Queen of the Gypsies


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Queen of the Gypsies Review

by Christina Roden

The word "Gypsy" dates from when medieval Europeans erroneously concluded that these dark-skinned travelers were Egyptians. These days, following decades of antiracist consciousness-raising, Roma is the preferred term, as this is what they call themselves. Linguistic, cultural, and DNA evidence indicates that their endless migration probably began in northern India about a millennium ago. Although widely esteemed as musicians, they were mistreated just about anywhere they went. This probably explains the persistent hint of sadness that haunts even their most upbeat dance tunes. Esma Redzepova was born into an impoverished Jewish/Muslim Rom family in Skopje, Macedonia. A little girl with a huge voice, she was discovered at age 14 by bandleader Stevo Teodosievski, whom she later married. The couple toured incessantly, and since her husband's death, Esma has continued to front the ensemble he founded. Queen of the Gypsies contains two CDs, each containing a 12-track suite, one of Macadonian tunes and the other of Roma songs from other sources. Throughout, Esma's singing evinces extraordinary power, pride, and resolve. She has total command of her instrument, whether she is slicing notes like an onion, shooting the polyrhythmic rapids, purring like a lovesick girl, or erupting into ricocheting explosions of demi-quavers. The first play list begins with a poorly recorded but essential version of her late husband's most popular composition, "Zosto Si Me Majko Rodilo," a limpid ballad that allows the singer to preen and stretch. "Chaje Shukarije," number nine in the second grouping, is a much-covered tune about unrequited passion -- nobody has ever matched the stuttering, breathless urgency of Esma's interpretation.

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