As one of the founders and biggest stars of Bulgaria's wildly popular "wedding music" scene, Yuri Yunakov is a saxophone player of astounding technical virtuosity.
His improvisational command of the style's signature frenetic, complicated, and abruptly shifting time signatures has been known to make seasoned jazz players gulp with disbelief.
How Yunakov and wedding music ultimately overcame long years of government harassment and centuries of racial persecution makes an instructive and triumphant tale.Yunakov is a Turkish-Bulgarian Roma, or "Gypsy." Roma (sometimes spelled "Rroma," due to the rolled "R") is how they refer to themselves, but the Gadje (pronounced "gahd-jay," meaning non-Rom people) call them "Tziganes," "Sinti," "Gitanos," or "Manouches," often with derogatory implications. "Gypsy," the most commonly used term in the United States, is actually a corruption of "Egyptian," indicating from where most Europeans mistakenly thought these dark wanderers came. In fact, the Roma migrated from northern India before the last millennium. Linguistic studies indicate that their language, Romanes, is derived from Sanskrit and has much in common with modern Hindi. There are also striking physical resemblances between the Roma and North Indians, as well as similar caste divisions and cultural taboos.