The music of the Roma

The music of the Roma

Love, Travel

Eastern Europe has a very long and versatile history of music. To be precise it has one of the oldest and most multifaceted music traditions of our time. One of many musical developments of Eastern Europe that fascinate me the most, is the one of the Roma. Their history begins more than 1500 years ago, as the first nomads, whose descendants we today call Roma, emigrated from the North-East of India.  As there are virtually no recordings about the Roma, it is difficult to portray their history. Indeed it can be said, that todays style elements of Roma music are derived originally from the Ottoman Empire. This can be recognized, amongst others, by the use of traditional Persian instruments like the Zurna and the Darbuka, or for the western hearing unusual harmony structures and odd measure forms as for example the 7/8 or 5/4 beats. It could be certainly said that the Ottoman Empire profoundly influenced the development of Roma music.

If we take a closer look at the history of the Ottoman music we recognize that in this epoch music has always been an art form of the nomads and the wandering people and that the origin of musicians and their instruments was often only hard to be traced back. It’s even said that many instruments had their origin in Central Asia and Northern India. Another distinguishing feature of the Roma music consists in the predominant use of monophonic instruments like woodwinds and brass instruments. Polyphonic accompanying instruments as the guitar, the accordion or the hammer dulcimer, also called box zither, were adapted a long time after. In their musical everyday life the Roma used to earn their living by performances and entertainment, mostly in the form of dance, music and song.

Tutti Frutti - Adrian Simionescu (Gadjo Dilo)

Whenever there was something to be celebrated, a childbirth, a baptism, a marriage or just life itself, the Roma were present to perform a suitable song. And what didn’t fit would just made to fit. Thus songs were revised and made suitable to the specific occasion and verses were improvised. Hardly any Roma musician has ever absolved a classic musical education or can even read music. This shows that a certain necessity has maintained a whole culture.

Taraf de Haidouks (Latcho Drom)

Until the fall of the Iron Curtain and the end of the communist regimes, a Roma musician could live well from his art as they had a kind of monopoly amongst the musicians and Western music was forbidden in many Eastern European countries, or almost not accessible. Music was always played live, as recordings and broadcasting, due to strict monitoring by media-supervision, were a rare entertainment medium and reserved predominantly to classical music. Today the traditional music of the Roma has drifted into the mainstream and emerges only in shabby puffed-up pop-soap-bubbles. This development shows how a capitalistic wave can transform a musical tradition full of splendor and pride into stereotyped Russian-Discotheque and Balkan-Beatz.

However, for me the fascination for the popular music of the Roma remains. It is their authenticity, their stirring emotions and the manifestation of the moment!

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