Sanda Weigl

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All her life, Romanian singer Sanda Weigl has performed traditional Romanian gypsy music; first in her native Romania, then in Germany, and most recently, in the United States (where she now resides).…
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All her life, Romanian singer Sanda Weigl has performed traditional Romanian gypsy music; first in her native Romania, then in Germany, and most recently, in the United States (where she now resides). Born in Bucharest, Romania, Weigl came into the world at a time when Romania and the rest of Eastern Europe were run by oppressive communist regimes. During Eastern Europe's communist years, Romania was especially oppressive; Romania was once the home of the hated, feared dictator Nikolai Ceaucescu, who was overthrown and executed in 1989. But Weigl left Romania long before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. She is old enough to remember the Romania of the '50s; that was when, as a child, she started learning traditional Romanian gypsy songs and performed them on national television (which was controlled by the communist government). As a kid, Weigl was greatly influenced by the recordings of Maria Tanase (one of Romania's most famous singers) as well as various gypsy street performers she heard in Bucharest. Many of the traditional songs that Weigl learned from Tanase's recordings -- including "Ciuleandra," "Butelcuta Mea," "Cine Lubeste Si Lasa," "Bun ii Vinu Ghiurghiuliu," and "Trenule Masina Mica" -- are still in her repertoire today.

Sadly, Weigl had to flee Romania right after she reached adolescence. The singer was only 13 when political persecution forced her family to leave Romania and move to East Berlin, where the political climate was also quite oppressive. In those days, Berlin was a divided city; West Berlin was under West Germany's capitalist democracy, while East Berlin was ruled by East Germany's Soviet-style communist regime. And the Berlin Wall, one of communism's most infamous symbols, was used to keep the two Berlins separate. Despite East Germany's oppressive environment, a teenage Weigl became quite active in the East Berlin music scene of the '60s. She continued to perform the traditional Romanian and Balkan gypsy songs she had learned back in Bucharest, but she also sang with an East Berlin rock band called Team 4 (which was known for a single called "Der Abend Ist Gekommen"). When Weigl was 17, she performed the traditional Romanian gypsy song "Recruti" at the International Song Festival in Dresden, Germany.

But, because of her politics, Weigl soon became a target of East Germany's very pro-Soviet communist regime. In 1968, she loudly protested against East Germany's participation in the Soviet Union's invasion of Prague, Czechoslovakia; when the Soviet military took over the streets of Prague, Weigl didn't hesitate to speak out. And as a result of her activism, the Romanian singer was arrested and incarcerated. For several years, she was banned from performing live in East Germany, where the government considered her an enemy of the state. When she got the chance, Weigl moved to democractic West Berlin and continued to be heavily involved in the arts; in addition to singing, Weigl was a theater director in that part of Berlin.

Eventually, she left Germany and, in 1992, moved to New York, which is still her home. The singer became quite active on the Lower Manhattan music scene, and she caught the attention of various jazz musicians, including pianist/organist Anthony Coleman. Although Weigl isn't a jazz artist, she appreciates jazz and has often used jazz improvisers on her New York gigs. In the early 2000s, Weigl came to the attention of Knitting Factory Records, which is best known for avant-garde jazz but also puts out some world music. (Knitting Factory Records is named after a well-known Lower Manhattan club called the Knitting Factory, and both are located only about a mile north of where the World Trade Center's Twin Towers once stood). And it was for the Knitting Factory label that she recorded Gypsy Killer, her first U.S. release. A collection of traditional Romanian songs, Gypsy Killer is full of material that Weigl has been performing all her life. Knitting Factory Records released the album in July 2002.