Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora

Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora

Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora

Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora

Synopsis

Now that the political and economic plight of European Roma and the popularity of their music are objects of international attention, Romani Routes provides a timely and insightful view into Romani communities both in their home countries and in the diaspora. Over the past two decades, a steady stream of recordings, videos, feature films, festivals, and concerts has presented the music of Balkan Gypsies, or Roma, to Western audiences, who have greeted them with exceptional enthusiasm. Yet, as author Carol Silverman notes, Roma are revered as musicians and reviled as people. In this book, Silverman introduces readers to the people and cultures who produce this music, offering a sensitive and incisive analysis of how Romani musicians address the challenges of discrimination. Focusing on southeastern Europe then moving to the diaspora, her book examines the music within Romani communities, the lives and careers of outstanding musicians, and the marketing of music in the electronic media and "world music" concert circuit. Silverman touches on the way that the Roma exemplify many qualities -- adaptability, cultural hybridity, transnationalism--that are taken to characterize late modern experience. And rather than just celebrating these qualities, she presents the musicians as complicated, pragmatic individuals who work creatively within the many constraints that inform their lives.

Excerpt

In the last fifteen years, as the fusion music terms Gypsy Punk and Balkan Beats have proliferated and Gypsy motifs in clothing have become fashionable, Gypsy music has become a staple at world music festivals and dance clubs in the United States and Western Europe. Moreover, Gypsy style seems to be simultaneously familiar and exotic. Many consumers profess to know who and what Gypsies are, and what Gypsy music is. Some audience members repeat stereotypical generalizations drawing on a plethora of written, visual, and oral formulations from the last few centuries: Gypsies are innately talented, artistic, embodying their wildness in their music; they are consummate musical technicians; they magically sense the desires of their patrons; but in the end, they can’t be trusted. Indeed, the fictional Gypsy musician is a ubiquitous exotic fantasy figure in Western literature, art, and oral tradition (Trumpener 1992; Van de Port 1998).

How does music mediate between these poles of fascination and rejection? Since the fall of socialism in 1989, thousands of Roma have emigrated westward because of deteriorating living conditions in Eastern Europe; as a result, fear of “Gypsy hordes” and entrenched stereotypes of thievery and trickery are being revived. In this heightened atmosphere of xenophobia, Roma are paradoxically revered as musicians and reviled as people. Underlying this phenomenon are the dichotomous emotions of fear and admiration.

Two contrasting phenomena encapsulate the dichotomy of how most North Americans and Europeans think about Roma: the warning about Gypsy beggars in European cities, and the craze for Gypsy music in American and West European clubs. When Madonna performed a fusion of East European Romani (Gypsy) music on her summer 2009 tour, she epitomized how celebrity patrons appropriate the music of marginal groups. But when she was booed by 60,000 Romanian fans after she bemoaned the plight of Gypsies, she further exposed the dichotomy that Roma, loved for their music, are hated as people.

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