The word gypsy evolved when confused Europeans decided that these dark-skinned, much-misunderstood wanderers hailed from Egypt. These days, the preferred term is Roma (Rom is the singular and Romanes is the language the tribes use to communicate among themselves). Modern evidence indicates that their ancestors migrated out of Northern India about 1,000 years ago. Since then, they have been routinely celebrated as romantic traveling entertainers, but also persecuted as insular outsiders. Their music harbors poignant recollections of past tragedies, expressed via their own traditions and grafted onto those of various host cultures. Esma Redzepova's story is at once typical and extraordinary. She was born into a desperately poor Jewish/Muslim Rom family in Skopje, Macedonia. Her future husband, bandleader Stevo Teodosievski, discovered her when she was in her early teens and together they took the Balkans, and later much of the world, by storm. When at home, the couple acted as surrogate parents to more than 50 musically talented orphans, some of whom later played with the band. When Stevo Teodosievski died in the late '90s, Esma was devastated, but pulled herself together and continued to sing with their ensemble. She is a large middle-aged lady dripping gold from every extremity, with eloquent black eyes and a voice as huge as her heart. The beauty of her singing lies in the raw power and extreme flexibility of the instrument itself and in Esma's ability to communicate every possible shade of emotion. The title song has become a Roma anthem, but nobody else has approached the passionate intensity of Esma's own interpretation. The Klezmatics' Frank London, who produced and sits in on horns and keyboards, merits considerable praise for bringing this long overdue project to fruition.
AllMusic Review by Christina Roden