing her passion for Roma music gained traction when the 17-year-old Sanda won a gold medal at Dresden’s International Song Festival with a riveting performance of the Gypsy song “Recruti.” But her career in East Germany was cut short when East Bloc tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put an end to the liberalizing Prague Spring. Joining an underground student group to protest the Prague occupation and the government’s repressive rule, she was arrested and sentenced to two and a half years in prison (though international pressure led the government to replace prison time with hard labor).
Barred from performing, Sanda once again found herself forced to leave her home when East Germany expelled her as an enemy of the state. Landing in West Berlin, she reinvented herself at the Schiller Theater, where she worked with a glittering cast of directors and performers, including the celebrated playwright/actor Klaus Pohl (whom she married) and Robert Wilson. It was through Wilson and Tom Waits’ “The Black Rider” that Sanda returned to her first love, as she recruited the production’s musicians for her band and returned to singing Romanian Gypsy songs. With Wilson’s support, Sanda and Pohl ended up moving to New York City in the early 1990s, another relocation that took her by surprise.’
After settling in New York Sanda found there not only a home but also a musical environment to express herself. The concert in Tel Aviv was the same full show that she takes wherever she travels in the last years, telling about her life and and her music, and the way they came together. Many of the songs she is singing are very familiar to the Romanian audiences belonging to the traditional music songbook, part of them sung more than half a century back by Maria Tanase, the greatest singer of Romanian folklore music in the 20th century. Sanda has a voice that fills the musical space of the hall, and together with the three Japanese musicians she works with – Shoko Nagai, Satoshi Takeishi, Stomu Takeishi – she creates one of the best incarnations of the concept of fusion I have ever heard. While the voice performance is fully Romanian traditional, each of the instruments creates its own space – jazzy piano, gypsy style accordion, exceptionally rich bass guitar texture and traditional Japanese drums on the rhythmic register.
The clips on youTube are the first two in a series that presents the same show that she performed in Tel Aviv. The ‘Gypsy in a Tree’ album is available on streaming over the Internet at http://sandaweigl.bandcamp.com/.