Yul Brynner learned to play the Russian seven-stringed guitar since he was a child, and this way, he became an accomplished guitarist and singer. During his early period in Europe he used to play and sing Gypsy songs in Parisian nightclubs with Aliosha Dimitrievitch. We can listen to some of his music in films like Anastasia, or The Brothers Karamazov, for example. Years later, in 1967, Yul and Aliosha released an LP album, called “The Gypsy and I: Yul Brynner Sings Gypsy Songs”. The following text comes from that album.
Transcription by Yul Brynner: The Magnificent King. If you’re going to copy and paste this text somewhere else, don’t forget to cite the source and a link back to this website.
The Gypsy and I – YUL BRYNNER sings GYPSY SONGS
with Aliosha Dimitrievitch, lead guitar and vocal
Serge Camps, second guitar
“Not too loud”, said Aliosha, “only to the horizon”.
The Gypsies’ here is now, their permanent address is the present. When they move, the only baggage in their hearts’ wagons is their desperate ecstasy, their laughing ? and their musical love: all that will be needed at their next encampment. Tomorrow is their name for a new home, family means their race. Gaje means those outside the family.
Their language is Rom, and if they borrow another, it is only to tease the Gaje. They say “The truth is in Rom,” for any other language is a lie. To others, Rom is flagrantly meaningless or furtively pregnant, a gibe to the proud, a goad to the curious. Even in defeat, the Rom savour victory by teasing the Gaje who persecuted them; the Gaje for example, who destroyed a half million Rom a generation ago.
What is sung for money is not sung for themselves. They would no more pour out their souls to the nightclub Gaje than read the palm of another Rom. The difference between what they sell and what they keep forever is sharp: properly, the verb “to sing” is intransitive, “singing to” is finance, “singing out” is expression. Even when they sing to entertain, they protect their dignity with a joke. In a Russian nightclub they will intersperse Russian words throughout the songs, defying the audience to understand all the lyrics; just another way to tease the Gaje.
True singing means “singing with”; the guitar sings with the guitarist while he sings with a member of his family. For many years, Yul sang alone, but always with the memory of Aliosha’s voice and all the others Gypsy voices he had known sang with him.
When he is among Gypsies, which Paris knows as Tziganes, a Rom strives to make each song a requiem for his own love, an exaltation for his joy. The text is but a pretext for a personal sacrament, the prescribed melody and rythm measure only his departure from them.
Aliosha was 19 years old, Yul was 12, when they first met in Paris. Together with some thirty guitars they worked in nightclubs whose shadows have long since been buried. Yul became a part of their Kumpania, encompassed by the fierce love Gypsies have for their race, that reciprocal pride and adoration which more than anything separates the Gypsy from the Gaje. He learned to play the diminutive seven-string Gypsy guitar, to make it sing with him; he learned the language, to make it sing with his heart. The songs and the proverbs which constitute them were his inheritance.