Esma Redzepova August 17, 2010Posted by Yilan in Macedonia.
Tags: Esma Redzepova, Macedonia
Esma Redzepova was in Paris for a concert at the Cabaret Sauvage last month. The Macedonian singer was taking part in Gypsy Queens and Kings, a show staged by the Sin Fronteras festival. Now 64, her career started at the age of 11. “I owe everything to my father,” she says. “He kindled my passion for singing.” A shoe-shiner, he loved music more than anything else and played percussion at Jewish and Roma weddings. As a young girl she was enchanted by the joyful poetry of folk songs, a repository of traditional lore and fairytales.
Lending her lively, expressive voice to these songs, an ambition that seemed out of reach gradually came true. In 1956, Redzepova took part in a talent-spotting programme on Macedonian radio. “It was the first time national radio had broadcast a Roma song,” she says. She thus earned her first fee at the age of 11: “Three times as much as my mother was paid as a cleaner.”
The composer and producer Stevo Teodosievski spotted her, enrolling her at the Academy of Music in Belgrade (then capital of the former Yugoslavia). She left her family and set to work for two years, four hours a day, five days a week. “Stevo took charge of me. I was his pupil,” she explains. In 1965, she was rewarded with her first hit, Caje Sukarije (A Pretty Young Roma Woman). Three years later the singer married Teodosievski, joining the group for which he composed and played the accordion. She went on to establish her reputation as one of the leading Romany singers, with tales of the happiness and woes of nomadic life, the atmosphere of weddings and the endless wandering of exile.
Redzepova travelled all over the world: New York, London, Sydney, Paris (appearing for the first time at Olympia in 1962), Mexico, India (where she was acclaimed as the Queen of Romany Songs at the first world festival of Romany music in 1976). With obvious pride she claims to have performed at more than 22,000 concerts, with a repertoire of over 800 songs. There is no way of checking such figures, but whatever their veracity they are on a par with the legend she has created. At her home in Skopje, capital of the republic of Macedonia, there is no doubt about her standing as a star in the Roma community.
In addition to her work as a singer, Redzepova has become an ambassador for Roma culture. In the course of her travels in and around the Balkans, she has adopted 47 children who were living on the street and introduced them to the joys of music. The musicians who now accompany her at concert performances and on recordings belong to this extended family. For several years she has been actively involved in the management of Rom-Esma, a non-governmental organisation she set up to uphold the rights of Roma women and more largely the community worldwide. When asked about disparaging remarks about travellers by the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, she cited the example set by Macedonia.
“It is the only country where the Roma are recognised,” Redzepova says. They enjoy access to education, culture (with two privately owned Roma television channels) and civic life (as the leader of a local council or MP). She is proud to have been born in Macedonia, because in other countries “the Roma are not respected and must endure humiliation and persecution”, she says. When she performed the following evening she made a point of reasserting the cosmopolitan values and traditions of pacifism and freedom upheld by Travellers.