Ida Kelarová

* 1956  

  • “I wanted to stay here so much. But at the theatre, no one could support me. As back then, it had been like there was this comrade who would go to Denmark with us and he would report us so we were constantly under surveillance. Step by step I would found myself sliding into the communist world, which I used to be able able to keep away from me. Every morning, there would be this car standing in front of my house. And they would put me in that car whenever they felt like it and they would drive me to the station for interrogation. They were doing it all the time. So they would be harassing us to such a degree that they would make me to hate it here. So I would start telling myself that this Vávra really got to me. He really made me to do that. As I would slide into that communist world, I was done for. So in the end, we would pack our things and leave for Wales. So that´s how I got there.”

  • “I ended up living in Wales, as my husband didn´t like it in Britain, so I told him to go to Czechoslovakia. And he would agree. He would move in with me and I had this huge three-room flat provided by the state that only some great capitalist could afford in Britain. So he was quite impressed by our standard of living. But the comrades didn´t like it at all. They would suspect some kind of betray, thinking he had been a spy, as he would come with Theatre on a String, which back then was a political theartre. They would interrogate us all the time, then I had been summoned to this official who would accuse me and they would sack me from the theatre which at that time had been run by the Brno State Theatre. And I had to tell the whole story to this comrade Vávra, who had me summoned. He told me that I broke the law so they had to sack me from the theatre. I could accept that. But as he told me, 'But be sure that you will be deported,' he really got to me.”

  • “Later, as I got older, they wanted to make a virtuoso out of me, which I didn´t like at all. I have this talent for music and also a perfect pitch, so after the teachers at the People´s School, and even later, would find out I have this great talent, they wanted to make a virtuoso out of me. And I disappointed all of them, in fact. I began to rebel. As I felt restrained by the classical music. But I love the classical music. It´s in my soul. But I didn´t feel free while playing it. For example, I took piano lessons from Gertruda Kratochvílová. By no doubt, she was a great teacher and a pedagogue, but me, as I would play Mozart, for example, I would feel the crescendo and decrescendo and fortissimo, I would perform it with such an expression. And maybe it would be too much sometimes, as my fortissimo would be just too much for the classical music, so she would get a pencil and she would hit me across the fingers. And I would get startled as I was so into it and just enjoyed playing as I would feel it. And she would hit me because of that, I would get startled... So gradually I would begin to perceive the classical music as this limited, restricted category in which I would feel trapped.”

  • “Both my father and his whole family had denied with their whole heart that they were Romani. It had been such a taboo that I had to learn about it from this cousin of mine who would find me and tell me to come to see him. So I came to him and found out I had a cousin who would study this issue and find out that the Bitto family had been concealing its heritage maybe since the fourteenth century. He has some documents regarding that, which I do not have in my possession. Now, the things he spoke about make sense to me. They had been so deeply ashamed that they had to create this taboo. As I came back from abroad after the revolution I was so surprised how strong it was, as no one at all had to be ashamed. We always have been a family of decent people and we have nothing to be ashamed of. My father had nothing to be ashamed of, on the contrary. I have been proud of him, of what he had accomplished and how he managed to get along with his life.”

  • “I had this phone call from Denmark, from a festival, as there was this actor who was organising this festival in Cardiff and she wanted me to come and play there. So I would tell her I was totally into it, without even thinking, but later I would get scared of what I had promised. And I would panic as I had no one to help me. Before that, I had been used to being surrounded by the people from the theatre, but now, I was on my own. All I had was the piano. So I was frightened, not knowing what I would do there, what I would be singing. I had never played solo, just with the piano. Till today, the only explanation I could come up with was that it had to do something with my father up there above so I would open myself to spirituality. As it really was like I had no clue what I would do on the scene for that hour or so before I got there. My knees was shaking and just everything. And I would sit down and there was this absolute silence, just me and the piano. Then all of a sudden, everything inside me had been unlocked... it was so intense... All the songs of my childhood came out of me, everything my father taught me. Songs I had heard in Saliby, songs my sister Iva taught me when she came back from filming Růžové sny (Pink Dreams), everything would just burst out of me. And I would sing with such a voice I didn´t even know I had. For an hour and a half, without a pause, I would be telling my father just everything. It was unbelievable. I had completely forgotten there were people there. And they would all stand up and there was this applause and I would just stand there almost scared. I was thinking they didn´t even know where I came from, what I had been singing, that after all it was this completely different culture.”

