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Sanda Weigl Brings Gypsy Music To The U.S.

Sanda Weigl's life is larger than the gypsy lore reflected in her songs.

Weigl was born in Romania and began her musical career in a state-sponsored East German rock band called Team 4. As a teenager in 1968, she was jailed for subversive actions against the communist regime, then forced to work in a labor camp, then kicked out of East Germany completely. And that's just one chapter.

Today, she lives up to her nickname — the Downtown Gypsy Queen of New York — singing in cabarets across the U.S. as part of a Romanian cultural outreach campaign. She says that her current touring band, an all-Japanese trio simply called Band, plays Romanian gypsy music better than most Romanian musicians today.

A Childhood Passion

Weigl's passion for traditional Romanian songs came from experiences she'd had as a child, listening to the beautiful songs sung by gypsies living near her home. Her own family is Jewish, but these songs held her interest throughout her life.

"Cintec din Oas," a song from her album Gypsy Killer, is a tale of a man with very bad luck in love.

"That's the cry of a man who never gets a woman," Weigl says. "And the only one he got once in his life, she betrayed him right away and threw him out of her house. So he's really crying and screaming, 'I would do anything to get a woman.'" The song caught her interest because of its irony, a storytelling quality for which Weigl professes a fondness.

Not all of her songs are melancholic. Another one, "Ciuleandra" — the most popular song in Romania now — is more of a dance song.

"It's a shouting song," Weigl says. "'So come on! Dance, move, move, move around!' That's what it says."

A Home In New York

After living all over the world, and at times fleeing from persecution, Weigl now calls New York home.

"It's really the only place on earth I really feel at home," she says. "In Germany, I was always a stranger. Always. Only when I came to New York, all of a sudden I was a human being, not a stranger. Not this or that. I was just me. Myself. Sanda. And I was respected and accepted as Sanda. That's what I love about it. It's beautiful."

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