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Lisa’s Drom tells us about Sintezza singer Lisa’s journey of life. It is a tough and spirited journey with moments of distress and desperation, yet foremost a journey of pride, music and dance.
Her life story is rooted in the subtle ideals and values of the Sinti and Roma Gypsy people and in the Latcho Drom. This is the long journey of the Sinti and Roma people from northern India to Turkey, Europe and Egypt. It is a journey with many hardships and rejection is encountered everywhere, but it is also a proud and glorious journey. At present the Drom has reached the United States with, amongst other events, the birth of Sofie Bleu, Lisa’s granddaughter. This joyous event took place on April 5, 2012.
The traditional metaphors from old Sinti stories are heard and brought to live in Lisa’s songs. In addition, new metaphors that are related to the position of women in the Sinti culture are heard. Metaphors are the vehicles of old and new ‘sacred’ values . They help the people to excel and rise, they can lead to rigidity and they can even destroy.
Lisa was born on March 25, 1958 at a Gypsy caravan park on the Kaldenkerkerweg in Venlo. Her given name was Elisabeth Massing, Weiss. Father Kobus Massing Weiss is a Sinto and mother Mieke Lutgens was a Dutch ' traveller' in the camp. Father Kobus earned his living with boxing. He travelled throughout the country and performed at fun fairs. Lisa remembers the days when their caravan was travelling back and forth between the Little Hei in Venlo and a (Sinti) camp in The Hague, where the family of the father lived.
Lisa and her father
When Lisa was five years old, her parents divorced. She would then not see her father for many long years. Lisa was broken hearted about the absence of her father and behaved rebelliously. Her mother remarried, and the stepfather adopted Lisa. They moved to a secluded place, near Venlo, in the middle of the woods. Now Lisa suddenly bore the name van Susteren.
She actually only became aware of this for the first time when her teacher at school called her by that name. It seemed to her that her past had been obliterated at that time. She experienced this feeling even more intensely on the day their caravan burnt down. Lisa was 12 years old. Everything was lost in the fire: all her photographs, together with her beautiful blue dress. Not only the pictures that she was in, but also photographs that she had taken herself. She kept the photos as valuables in boxes under her bed. She photographed mainly children. But also the caravans with its residents, and her pony Sammy. As a child she already had the dream of becoming a photographer. Ever since she has lost so much of her past, taking pictures fulfills an inner need to document her life through photographs.
Her horse La Bella was her best friend. La Bella carried her, gave her warmth and she allowed Lisa to bridle her. A horse belongs in the life of a nomad, it is even indispensable. For the Sinti people, a horse is a sacred animal. If you can control and handle your horse well, you achieve a higher reality. To escape the stress of her life, Lisa used to ride her horse. Far into the woods. She spent many days and hours there. She lived of what nature provided and from what the farmers cultivated on the land. In nature there was tranquility. She was happy and carefree. She slept under the sun. And when she awoke, she could hear the birds chirping around her. This deep natural happiness was in stark contrast with the obstacles that life and reality often bring for someone who was born in a caravan. In this world you are often merely judged by your descent and therefore rejected. You are not part of this life, you don’t belong. They do not talk about or acknowledge your talents. Moreover, Lisa was 'only' half Sintezza, neither belonging to the Sinti camps dwellers, nor was she a ‘commoner’. Because only her father was a Sinto and she was not born in a normal house, like commoners. Lisa was a person who lived in a kind of nowhere-land. This insecurity, and the feeling of not belonging here nor there, is the central theme that runs through Lisa’s existence and it is intertwined in her life. The challenge is to rise above it.
Ever since the caravan fire Lisa has always had the idea that she is living out of a suitcase. The small suitcase in which she carries her true identity like a treasure; the suitcase in which she preserves her photographs and her 'music' in the shape of CDs. But that small box again gives her the sense of feeling that she belongs nowhere. The sense that she has always been a subculture in itself. Many people are stuck because they have to protect their belongings. A nomad never finally settles and he has no fixed place to keep his belongings that he feels he must protect. He moves on and goes to places where his wings carry him.
At services of the Christians of Nuenen and from the Sinti people in Venlo is where Lisa got the necessary vocal experience. Her sister was a member of the Venlo Bible Community and this is how she came into contact with Christians. The music appealed to her, but she actually felt more affinity with secular or worldly music.
