Born and raised in what is now known as the Czech Republic, Gypsy singer Ida Kelarová is the daughter of the late Gypsy artist Koloman Bitto. Kelarová, like her father, is a member of the Romano tribe, and her work has been greatly influenced by the Gypsy traditions of Eastern Europe. But Kelarová isn’t strictly a traditional singer. Known for a jazz-influenced style of Moravian pop-folk, Kelarová’s recordings can be very contemporary sounding; she is rooted in East European Gypsy traditions and has learned a lot of traditional songs from her father, but at the same time, Kelarová is hardly oblivious to modern jazz and pop sounds from North America or Western Europe. Kelarová, whose work can be very dark and sorrowful, is essentially a Czech Republic version of a torch singer. Some reviewers have compared her to British urban contemporary singer Sade; others have mentioned artists ranging from Billie Holiday to Shirley Horn to Diana Krall, although Kelarová was singing long before Krall became famous in the ’90s.
Kelarová was only five when her Gypsy parents encouraged her to study the piano and the cello. With Bitto continuing to encourage her to follow in his footsteps, Kelarová studied at the People’s Music School in Opava, Czech Republic, before attending the Janácek Academy of Music in Brno, Czech Republic. After that, she joined a well-known theatrical group called Divadlo na Provázku, which in Czech, means “the Theater on the String.” For a while, Kelarová rebelled against music and concentrated on theatrical pursuits. But eventually, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps and make Gypsy music her top priority.
In 1983, Kelarová left the Czech Republic (which was called Czechoslovakia back then and still had a Soviet-style communist government) to live in Wales. Kelarová moved to Denmark (where she taught Gypsy singing) in 1985 and Norway in 1988 before deciding to live in Wales again. But in 1995, Kelarová moved back to the Czech Republic; and by that time, the country had long since abandoned communism and adopted a Western-style capitalist democracy. After her return to the Czech Republic, Kelarová founded the Bystré-based International School for Human Voice, where she has been teaching Gypsy singing. And, in 1998, Kelarová and guitarist/singer Desiderius Duzda (who is the son of Gypsy artist Vojtech Duzda) co-founded the band Romano Rat, whose named means “Gypsy Blood.” Billed as Ida Kelarová & Romano Rat, the band boasts Kelarová on lead vocals, cello, and piano; Duzda occasionally sings lead, although his primary role is that of a guitarist. Romano Rat’s other members have included pianist/keyboardist Pavel Dirda, accordionist Roman Horváth, singer Marie Duzdová (who is also a member of the Gypsy band Kale), violinist Milan Horváth (the son of Gypsy artist Evzen Horváth), electric bassist Vladimir Dirda, and drummer/percussionist Roman Lopez.
Kelarová has also been involved with a female Gypsy vocal group called Chaja, which she founded in 1999. Between the International School for Human Voice, Romano Rat, and Kale, Kelarová was keeping very busy when the 21st century arrived. Kelarová recorded three albums for the independent Lotos label: Old Gypsy Songs, Gypsy, Moravian & Slovakian Songs, and Czech Ethnic Music. Gipsy Songs was released by the Playasound label in 1998, and Gypsy Blood came out on Last Call in 2001. In 2002, Kelarová recorded Staré Slzy (which means “Old Tears”) for Indies Records, a small Brno-based label that has been around since 1990.
Art form: singer