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Stand Up, People

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;   Šaban Bajramoviè & Ansambi Miodraga Mitrovicá-Bate / & Ansambi Muharema-Muje Aliejviæa / & Ansambi: Kada Zvona Zvone (Bells Are Ringing);   Džemila / 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 Redžepova & Ansambi Teodosievski: Ðurðevdan, Ðurðevdan (St George's Day) / Pesma Šeher Sarajevu (Song of Sarajevo Town) / Abre Babi Sokerdžan (Oh Father, What Have You Done?);   Duet Ðuriæ-Runjaiæ & Sekstet Dušana Radaliæa: Amen Sama But Roma (There Are Many of Us Roma);   Usnija Redžepova & Narodni Ansambi Nasko Džorlev: Selime Ternie (Beautiful Selima);   Bedrije Misin & Ansambi Braæe Koko: Mo Vogi Dukalla (My Heart's Hurting);   Trajko Ajdareviæ Tahir & Orkestar Krune Simonoviæa: Mangala;   Nehat Gaši & Ansambi Rom: Našti Tadav ki Šutka Tedikav (Mother, I Can't Go to See Šutka) / 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: Žanino 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:

Hence Roma musicians' ability to make the recordings from which the selections here have been drawn, and which, it appears, were very popular, featuring heavily on the Yugoslavian airwaves.

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):

Nehru died in May 1964, at the start of the CD's time span, but one takes the point; the influence from Bollywood had apparently begun by that time, and presumably continued afterwards.

What we have here, it seems, is the music of an urbanising minority, many of them, if Macedonian, living in Šutka, '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, Priština.  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.  (Žanino 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 Redžepova, '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 Sokerdžan, in performing it she was at once giving voice to and defying tradition.  The song laments an arranged marriage such as the one Redžepova's parents tried to force her into at thirteen, and to which she responded by attempting suicide.  I should give a taste of why Redžepova was 'Queen of the Gypsies'; this clip from Pesma Šeher 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 Gaši's Našti Tadav ki Šutka Tedikav celebrates both a specific city and the urban lifestyle:

and Gilava Amare Romenge notes that: but elsewhere, modernity is acknowledged to bring its disadvantages.  Here's the beginning of Pe Romnasa o Miro Turisti Ðelo; the singer tells his listeners: Cultural conservatism such as Esma Redžepova was able to overcome blighted the career of Ava Selimi, who released only one record before retreating to the 'honourable' life of a housewife after gossip about her supposed behaviour while on tour caused the collapse of one marriage and problems in her next.  Better equipped - indeed defiantly determined - to live life his own way, and no doubt more able to do so because of his gender, was Šaban Bajramoviè, the biggest male star in the music; orphaned in World War II, conscripted at 19, and imprisoned in a violent penal colony for desertion (with his sentence raised from three years to five for telling the court no prison could hold him), Bajramoviè learned to read and got into music in prison.  He doesn't seem to have hewn to the straight and narrow on release, and his recordings radiate tough guy cool - while taking in influences from flamenco and jazz.  This clip from Džemila (a girl's name) seems to show equally his acquisitions from Romani, Greek-Ottoman, Latin and Europop musics.

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

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