A Sintezza gathers the art of vocals and guitar art 'en route'; she builds the know-how from encounters with other musicians. As it happens in all places where Sinti and Roma people make their music. In ‘Born from Fire’ you can read more about Lisa's ways of gathering musical experiences. Ronny Timmermans taught her well how guitar chords work. Later, she learned a lot by being present at the singing classes of Willy Caron, the father of her then-husband. Many people crossed Lisa's path of whom she learned a lot; musical experiences which she later integrated into her own music again.
At the age of 17 she had a flower shop in Hannover, Germany, together with her first husband. It was a thriving business. At one point they even employed 15 people.
Later in life, Lisa appeared and performed at Sinti festivals in France. She sang with guitarist Paul Schäfer, among others. Her picture even adorned the front page of a newspaper in Nancy once. From all this, the song “Ut roëzig Laeve”, based on” La vie en rose” by Edith Piaf emerged. In line with this song Lisa did a CD together with Gino Taihuttu; the CD: Betje & Gino 2009. The production of the CD was in the hands of Martijn Alsters and Gino. Lalla Weiss, Lizzy Schaefer and Lisa Marie Grunholz helped Lisa with the translations of the Romanes lyrics.
Lisa was frequently on the road with other people. She spent a lot of time with John Hutton, the famous American furniture designer, who was a very creative man. Going to all kinds of trade fairs with him was a very inspiring experience for her.
Gerry Abels and Loek Sijben taught Lisa about the art of acting. They conducted some 80 courses in the Maaspoort and Theatre ‘The Garage’. Gerry could empathize well with Lisa because Gerry was of Indonesian origin, so she knew what it felt like to be caught between two cultures. Lisa starred in many plays, among others ‘Three Sisters by Tsjechov. In 2011 Venlo historian Mariet Verberkt saw Lisa perform her song "I Cannot Forget” in Westerbork. This led to an intense contact between the two. Together they discussed and dreamed about a project which would tell the world everything about the history of the Sinti and Roma people during World War II, and the names of the victims could be spoken and would become known to everyone. The fate of little baby Margaretha particularly caught the attention. This tiny Sintezza found her death at Auschwitz-Birkenau camp.
Gradually the idea for a project was born, developed and later expanded. Through Mariet’s close collaboration with the national archives, the national exhibition 'Warchild ' was held at the Venlo Archive. Lisa and her family visited Auschwitz – Birkenau camp; her father Kobus was also present then. This visit left a great impression on her and confronted her with the deep tragedy and suffering of her roots. Lisa has sung in Auschwitz at the monument of the Sinti and Roma people.
Father Weiss in Auschwitz
After the death of Mariet Verberkt, a workgroup called ’Margaretha lives’ came to life . Apart from Lisa the other members of this group are: Mieke Verhaegh , Martijn Alsters , Peter Jorna and Henk van Beurden.
Among other things, they realized a school project. At her theatre on the Casinoweg Lisa welcomed students of various school classes and she took them to the camp. A special CD “Margaretha”was made (2012 ).
You will find more information on Margaretha and the project later in this text.
Lisa and son Will
An important support for all projects is Will Falize, Lisa’s son. As a professional photographer he is the person behind all the beautiful pictures and he is her pillar and strong support in this project.
Site Will Falize ►
Lisa is currently coached by the Latvian singing teacher Maara Brahmane.
By now Lisa has added a lot of appearances to her name: Art in the Kamer Waalre , Gipsy Best Roots Festival , Westerbork Memorial,Cultural programme Auschwitz Memorial RAI Amsterdam, Theatre Hotel Oranjerie Roermond, Forum Utrecht, Limburg Museum, Museum Bommel van Dam, Utrecht swings Delano, World War II Memorial Venlo, Nach van het Limburgs Leed and so on.
Concert te Venlo in Galerie de hoeve. Lisa met Paulus Schäfer, Noah Schäfer, Dominique Paats en Bärbel Ehlert. 21 juni 2014.
Lisa’s performances are generally managed by Sintimusic, whom she has a warm collaboration with.
