Story by Tim Neal | Photos by Tim Neal and from Ruženka’s personal collection
Ruženka Pokutova was 19 years old when Jana Belišová first heard her singing. Jana, a Slovakian ethnographer and musicologist, had been long fascinated by Roma music and in 2001 was visiting Bystrany looking to record old Roma songs when she first met Ruženka.
“I remember Ruženka because she was unique and different.” Jana asked to record Ruženka singing and she chose the song Hoj na nej na nona: “I learned the song from my dad’s family. Jana had asked for ‘old’ songs and I’d practiced it with my dad.” Ruženka and Jana first met in 2001 and then again in Bystrany in 2005 but since then Jana had been unable to find her: “I went to look for her in Bystrany – I’d heard that she’d moved to England but I didn’t know where. So many times I looked for her, I’d stopped believing that one day I would see her.”
Jana has spent twenty years recording Roma musicians and singers across Slovakia and had been invited to Sheffield by Roma Futures to present Šilalo paňori (Cold Water) – a series of documentary films about Roma lament songs.
On Saturday 12th October following her event at the Off The Shelf festival in town, Jana accompanied by David Kandrac and myself, went into the community to look for Ruženka. Both David and I knew she was living in Sheffield and Jana said it reminded her of trying to find musicians in Slovakia.
We knocked on doors, stopped people in the street: “When we did find the house she wasn’t home! Someone called her on the phone, then when Ruženka arrived it wasn’t like fourteen years had passed but like it was yesterday!”
The two women hugged with joy: “When I saw Jana I couldn’t believe it – I was so surprised, so happy – she came all the way from Slovakia and found me.”
Jana and Ruženka spent time catching up and Ruženka talked about wanting to organise a concert in Sheffield next year. We hope to work with Ruženka and Jana to make that happen.
Other Roma musicians and singers living in Sheffield were recorded by Jana and her colleagues, this is first of many visits we hope.
Here is a link to Ruženka singing as recorded by Jana in 2001: https://youtu.be/zDv7UhUVFHw