Rominy Blues? Luis Rodriguez Reviews Two Books by Garth Cartwright for R&RC

Princes Among Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians by Garth Cartwright (Serpent’s Tail, $20) and More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music by Garth Cartwright (Serpent’s Tail, $20.95)

Luis J. Rodriguez writes: What do performers like Saban Bajramovic, Sofi Marinova or Ferus Mustafov have to do with Blues, Rock-N-Roll and popular music? Much, if you go by Garth Cartwright, who postulates that a major root of current world music comes from the centuries-long history of Gypsies in Europe. And Cartwright makes a good case his 2005 book Princes Amongst Men: Journeys with Gypsy Musicians delves into this important source music of the often misunderstood Balkans region.

The Roma, as Gypsies are generally known, have contributed songs, instruments, and rhythms that have permeated other music for example, flamenco in southern Spain. They have also organized their own version of blues bands and soul singers. This is a mother culture, one that has birthed many sounds and voices from countries with almost unpronounceable names like Vojvodina, Moldova, Montenegro, Albania, Serbia, or Bulgaria. Read Princes Amongst Men to grasp the relevance of what the Roma have given to the rest of us.

I also recommend Cartwright’s most recent book, More Miles Than Money. The book documents the origins and trajectories of African American, Chicano/Mexicano, Native American, and white roots music in the United States. By way of disclosure, I’m one of the people Cartwright interviewed around the hybrid street sounds of East LA and Watts. But he’s also captured the flavor and soul of such centers of cultural vulcanization as the Navajo Reservation, Nashville, San Antonio, and Tunica, Mississippi. Few Americans have gotten this close to what makes American music the most connective and recognized in the world.

Originally from New Zealand, now making his home in South London, Cartwright has traveled around the world in search of the roots and reasons behind some of our most vigorous cultural expressions. These books have the uniquely powerful combination of passion and personality with strong research highly recommended.

[Luis J. Rodriguez is the author of several books, including Always Running, The Republic of East LA, and Music of the Mill]

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