When it comes to Gypsy music, it's often hard to tell where fact ends and stereotype begins, or tell what is distinct to one culture and what is borrowed from another.
The sheer murkiness of Romani -- the preferred term for Gypsy -- history is a factor. It is thought that the world's 12 million or so Roma are descended from a Northern Indian people that began their migration to Europe about 1,000 years ago. Some experts assert that among some of those migrants, music-making was a specialty.
As Roma increasingly scattered throughout Europe, they apparently adopted and adapted the music and instruments of their new homelands.
In Hungary, folk music and the Roma have been tightly intertwined for centuries. The Rough Guide to World Music notes that Gypsy band leader Janos Bihari, born in 1769, was known as the "Napoleon of the fiddle" and earned praise from Franz Liszt. Bihari's band usually consisted of four strings, and a hammered dulcimer. Some of his compositions can still be found in the repertoire's of today's Hungarian Gypsy bands.
The Guide also states that the music of today's "ubiquitous" Hungarian Gypsy bands is more "Hungarian" than "gypsy." The book distinguishes between urban Roma musicians playing for non-Roma, living apart from rural Roma communities from traditional Roma music.
Roma arrived in the Balkans about 600 years ago and quickly becoming known as fine musicians, the Guide says. "In some places they are practically the only musicians left who can be engaged for wedding and feasts," the book notes. Adaptable Roma soon mastered the clarinet and violin and as musicians, they were linked by superstition to spirit forces.
The modern music of Balkan Roma can be heard in films by director Emil Kusturica, such as Time of the Gypsies. "The music is highly passionate, even erotic, and may sound very Indian, particularly in vocal quality," the Guide says.
The connection is often drawn between the Roma in southern Spain and flamenco music. The Guide states that flamenco was brought to Spain by Roma arriving in the 15th century, but that it fused with elements of Arab and Jewish music in the Andalusian mountains, where all three persecuted minorities sought refuge.
Today, the Gipsy Kings from southern France incorporate flamenco elements into their sound, as well as rumba, which came to Spain from Latin America. Platinum sellers, they seem a world away from the destitute Roma music makers of Eastern Europe.
A film that documents Roma-related music-making from Northern India to Romania to Spain is Latcho Drom, by Tony Gatlif.