ROUGH GUIDE TO EUROPEAN ROMANI MUSIC

By Lucy Kenningham

A lazy interest in Eastern Europe combined with festering feelings of university-induced-insipidity led to me (a film hater) watching The Time of the Gypsies. 

 

Directed by Serbian legend Emir Kustarica, this is a truly wacky tragi-comedy about a young Romani gypsy’s induction into a bloody weird world, set in former Yugoslavia.

 

“When you make movies the way I do, you invest everything you have. And you do it like a crazy maniac” Kustarica explains. Sounds plausible to me: TotG is an all-consuming, magically disorientating, flame-wielding piece of pure passion. Visually magnificent, the soundtrack pumps it all up to new heights of delirious emotion. 

This is how I began my obsession with European Romani music…

 

Being a unique diaspora spread across Europe means Romani music has evolved differently in different countries. The following guide stretches from France to Russia, sampling the best of Romani music throughout the continent. If you’re a music nerd (firstly - kudos, I’m definitely not), you can look out for the five main components of Romani sound - three voices or parts, syncopation (to me, a layman, the only obvious one), use of different phases, harmony (a minor chord instead of a major) and vocals.

** It’s important to say that I am not an expert, not a Romani, nor am I familiar by any means with the full breadth of Romani music which spans all genres and probably beyond. This playlist focuses on guitar groups, mainly released at the end of the 20th century and is a reflection of my very narrow listening thus far. **

Goran Bregovic - Ederlezi

This banger is a Romani folk song mixed up by a Bosnian composer. It’s named Ederlezi after the spring festival The Feast of St George. Even without translating them, I find the tone of the vocals moving - Kustarica describes the Romani language as “a perfect melody”. Bregovic (composer) uses a classical orchestra, dramatically enhancing and elevating the peaks - and troughs - of the song. The chorus of voices channel the community and solidarity of the Romani people in an ephemerally soul-ascending way. Worth watching on YouTube for the full effect.

Aquaragia Drom - Rom Kaffe

Being a unique diaspora spread across Europe means Romani music has evolved differently in different countries. Rom Kaffe is an Italian-Meditteranean Romani song with stirring vocals and interestingly-evolving rhythms. Upbeat, punching and atmospheric; this is (to me) a celebration of coffee-swigging, loitering, mate-congregating cafe culture. That’s assuming Kaffe really DOES mean cafe...

Nikolai Erdenko - Gori Lubov Ziganski

Similarly celebratory, enhanced by an increasingly delirious rhythm, is the next track by Russian gypsy Nikolai Erdenko. It’s called Gori Lubov Ziganski and (possibly) translates as Gypsies Love Mountains (Google Translate doesn’t do Romani). This song is a double shot of strong-arse coffee (your third of the morning... duh).

Nelli Stachevskaia - Guene Roma

This song begins with shattering murmuring, evolving into a haunting and mournful ballad. Dual vocals of a soloist and chorus fade into the final, chilling  murmurs.

Sabra Bajramovic - Pena

Bajramovic is a gypsy musician legend. Randomly, he claims to have read over 20,000 books in his lifetime. He describes himself as a “Serbian gypsy” and has been hugely influential in showcasing Romani music in Serbia. He died in 2008, but a statue commemorates his life work. This highly rhythmic, trumpeting dance is a total joy.

Fanfare Ciocarlia - Ma Rov (ft. Ljiljana Butler)

This Italian gypsy song is another rhythmic, synopated classic with a beautiful primary melody and competing instruments.

Kolpakov Duo - Memory

Russian gypsy music is driven by a seven-string guitar providing a rich and complex sound. Note the exhilarating tempo acceleration throughout the piece - a hallmark of the European gypsy catalogue.

Les Yeux Noires - Les Deux Gitares

Delicate guitar gradually picks up into a fast-paced - bordering on manic - song from French gypsy group Les Yeux Noirs (The Black Eyes).

Goran Bregovic - Talijanska

The accordion in Talijanska shoots you right into the heart of an Eastern European Romani community.

Son de la Frontera - Un Compromiso / Todo una Vida

Claps and oscillating guitar start off this song, before a rampaging tempo increase stretches the piece into much more. The final half is emotive, atmospheric and syncopated to perfection. The last twenty seconds of note-spiralling chaos dig deep down my throat, excavating my belly - a feeling I never knew I needed so much.

If you're a music fan and would like to put together your own rough guide to a genre, city, country or artist, please get in touch to contribute to this series: helicon.magazine@gmail.com. The collection will be put together and published in a print zine by the end of the academic year.

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© Helicon Magazine 2019

University of Bristol