Politically Correct “Champagne for Gypsies”

I leant far out, and squinnied for a sign
That this was still the town that had been ‘mine’
So long, but found I wasn’t even clear
Which side was which.
-Phillip Larkin, “I Remember, I Remember”
This is a music review of songs that go beyond the bars, notes, and words, rummaging through much of the social issues that have been vastly discussed in the past few decades, such as discrimination and, in particular, racism.

As a person who strives to be kind, respectful, and politically correct, I have learned to use the term “Roma” when referring to the ethnicity of the Romani people. However, this is only since I don’t believe others would understand the positive connotation I assign to the word “gypsy,” simply as a free-spirited human being. A huge part of that tolerance and even interest in Roma culture comes from one single man. Ladies and gentleman, I introduce to you Mr. Goran Bregovic, an incredible musician whose work is dedicated to breaking boundaries and destroying stereotypes of different ethnicities, and, mostly, one epic Balkan party.

[It goes without saying, but, for the sake of this article, the term “gypsy” is not associated with any negative meaning at all.]

Image Courtesy: Universal Musical Group

I had the utmost pleasure of seeing Mr. Bregovic and his Wedding and Funeral Band in concert for the first time last week and the emotion was nothing short of mesmerization. His music is as fun as it can be, and if you can really feel it in your heart, it becomes an emanation of social pressure and oppression and a desire to break free.

Bregovic started his music career in the late 60s, when he was in a teenage rock band, and grew to become the songwriter for Emir Kosturica’s movies in the end of the 80s. If you aren’t at all familiar with European cinema, you are probably not familiar with any of Kusturica’s films, except maybe one – Arizona Dream, with Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway, which also includes Goran Bregovic’s music (and, yes, if you haven’t seen the movie, you better see it now and then move on to everything Kusturica has ever done).

Bregovic, who is a Yugoslav, born in Sarajevo (now in Bosnia), knows the inability to relate to his homeland all too well after the separation of Yugoslavia in the past decades. Similarly, gypsies are nomads and have no defined territory. Their travels, however, are what establishes their freedom. Still, in the modern day, having your own country is necessary for every country and not feeling “grounded” to it is considered a fault.

The musician compares himself to gypsies in another way, however, and it’s quite the intriguing analogy. In this really awesome Deutsche Welle article, he says that musicians from where he comes from “are doing a gypsy job”. So again, “gypsy” is a term defined by freedom and uncertainty, which is a state of the heart and mind and not dependent on skin color or ethnic features. And furthermore, it has come to be an insult that transcends those factors as well. Of course, it shouldn’t carry that modern-day connotation.

Consider this classic literature case: Victor Hugo’s Esmeralda, a beautiful gypsy girl who is well-known as being beautiful, kind, and compassionate. However, she falls victim to her ethnicity and her tragic fate is intertwined with people’s prejudice and societal stereotypes.

The case isn’t too far from what goes on in the modern world, except nowadays it happens on a much larger scale. Europe, especially countries in the West, can’t accept gypsies and “ship” them off of their land to countries where they came from, generally in the East, such as Bulgaria and Romania. This raises the question of when, how, and even whether Romani people will be integrated in societies around the world. Apparently, Europe needs to find a solution to this problem as well, along with all its other troubles with regards to economy, demographics, politics, and other social issues.

On the brighter side of things, why not check out Goran Bregovic’s new album, which features a couple of really cool songs in English? (I personally recommend “That Man”, a favorite of mine.) And, just in case you’re not familiar with any of his works, look on YouTube for the classics “Mesecina” and “Kalashnikov”.

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