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Gypsy Vengerka: Russian-Romani Music and Culture

Raised toward our $10,000 Goal
61 Donors
Project has ended
Project ended on November 30, at 11:55 PM CST
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Gypsy Vengerka: Russian-Romani Music and Culture

All gifts will be matched November 26-30! Help us reach our $10,000 goal! 


We need your help to fund our documentary about the music and culture of the Russian Roma—Gypsy Vengerka. The film brings several charismatic Russian Roma artists to the screen and offers an insider’s look at their work and lives. It also includes current research in Romani Studies and Oleg Timofeyev’s own discoveries. Personal, educational, sometimes poignant, this is a film with lots of great music.

Who are the Romani People?

The Romani people have been much mythologized but barely studied. Centuries ago, they left India (not, as the term “Gypsy” misleadingly assumes, Egypt) and eventually ended up in countries across Europe. Their musicians were cherished for colorful dance and thrilling music. As they adapted to local customs, Romani musicians developed different styles—Flamenco in Spain is the best-known example. Often persecuted and even enslaved in the past, the Roma face another resurgence of repression in the EU today.


Oleg’s musical collaboration with the legendary Kolpakov Ensemble dates back to the year 2001/’02, when he was in Moscow on a Fulbright grant. Legendary in Moscow, the Kolpakovs play in a distinctly Russian “Gypsy” guitar style, different from Flamenco, but no less exciting. Since Oleg brought them to the US, they have found an enthusiastic following here, too, and even participated in the 2009-10 world tour of cultural icon Madonna. Both have performed in Iowa City numerous times. Other artists featured in the film are famed Russian-Romani film star Rada Volsheninova, and fantastic Romani singer-dancer Tamara Cherepovskaya.

Oleg’s research on Russian-Romani guitar performance includes deciphering a unique tablature for Russian Roma guitar playing, found only in one early-20th-century manuscript (in Moscow’s Glinka Museum). With Romani guitarist Fyodor Kondenko Oleg also recently published the first method for Russian-Gypsy guitar style.

Why “Gypsy Vengerka”?

“Gypsy Vengerka” is one of the most popular songs from the Russian-Romani repertoire. Known in English as “Two Guitars,” it is the starting exercise on any Russian-Romani guitarist’s path towards virtuosity, as he learns a whole science of stage behavior, communication, and enterprise.  The tune serves as the film’s leitmotif, surfacing in many scenes, from 1930s archival footage to one where the celebrated Sasha Kolpakov, sitting on his Moscow hospital bed, shows Oleg his personal signature guitar licks for this famous piece.                          

Treasure Trove of Footage

Our film will draw on footage produced over 15 years—showing concerts, classroom situations, interviews, spontaneous parties in Moscow and US restaurants, and jam sessions in Iowa City. Prof. Gölz was the cinematographer for most of these, as were two other excellent cinematographers—Christopher Renaud (UI graduate, now FVP Professor), and award-winning Ukrainian filmmaker Dmitry Lavrinenko.

Your Contribution

Work on this film will be very time consuming. We will have to make selections from almost two decades worth of materials, digitize older materials, and film additional scenes. Your contribution will pay for our time and that of professionals to help us. This feature-length film will be our sixth documentary. It will take approximately two years to complete.



NOTICE: The University of Iowa Center for Advancement is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization soliciting tax-deductible private contributions for the benefit of the University of Iowa. Please visit the UI Center for Advancement disclosures site for additional information.

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