  • “You could feel the emotions and all that, they just lived that way. Today, I can identify each emotion, as I could feel their difference from each other. Which emotion it was. Whether it was sadness, love, pain, anger, fury... because they taught me to. I learned by watching them at the dining table. For example, a sad song would begin. I could remember my aunt, I used to address her as 'Růži Mama'. Her name was Růžena Bittová, but she had been like mother to me. And she was so outspoken, as she would say everything that came to her mind, she just spoke the truth. And that´s what I had inherited from her, the notion that the truth is something very important in my life. And I would live it back then, they would teach me what the truth was. That essence of being, like soul and everything. I would just absorb it. As if they would start to sing a sad song, I would see my aunt started crying. But she wouldn´t be weeping, she would cry in silence. And after a while, everyone would be crying. And I would be standing there as a child, watching them and telling myself, how beautiful they were. It wasn´t like: 'Jesus, why are they crying?', as people would react today. It was only later when I learned that if there was crying, one should take some pills or just go to a madhouse, that there was something wrong with that person. But in the Roma community, it is the other way around, there´s something wrong with you if you don´t cry. So my whole life, I have been carrying these references with me. And it provided me with immense inspiration.”

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    Praha, 24.10.2017

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In the end, the Communists would drive us away from Czechoslovakia

Ida Kelarová in 2017
Ida Kelarová in 2017
photo: Post Bellum

Ida Kelarová, née Bittová, was born on February 10th of 1956 in Bruntál to a family of ‘mixed nationality’. Her mother, Ludmila, came from a Moravia-Slovakian family and grew up in Uherský Brod, while her father, Koloman, came from a Romani family who had been living in Southern Slovakia. She has two younger sisters, Ïva and Regina. Her mother was a teacher, her father a renown musician. Due to her father´s career, the family had to move several times. Ida grew up in Vrbno pod Pradědem, in Prešov and in Opava, where she attended People´s School of Arts. Afterwards, she studied piano and violoncello at Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno. She often visited his family in Horní Saliby where she felt most free. She married Vlastimil Kelar, a French horn player, as an eighteen-year-old, giving birth to her son, Tomáš, but got divorced after two years. From 1975 to 1982, she had a residency at Theatre on a String (Divadlo na provázku) in Brno. In 1982, she went to an international festival in Denmark with the theatre, meeting her second husband, a citizen of Great Britain, who would move with her to Czechoslovakia. After that, Ida and her husband had been persecuted by the Secret Police as the authorities suspected her husband of espionage. Ida lost her job at the theatre and had been forced to leave the country. In the end, exhausted by a series of interrogations, they both willingly left Czechoslovakia for Wales, her husband´s birthplace. Ida spent some time as a housewife, but after giving birth to a daughter she learned that her father died and found herself in a situation both painful and life-changing. She gave her first solo concert playing Romani songs and moved with her husband to Denmark offering singing workshops. After being invited to Norway, she would travel the country and sing with the distant communities of the polar region. While doing that, she found out about the November 1989 revolution in Czechoslovakia. After she returned to the Czech Republic in 1995, she founded International Performance Initiative (Mezinárodní škola pro lidský hlas), she had been organising international workshops, started projects promoting multi-ethnic coexistence, and also founded the Gypsy Celebration Hartmanice festival and several ensembles performing Romani songs. In 1999, she founded the Romano Rat (Romani blood) band with Desider Dužda, her present partner, and has been playing worldwide since. In 2001, she had been nominated for the Czech Lion Award (Český Lev) as an author of the musical score for The Pilgrimage of Students Peter and Jacob (Zpráva o putování studentů Petra a Jakuba). She has been the first person in her family who openly spoke about her Romani heritage.