In the living room you will get to know my parents and grandparents and you will also learn something about how Romani people used to live in Slovakia.

Rodinné hudební světy romského primáše

My parents

My parents, Michal Demeter and Zuzana (née Surmajová), were from Slovakia, from the Humenné area. Our family was settled, they did not live on the road, that is clear. My Dad was from a musical family, as was my mother too, and their families enormously respected each other and knew each other well. My parents, however, had to elope because they fell in love – and there was a disagreement between his parents and her parents about the dowry.

My Grandpa

My Grandpa – the father of my mother – was named Ján Surmaj. He was a blacksmith and a violinist. He had a gigantic blacksmithing shop. That was where I most loved to be. I aided my Grandpa with polishing chains, they made nails. They shoed horses, they made charcoal in the forest. In addition, he had his music. He played weddings, funerals, baptisms… I loved him. It’s a pity I never learned Hungarian from him, he was a Hungarian from the Beľan family, after all.

My Grandma

Grandma – my mother’s mother – was born Mária Okálová and had one brother. He was educated, and because of his business profession he traveled a lot, abroad and all over Slovakia. He was genuinely elegant, he wore a hat and spats, carried a cane, and spoke three languages. That was not common among the Roma. He never looked down on others, for all that. Grandma did not share his life perspective. She lived with her husband, with my Grandpa, in Dědáčov (Humenné district), a village as beautiful as if from a fairy tale, the Laborec River ran through there. On top of a hill they had a big house made out of fired brick, and Grandma let everybody know that she was the lady of the house. She was always well-groomed in a lace blouse, a white petticoat and a cashmere skirt over that. Our family went there just to work. We children were given a bit of bread and sent to herd the geese or the goats. The bigger swains herded the cows.

My Dad

My Dad was named Michal Demeter, he came form Kochanovce (Humenné district). He was from a family of carpenters, craftspeople and masons. However, the basis was music. Dad played on the cimbalom, but he was not a lay musician, as was frequently the case among the Roma back then who played brilliantly but could not read sheet music – Dad was a musician who could read sheet music. He also did well in school, he was mainly good at mathematics. The school recommended he go study mathematics in Prague, but in those days that was like going to America today. Grandma did not allow him to go there. Later, when we were already living Prague, he would test us children during Sunday lunch, counting, division, times tables, all from memory. It wasn’t boring at all, though, on the contrary, we looked forward to it. What I really liked about our Dad’s family was that music was not made just by the guys, as it usually was among the Roma – in our family, women played musical instruments too. For example, my Aunt Margita played drums, Aunt Karvayka played double bass… My band of women was born from that. I said to myself that if the guys were performing, why couldn’t we?

My brother Míša

My brother Míša was born two years after me in 1944. The war was at the boiling point. The Germans were looking for the partisans. The Russians were looking for the Germans. Mom gave birth, poor thing, to my brother alone at home. It’s true that my Mom, even though she never went to nursing school, knew how to deliver children. Both my parents survived the war with health problems. In 1947 we moved to Prague. Dad, whose hips were paralyzed, sold things in a newsagent’s. Mom worked in an enterprise for gas lighting. Early in the morning she would turn off the outdoor gas lamps and in the evening she would light them again. We were living in Karlova Street, that part of the Old Town was her region. When she lit the lamps on the Charles Bridge, in its entirety, it was so beautiful! In January 1953 she gave birth to my sister, Květa. Míša and I looked forward to our sibling, but he wanted a little brother. He was so disappointed that at first he did his best to raise her as a boy. He wanted her to fence with him, or play football, but it didn’t work, because she was a dainty, fragile child, like a little angel. Eventually he tried through music and taught her to play on our family heirloom – the Hohner accordion. Květa is gifted, musically, and so she mastered it rather well. Later she played with our brother in his band.

In the summers we traveled to Slovakia, to Dad’s village – Kochanovce. Life there was absolutely different. Nice little houses, tiny little fields, pets. They had an oven in the courtyard and they baked bread and buns in it. In the summer, they put the cimbalom and other instruments in the yard and we danced, played and sang there. It was cheerful. I’ve painted it as I recall it.


When I was living with my parents in Prague, we used to go to the Karlín neighborhood every Saturday afternoon to perform music in the pub “At the Green Tree” (U zeleného stromu). Relatives on Mom’s side lived there and Fečo would come there with them. He was from a good family, a hardworking guy and an excellent musician. His big family – he had five sisters and one brother – lived in Lúčky, which today is part of the Bardejov municipality. They traded in cattle, they had no need of money. He had just left the army and wanted to get married. He wanted, of course, to bring his bride to their homestead. He spent almost a year convincing me. I didn’t want to go there, though. On the one hand, I didn’t want to leave Květa alone with Mom in Prague (Dad had passed away in 1961) and on the other hand, I would have had to accept his family’s rules, and there in their household the man was allowed anything and everything and the woman, nothing. I couldn’t live like that. This is the only photo of Fečo that I have from the time before our wedding.