Link Sintimusic ►
Sinti Music facebook ►
The 2 cd’s RvdB
Link youtube Bibando ►
I paint you in daylight ...
here on the Small Heather you were born ...
and soon after they came for you ...
shame, guilt and regret ...
the fear deep inside..
for a few pieces of silver...
in daylight I paint a flower path for you ...
so vulnerable and so small ...
love will overcome ...
Link site Margaretha Leeft ►
Link Making of videoclip Margaretha ►
Link video of education project ►
Lisa was born in a place where an unprecedented war-crime took place.
In the springtime of 1944 the police of Venlo drove Sinti families from the Little Hay out of their wooden caravans.
The family Pommée Steinbach is among them. Margaretha , a baby of a few weeks old and seven brothers and sisters are deported to Camp Westerbork and from there with the so-called 'Gipsy Transport' to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
No single person of the family will survive this deportation.
Until 2008 this atrocity remained unnoticed. Even the annual 'Commemorations of the Dead' didn't mention it. This would never have come to light if not Mariet Verberkt, the historian of the city discovered this forgotten story. She published the Story of the Venlo Sinti's in the Cultural Historic Annual 'de Buun'. Margaretha and her family are rescued from oblivion.
Mariet sought to ensure that the name of Margaretha is mentioned at the annual 'Commemorations of the Dead'. On her deathbed in 2010 she got the promise of the Mayor of Venlo that the name of Margaretha will be recorded on the list of the war victims .
Mariet hit upon Lisa when she heard her singing on a commemoration in Westerbork. Between them a profound friendship grew. Lisa sang a song on the burial of Mariet. No doubt her soul has heard it. She was singing and realising that the Heritage of Mariet had to be worked out and spread. She was on her own now, but fortunately there was already a cooperation with the Venlo Archives and her friend Mieke Verhaegh.
This attention and actions are of great importance.
In the Sinti Community there is seldom spoken about the pain and the grieve of what happened to them in the war. Mainly there is a great silence. Everything remains hidden in the hearts of the people 'their lips are sealed'. It is a self chosen isolation of grief and loneliness. Only in the darkness of the night the memories of this horrible time come as shadowy ghosts. In the campers and by the fire these are chased away by the singing and the music. With unbridled energy and passion, with streams of joy and pleasure they remove the thing who have been done to them.
The last sentences of the important speech of Sinto Zoni Weiz , an uncle of Lisa, for the Bundestag in Berlin on the 27th of January 2011, are hopeful and loving and say: we have to continue to commemorate, we have to propagate the message of tolerance and we must continue to build a better world so to give our children a live in peace.
In the song “MARGARETHA” Lisa paints the little girl in daylight, so the whole world can see her and give her back a piece of life, that was taken from her. Like the famous Gitana painter, Lila Cabellut, Lisa wants to meet with her song the soul of people, of Margaretha, and of all the children, who deserve to be drawn in the light.
Margaretha was taken for a few pieces of silver by the 'obedient' who took her. Were they really very bad these policemen or also understandable as humans in the perspective of time? Anyhow, it brings into memory an important lesson of the father of Mariet Verberkt. 'be watchful for the sin of looking away'. Anyone of us can take this seriously. Lisa could at first hardly pass the song trough her lips, because of the immense suffering being done to Margaretha and the other children. It is also incomprehensible that such a little child came on a 'death list' as a danger for the pure arian race. Lisa's mother was deported but she returned because she was no Sintezza, but only a normal camp wife.
our children ...
our dreams, our love, our warmth ...
We taught them to dance in the rain ...
The door to heaven ...
this sun, this life, this earth ...
searching for the land of our dreams ...
Sofie Bleu and Daddy Will
When granddaughter Sofie Bleu had started life in New-York , this song arose from the inner treasure chamber of Lisa.
She really wanted to reach Sofie Bleu with her voice on CD as if there wasn't an ocean between the two of them.
She wishes to exchange talents as seeds for life. Sofie Bleu is a beautiful rose, a beautiful flower, that people love. The song is about all the children, also about the childhood of Lisa.
This is what she wants to tell to Sofie Bleu.
About how they once lived on the edge of the wood, what as a beautiful pure dream was there, with the warmth of nature around you for shelter. There it is where she learned to dance in storm and rain, knowing you will always make it, no matter, the obstacles.
If you only just keep your eyes focused on the light, at the ' higher' then you keep 'the love' your life.
