Voice of Roma

Yuri 2007



Romani Routes is a program of Voice of Roma, an educational and charitable nonprofit organization working on behalf of Roma (Gypsies) in the US and internationally


Yuri Yunakov & His Romani Wedding Band
September - October 2007

Romani Routes

Romani Wedding Music Goes Global
Fall 2007 U.S. Tour

Yuri Yunakov (saxophone) pioneered “Bulgarian Romani Wedding Music” along with Ivo Papazov and Neshko Neshev in the 1970s and was then catapulted to international fame. Their incredibly thrilling music showcases virtuosic technique, electrifying improvisation, rapid tempos, daring key changes and eclectic musical literacy. This contemporary style of "wedding music", named for its ubiquitous presence at life cycle celebrations such as weddings, baptisms, and circumcisions where dancing and music are a requirement, was originally played only for, with, and by Roma. While harsh racism in Bulgaria drove this type of music underground in the 70s, Yunakov was one of the leading stars that fought to continue playing for Romani and non-Romani audiences alike. For decades this music’s popularity has been growing by leaps and bounds across Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, Macedonia and Turkey, and more recently is going global, gaining enthusiastic audiences and critical acclaim in Western Europe, Canada, Australia and the U.S. And now, Yunakov and his Romani Wedding Band are bringing this music to venues across the U.S. in Voice of Roma’s Fall tour, 2007.

Yuri Yunakov, a self taught virtuoso saxophonist, immigrated to New York City in 1994, formed his own band, the Yunakov Ensemble, in 1995, and has toured extensively in the U.S. with them, as well as recording three Traditional Crossroads CDs. Yuri’s self identification as a Romani musician has positively contributed to non-Romani audience awareness in a way that counteracts stereotypes about “Gypsies”.

The “Romani Wedding Music Goes Global” fall 2007 U.S. tour is produced by the Romani non-profit organization, Voice of Roma’s “Romani Routes” program dedicated to educating audiences about the music and culture of the Romani people.
Music/video links:


Performer Biographies

Yuri Yunakov (saxophone) was born in Haskovo, Bulgaria, of Turkish Romani ancestry and currently lives in the New York City area.  He hails from a long line of musicians in his extended family, including his father and grandfather and his uncles and brother.  Yuri's career began with the band "Mladost" and he subsequently began a 10-year collaboration with Ivo Papazov and "Trakija."  Yuri is Bulgaria's most famous saxophonist.  Together with the "Trakija" orchestra Yunakov played at hundreds of weddings in his native Bulgaria, and has toured extensively in Europe and North America. In 1989 he was featured on NBC TV with saxophonist David Sanborn.  Yuri appears on the recording "Gypsy Fire", a CD of Turkish music on Traditional Crossroads. He is the director of the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble, and is in great demand among the Bulgarian, Macedonian, Albanian, Turkish, Armenian and Romani communities in the New York City area.

Selaidin (Sal) Mamudoski (clarinet) was born in 1988 in New York. His Romani family includes a long line of musicians from Sutka and Prilep, Macedonia. He started playing clarinet when he was eleven-years-old, taking lessons from Yuri Yunakov. He has been playing professionally at Romani weddings in the New York area for two years and is identified by Yunakov as one of the rising stars of Romani virtuosic clarinetists. He made his recent debut in a non-Romani setting playing with Yuri Yunakov at Golden Fest 2007 in New York.

Erhan Umer “Rambo” (keyboards, vocals) was born in Bitola, Macedonia in the Romani neighborhood, and immigrated to the United States in the 1980s. He comes from a long line of professional musicians; in fact, all the males in his family are musicians. His father was drummer with the national Macedonian ensemble "Tanec," and his uncle also played tupan. Erhan regularly performs for weddings and other celebrations in the New York City area for his own community of Macedonian Roma as well as Bulgarian, Serbian, Turkish, Albanian, and Bosnian community celebrations. He is the leader of Amenet – a 6-piece Romani Band in New York. He plays accordion, keyboard and sings, and he has collaborated with guest musicians from the Balkans as well as with family members. Erhan has performed at the Annual California Roma Herdeljezi Festival with Yuri Yunakov in 2005 and 2006 and with Amenet in 2007.

Rumen Sali Shopov (percussion) is a Rom from Gotse Delchev, a crossroads town in Southwest Bulgaria near the borders with Greece and Macedonia, whose musical traditions he has mastered along with those of the local Bulgarians, Roma, and Turks. An astonishing musician on tambura (long-necked mandolin) and bouzouki, as well as an accomplished vocalist, trap drummer, and doumbek player, Rumen is also one of the greatest living exponents of the southern Bulgarian/northern Greek style of ceremonial and celebratory tapan. He was the concertmaster of the Nevrokopski Folk Ensemble, Bulgaria's first national folk ensemble, for more than 20 years, and led two of Southwest Bulgaria's hottest bands, Shturo Make and Orkestar Orbita, performing throughout the Balkans, Europe and Canada. He has played at five Herdeljezi Festivals with many bands, including with Yuri Yunakov, and at countless other VOR events. He has toured the U.S.; teaches at music and dance camps around California, all across America, and in Canada; and participates in many folk arts events throughout California, notably as tapan player at the annual Turkish Festival in Monterey and at Greek and Kurdish weddings. VOR produced Rumen’s first CD, “Soul of the Mahala,” in 2006

Special Guest at the San Antonio Accordion Festival in Texas:

Milen Slavov  (accordion)
was born in the Thrace region of Bulgarianand began playing and performing piano and accordion at the age of seven. Later on Milen studied music professionally, began composing and arranging at 16, and producing at 24. Slavov has lived in America since 1997. He has composed, performed, produced, and taught throughout the United States and Canada.  In 2000 the US government awarded Milen a permanent residency as an artist of extraordinary ability. Milen is a master piano accordionist.  His work often fuses Bulgarian and Balkan music in traditional and contemporary styles, Romani music, and world fusion. Slavov was a guest teacher of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Department for the 98/99 academic year. He has collaborated with Zhivka Papancheva, Joe LoDuca, Tim Rice, Stu Brotman, Yuri Yunakov, Kalin Kirilov, Grammy-winning vocalist Kremena Stancheva, Kitka, Sandie Merrill, and appeared at the Montmagny International Accordion Festival, San Francisco World Music Festival, California Academy of Sciences, Stockton International Folkdance Camp, Cotati Accordion Festival, and the East European Accordion Masters. Now an American citizen, Milen makes his home in Portland, Oregon.



The Romani non-profit organization, Voice of RomaÕs ŮRomani RoutesÓ program.

Romani Routes is a project of Voice of Roma, a nonprofit organization based in Sebastopol, California. The aim of Romani Routes is to present the virtuosity of Romani musicians and the richness and depth of Romani music in a way that counteracts the hype of the mythologized ŮGypsyÓ. It is routine for presenters of sensationalized ŮGypsyÓ music and even traditional Romani music to surround those performances with half-truths and stereotypes about Roma and Romani culture. Furthermore, in an atmosphere of rampant prejudice and unfair discrimination against Roma, far too many presenters exploit Romani musicians unjustly. Voice of Roma, through Romani Routes, seeks to lead the way out of this situation by ensuring connections among the musicians, Romani culture, and the cause of Romani rights.


Tour information and bookings:

Sani Rifati, P.O. Box 514, Sebastopol, CA 95473

Tel: (707) 823-7941 email: voiceofroma@comcast.net