Gypsy Pop Songs from Tito's Yugoslavia, 1964-1980
Vlax Records/Asphalt Tango Records CD-ATR 4113
Muharem Serbezovski & Ansambi Crni Diamante: Ramajana / Ramu, Ramu; aban Bajramoviè & Ansambi Miodraga Mitrovicá-Bate / & Ansambi Muharema-Muje Aliejviæa / & Ansambi: Kada Zvona Zvone (Bells Are Ringing); Demila / Umirem, Umirem (I'm Dying, I'm Dying); Hajra Suèurija & Ansambi Kud Ibar: Pe Romnasa o Miro Turisti Ðelo (Miro Went on a Tourist Holiday) / ; Esma Redepova & Ansambi Teodosievski: Ðurðevdan, Ðurðevdan (St George's Day) / Pesma eher Sarajevu (Song of Sarajevo Town) / Abre Babi Sokerdan (Oh Father, What Have You Done?); Duet Ðuriæ-Runjaiæ & Sekstet Duana Radaliæa: Amen Sama But Roma (There Are Many of Us Roma); Usnija Redepova & Narodni Ansambi Nasko Dorlev: Selime Ternie (Beautiful Selima); Bedrije Misin & Ansambi Braæe Koko: Mo Vogi Dukalla (My Heart's Hurting); Trajko Ajdareviæ Tahir & Orkestar Krune Simonoviæa: Mangala; Nehat Gai & Ansambi Rom: Nati Tadav ki utka Tedikav (Mother, I Can't Go to See utka) / Alo Dive Me Romja te Mukav (The Day Has Come to Leave My Wife); Ava Selimi & Ansambi Dobrivoja Baskiæa: A Bre Devla (Oh My God); Selime Bajrami & Ansambi Rasima Saliha: Gilava Amare Romenge (I'm Singing for Us Roma); Medo Èun & Ansambi: anino Kolo Ansambi Montenegro: Djelem, Djelem (Wandering, Wandering).'It's just the sort of thing Keith Summers would have loved,' said the editor when offering this release to me, and listening to it, I was reminded why Keith deliberately named the magazine to which this website is the successor 'Musical Traditions', rather than 'Traditional Music'; it's so much less constraining. Which doesn't, of course, mean that anything goes, and it behoves me to justify the reviewing of a CD with the dread words 'pop songs' in its title - and one whose booklet notes say, what's more, that the Roma under Tito were playing 'the music of urbane, cosmopolitan artists, reflecting a culture newly invigorated by its state-level acceptance.'
As the notes further observe:
The music of the Roma of the Vojvodina, in northern Yugoslavia, was and is much admired in the region, but Stand up, People concentrates on the 'predominantly Muslim, Ottoman-influenced Roma of Macedonia, Kosovo and southern Serbia.' Their music draws on a wide variety of influences (I apologise for quoting yet again from the notes, but I do so because compilers Philip Knox and Nathaniel Morris know about this stuff, and I didn't until I read what they have to say):
What we have here, it seems, is the music of an urbanising minority, many of them, if Macedonian, living in utka, 'the world's single largest Roma community, and the only one where Roma is recognised as an official language'; or if Kosovan, living in the provincial capital, Pritina. They had access to amplified instruments, including synthesizers, and as has already been noted, were alert to all kinds of outside influences. Sometimes, the musical results seem to boil down to little more than anonymous Europop; such is the case, for my ears, with Ramu, Ramu, named after a character from a Bollywood hit, and that despite an intriguing mix of tarabuka percussion, Yugoslav folk instruments and electric guitar. Mangala, said to be a tribute to a traditional Roma string instrument (although on-line searches, and an obbligato midway in the recording, suggest that it's an oboe), is another track that comes across as rather bland, thanks to both the accordion player and the vocalist.
These tracks are the exceptions, though. Songs like Selime Ternie and Mo Vogi Dukalla deal, as may be seen from the English versions of their titles, with universal and timeless topics, but, often the songs and their singers confront the problems that arise in a culture caught between traditional, nomadic and rural values and the pressures of urbanisation, modernity and marginality. (anino Kolo is the only instrumental, and a gorgeous one. It's played by a group led by the wild, lyrical clarinettist Medo Èun, an important session musician, composer and arranger, much influenced by Ottoman sounds; he's also heard here as a member of Ansambi Teodosievski.)
Thus Esma Redepova, 'Queen of the Gypsies', celebrates tradition, in the shape of the Roma's patron saint, on Ðurðevdan, Ðurðevdan; but although she made her name, as a teenager, by winning a Radio Skopje talent show with another traditional song, Abre Babi Sokerdan, in performing it she was at once giving voice to and defying tradition. The song laments an arranged marriage such as the one Redepova's parents tried to force her into at thirteen, and to which she responded by attempting suicide. I should give a taste of why Redepova was 'Queen of the Gypsies'; this clip from Pesma eher Sarajevu gives a taste of her vocal power, her emotional investment in her material, and not least, her awesome control of melisma.
Like that song, Nehat Gai's Nati Tadav ki utka Tedikav celebrates both a specific city and the urban lifestyle:
This is a very well-made compilation; well selected, knowledgeably annotated, and raising awareness of a little-known and probably unrepeatable episode in the cultural life of south-eastern Europe. The complexities are perhaps summed up emblematically by both the sound of the final track Djelem, Djelem, and by what the compilers - one more longish quotation, I'm afraid - have to say about it:
Some patrons of this website may find that the pop elements of Stand up, People, and more generally, the music's relentless eclecticism, overwhelm its interest as the response of a traditional people to modernity and mass society. That would be a pity; I found it both musically and sociologically fascinating.
Chris Smith - 16.8.13