Mother Earth, eventually, will point the way. For Lisa this has all to do with 'finding' Heavens' Gate'. Of course , she wants to tell it to Sofie Bleu. At he miracle of birth of her granddaughter we realise that the long journey of the Sinti and Roma that started in India now has arrived on the other site of the ocean.
Together with Sofie Bleu, Lisa wants to look for the pure land of dreams, to a serenity undisturbed by anyone. Sofie in Greek means 'wisdom'. A wisdom that touches you like an invigorating smile of a child. Bleu is the lapis lazuli's mystic blue. The intense blue, sought by painters and wise people, and that hopefully will resound in the life of this inspired singer.
after all these years pain lingers ...
being left by everyone: by dogs and soldiers, by water, air, fields, sun and moon ...
life hurts ...
I cry salty tears ...
I have searched for my mother and father, my brother and sister ...
they never came back ...
their name etched in eternity ...
their voices are whispers in the wind ...
Uncle Zoni and Queen Beatrix
Link youtube Oom Zoni ►
More links Oom Zoni ►
The song is about Uncle Zoni Weisz, the only one of the parental family who survived the war. His parents and his sisters and little brother were targeted in a raid against Sinti and Roma on the 16th of May 1944. Zoni was 7 years . At that time he played with his aunt.
Later he was also arrested together with the rest of his family. At the station he saw his sisters little blue coat behind the window where the members of his family were in the deportation train.
Zoni and his aunt would go with the next train where in Assen they would be in the first group to be deported. A Samaritan told Zoni to flee when he took of his cap, at the moment he gave a sign to get into the train. At that moment he ran for his life. He fled and survived.
Zoni and his remaining family could escape with a false identity. His father was murdered in the concentration-camp; Mittelbau-Dora, and his mother, sisters and little brother perished in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Zoni became a reputable florist. He made floral decorations for major royal events like the inauguration of Queen Beatrix and the marriage of King Willem-Alexander. He also studied art-history. The tragic event in 1944 continues to leave it's mark. A pain everyone can feel when Zoni talks about the event. When he talks about after so many years he still expects his mother could just walk into his flower shop, but knows she will not. It is about an inconceivable loneliness in which no 'elements' or 'heavenly bodies' can console.
Also when nature actually is your last friend, that's what's Lisa's song's about. That loneliness she felt when visiting Auschwitz with her family. On the road to Heidelberg uncle Zoni told many stories about what had happened to them. She asked if she was allowed to make a song about this to which he agreed. Uncle Zoni got the first pressing of the CD.
What happened may never be forgotten. No 'looking away' anymore but respect for each human being. That is what uncle Zoni proclaims.
He spoke about it in 'the Bundestag' on the 27th of January 2011 in Berlin and at the UN headquarters in New York. He was present at the inauguration of the monument in Berlin for the Roma and Sinti who had been murdered by the Nazi's. In his wake Lisa wants to pass on this message in the hope it will mean something for humanity.
Happiness is like the sun
you carried us in your arms ...
so much you taught us ...
the love and the innocence and the flowers ...
the edge of the wood, the creek, the freedom of the birds ...
faith and sunshine and the butterflies in the wind ...
the spring, the summer, the autumn ...
come and let us dance while we still can ...
Happiness is like the sun
In this song Lisa recalls the positive elements as handing a floral bouquet to her mother, for her to recover a bit by it's scents. Mother did not have an easy life. Lisa felt compassion for her. Did her mother not teach her to walk in the sun, the soul-giver of all that lives? Lisa remembers the autumn trees in the fire, the innocence that blooms in childhood, the thousands of roses and lilacs that make it wonderful for butterflies to fly through the air by the creek at the wood's edge.
Was her mother not her first love who taught her to keep walking to the light? Come on mother, dance and sing on the eyes of innocence of my childhood.
Management & concert information: www.sintimusic.nl
Translators: Jillian Clarkson (biography), Anneke & Maarten van Leeuwen and Michelle Bihari (songs)
Website Janneke Michels: http://www.jannekemichels.nl/
[i] Pictures with JW : Copyright Janneke Michels & Lisa Weiss 2014/ Text and other pictures copyright Lisa Weiss 2014 / RvdB: René van de Berk