By anyone’s standards, Damian Draghici’s life chronicle would make a great movie. The story arc begins in Bucharest, Romania, with Draghici growing up in a very poor but musical Gypsy (Roma) family. In his late teens, he escapes the grip of Nicolae Ceausescu’s oppressive communist regime by walking alone hundreds of miles to freedom, finds work as a musician in Greece, and ultimately receives a full scholarship to Berklee.
After graduating in 1998, his dazzling virtuosity as a jazz improviser on the panpipes grabs the attention of top musicians in Los Angeles and elsewhere. In 2001, a PBS producer films his spectacular homecoming concert with a 150-piece orchestra at Bucharest’s Centrul Civic, attended by 72,000 of his countrymen. He makes some 19 albums for a major label and tours the world—frequently sharing the stage with major music stars. He becomes a state councilor for Roma issues to the Romanian prime minster before becoming a member of the Romanian senate. In 2014, he becomes the first Romanian of Gypsy heritage ever elected to the European Parliament.
His primary goal is to promote social inclusion for Roma people across Europe. “I want to bring all the stakeholders to the table and figure out the best steps to take for the next generation,” Draghici says. “We need concrete measures. In the past, politicians have gathered statistics and made studies, but taken no actions that would help. In music you can learn about theory and modes, but in the end, you need to pick up your instrument and play. People have been studying the Roma and their habits for years; now it’s time for the gig."