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Vadim Kolpakov is one of the most prominent and renowned Russian Roma (Gypsy) 7-string guitarists in the world.
He was a lead musician of the Moscow Roma (Gypsy) Theatre Romen, where he performed as a guitarist, composer, vocalist, dancer and dramatic actor. To this day, his original guitar compositions are performed in many prominent plays at the theatre as part of the vibrant oral tradition of the Russian Roma culture.
A vast array of modern world music contains a hint of Romany style, from guitarists in the Gipsy Kings (French-born, singing in Spanish) to Belgian-born, eight-fingered jazz master Django Reinhardt.
“Tango, Jewish klezmer music, Brazilian samba – it’s all related,” says Kolpakov. “Take flamenco. It’s got Spanish and Arabic and Roma influences all put together.”
That explains why the Kolpakov Trio could fit in so easily on Madonna’s tour. It did numbers such as “Doli Doli,” an upbeat song by Uncle Sasha and a remix of Madonna’s Latino-style “La Isla Bonita.”
Hailing from Saratov, Russia, Vadim graduated from the Roma performing arts school Gilori and studied guitar with his uncle Alexander Kolpakov, the virtuoso Russian 7-string guitarist who served as the musical director of the Romen Gypsy Theatre for over a quarter of a century. At the age of 15, Vadim began work at the Romen Gypsy Theatre, where he worked for 8 years and was the leading guitarist for 7 years.
In 2008, Vadim Kolpakov as a member of the Kolpakov Trio, went on the world tour "Sticky & Sweet" with Madonna. They performed in many European and South American countries, as well as in North America and Mexico, including venues such as Wembley stadium in London, Madison Square Garden in NYC and Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
He has recorded several CDs with Alexander Kolpakov and the group Gelem. In 1999, Vadim participated in the major concert tour 'Gypsy Caravan' as part of the famous Romani group The Kolpakov Trio. Selected as leading representatives of the Russian Romani musical tradition, The Kolpakov Trio gave several unforgettable concerts in America and Canada together with premier Gypsy musical groups from 5 other countries: Taraf de Haiduks (Romania), Antonio El Pipa Ensemble (Spain), Musafir (India), Kaly jag (Hungary) and Yuri Yunakov Ensemble (Bulgaria/USA). The New York Times singled out Vadim's virtuoso guitar playing while playing on that tour, which was organized by World Music Institute and included over 15 major American and Canadian cities, including an appearance at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts (Washington D.C.) and Sanders Theatre at Harvard University.
In that performance, Vadim repeatedly brought the audience to their feet with his expert guitar skills, his passionate dancing and also his singing. Since then, he has recorded several other collaborative projects with the group to be released in 2008, including Dostoevsky's Jews and Gypsies (music and dance vignettes drawn from The Brothers Karamazov) and Mikhail Vysotskiy and the Gypsies (an examination of the musical sharing of vocabulary between the early Russian and Roma guitar and vocal traditions). With TALISMAN, he has taken part in performances and lecture/demonstrations at Harvard University, Boston University, Oberlin College, University of Iowa and Grinnell College, and interviews on NPR, teaching audiences about the Roma nationality and cultural tradition through music and dance. Vadim has also performed and recorded Romani activist songs with Eugene Hutz (the lead singer of Gogol Bordello), which he hopes will promote understanding of the Roma nationality and human rights.
In August 2007, Mr. Kolpakov was exclusively invited to perform at the English residency of the famous popular singer Madonna and her husband, the movie director Guy Ritchie. He performed as a part of the celebrated Kolpakov Trio with Eugene Hutz on Madonna's birthday.
We Roma always have tried to fit into the local culture, to become accepted by the local culture. And we have always done it our way, by inspiring people through music and performance.
I don’t think that the Roma were thinking about it, or seeking a way to impact local music. They brought their music with them, and they developed their music on the way from country to country, soaking up local traditions, and basically, collecting local tunes. Based on that, they were able to quickly adapt tunes they already knew when entering a new country which shared borders with a country they came from.
Playing notes, modes, instruments or a particular tune is not itself Gypsy music. The most important element of Gypsy music is a burst of emotions! Without it, Gypsy music is not happening. Gypsies carry their music inside as a treasure. Regardless of whether they have been chased out and kept illiterate, for Gypsies, music is one of our things we actually “possess”. Ha-ha!
Vadim also performs with Zingaresca, which he co-founded with Dr. Oleg Timofeyev (world specialist in Russian seven-string guitar, University of Iowa) and which is dedicated to the Russian and Russian-Gypsy guitar repertoire, and as a special guest with various artists and bands in the US, such as Barynya (a Russian Folk music and dance ensemble), Gypsy Klezmorim (a Jewish-Romani cross over project band), and others.
Vadim's musical repertoire includes Russian- and Gypsy-style compositions by Alexander Kolpakov, music by Sergey Orekhov, 19th-century Russian 7-string guitar repertoire and his own compositions and improvisations on Gypsy, Russian, classical, rap and world music. He works exclusively in the oral tradition and has been teaching traditional Roma guitar, dance and vocal repertoire two semesters in 2006 and in 2007 as an Artist-In-Residence at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.