How 'Sherlock Holmes' Turned Hans Zimmer on to the Roma Cause

On Location
Bonnie Abaunza

Composer Hans Zimmer (right) met with Roma musicians in the Zehra settlement in eastern Slovakia.

The A-lister's score for Guy Ritchie's sequel employed gypsies, one of Europe's still-discriminated-against minorities.

This article appears in the Dec. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

When Germany-born Hans Zimmer signed to compose the score for the second film in director Guy Ritchie's edgy adaptation of Sherlock Holmes, it might have seemed like just another four-star assignment in a career that stretches over more than 100 films.

But along the way, the politically minded Oscar-winning composer discovered a new direction for his music -- and a cause.

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Both involve the Roma -- gypsies, as they're often called -- who remain a discriminated-against minority in parts of Eastern and Central Europe. Long disdained for their wandering lifestyle and distinctive language and culture, the Roma suffered along with European Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

During the summer, Zimmer, his core group of musicians, members of the National Democratic Institute and his foundation director, Bonnie Abaunza, visited seven Roma settlements to meet the people and "listen to as many musicians as we could."

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"Here we were in Central Europe, and we had never seen such poverty," says Zimmer, 54. "It just shouldn't be like that."

Zimmer was so impressed by Roma musicians that he invited 13 of them to join him at a recording session, offering to pay "proper double-session rates." Violins and accordions in tow, they set out for a sound studio in Vienna. Their music is woven into the score of the Holmes sequel, A Game of Shadows, which is set to hit theaters Dec. 16. A portion of proceeds from the soundtrack will help the Roma pay for necessities like water, heating and bus fare to get their children to school.

Zimmer's fashion-photographer daughter, Zoe Zimmer, agreed to join the tour to capture the Roma for an international exhibit, "Deserve Dignity," which will be on display at the West Hollywood Library through January.

"I'm not a politician. I know I can't fix the problem," says the elder Zimmer. "Even though we are feeding right into the positive stereotype of the incredibly musical gypsy world, it's the only thing I know how to do right now. Maybe by putting a little work their way, it will make their lives a little bit better."