Roma people, Sri Lanka, Kenya rap

By Elizabeth Doyle

Monastery of St. Panteleimon, Macedonia

Esma Redzopova – The Roma people (sometimes called gypsies) have been some of the most persecuted people in the world. I’m sure I’ll get my history a little bit wrong here. But more or less, it’s thought that they may originally have come from India during the Middle Ages (No one’s sure why.) Then they landed in Eastern Europe (which is where the majority still live.) And to a large extent, they became a slave population there. Only in the 1800s was all slavery of Roma abolished. Many fled to other parts of Europe over the centuries, but they weren’t usually welcomed. Back then, the Roma preferred a nomadic lifestyle, and didn’t want to settle down and farm as some well-meaning neighbors tried to get them to do. Plus, they dressed a little differently, they sometimes married younger than what was considered acceptable, they had some customs and beliefs that Europeans found “superstitious”, and of course, they were poor, all of which made them a little unpopular. The poverty in particular caused a small number of them to do what many of us might do when we’re extremely poor. And it wasn’t long before the Roma gained a broad, generalized and therefore unfair reputation as thieves and beggars and particularly tricksters. So they continued to be persecuted. The Nazis tried to wipe them out completely in concentration camps, Czechoslovakia tried to sterilize their women, Spain took many of their children away. But through it all, somehow, their colorful culture and strong extended-family values survived. And Roma music kept on playing, influencing sounds throughout the continent, and eventually, all over the world. Possibly the most famous Roma singer of all time is Esma Redzopova, who lives in Macedonia, a place she declares treats its Roma population wonderfully, and she is currently a member of her local government! She’s been singing since she was a child, and has been a foster mother literally to dozens of orphaned children. Click here.

Sigriya Rock, Sri Lanka

Pandith Amaradeva – There’s a very strong music scene in Sri Lanka. It’s been heavily influenced by a lot of things over the centuries – Buddhism was one of the earliest and most major musical influences. The arrival of westerners brought some particular instruments, and of course, India and its films played a role. But all in all, Sri Lanka has a sound that’s all its own, and it has many fans. One name you have to know in Sri Lankan music is Pandith Amaradeva. Once people started making records, he’s one of the people who shaped the distinctive Sri Lankan sound that would be heard by the world. And he has the most velvety voice. Some Sri Lankans living abroad say they can’t hear him without feeling transported home: Click here.

Zebra, Nairobi National Park

Kalamashaka – I’m one of the only music fanatics I know who likes rap. Rap is music with the melody stripped out of it. It’s just voice and rhythm. It’s spoken word infused with rhyme, exaggerated emotion and a beat. People use it to communicate with power. To put force behind their words and to be heard. It gets a bad reputation sometimes because it speaks from and to the fire core of the personality. The words are wrenched from a visceral place. And so sometimes, other things that were locked in that Pandora’s Box come out – fantasies of violence, rage, misogyny, and destruction. None of that is a necessary part of rap. But it happens sometimes because rap explores the dark side of music – the side that isn’t pretty, but powerful. Rap really is proof of the raw force of music – the undeniable energy that all music taps into – even if you prefer something a little more comforting! Kalamashaka was one of the first really high quality rap groups to come out of Kenya. (In the world of rap, you’re considered high quality if you speak about rage, politics or social problems. You’re taken less seriously if your music is easy to dance to because that means your music is too “pretty” and not visceral enough.) Kalamashaka is a very well-respected socially conscious rap group from Nairobi, and is credited with helping make Swahili-rap a worldwide phenomenon. Kenya is now becoming a leader in the world of rap, and this is one of the songs that started it all: Click here.

Top photo: © Małgorzata Pakuła / / Monastery of St. Panteleimon, Macedonia

Second photo: Bernard Gagnon / Wikimedia Commons /   / Sigiriya Rock

Third photo: Sharon St. Joan / Zebra, Nairobi National Park 

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