Music – both as a professional activity performed, (for the most part), to the neighbouring (non-Roma)
population and as an activity for the use of their own community – is one of the basic identifying elements
of many Roma sub-ethnic groups. In the Czech lands, this refers mainly to Slovak Roma, although even among
Vlach Roma, who were not professional musicians, music played an important role.
Even though the presence of Roma in the Czech lands was already recorded from the end of the Middle
Ages, the oldest documents that mention their music come from the
beginning of the twentieth century: "Gypsy Songs", by J. Černík contain the earliest
transcriptions of melodies and texts of songs of Roma settled in south Moravia. Further recordings, these being acoustic, were made by Eva Davidová and Milena Hübschmannová starting in the mid l950's. Today the original
recordings lie in the Vienna Phonograph Archives. Some of these recordings made in the field have been
published (see: Acoustic sources).
These researchers' field recordings have inspired a few collections of transcriptions (see: References). From his own collection Bohuslav Valašťan made an extensive anthology of Romani songs from
Most importantly, the above-mentioned field recordings inspired the publication of ethnomusicological
studies of Roma, Bohemian and Moravian music. The Hungarian ethnomusicologist Katalin Kovalcsik
investigated the music of Slovak Vlach Roma. The outstanding Moravian musical
folklorist Dušan Holý studied the music of Moravian Roma [mainly, that of the Roma
] and World War II concentration-camp songs of
Moravian Roma. The Romist Zbyněk Andrš wrote about Roma prison songs on the basis
of his own field work.
Despite the fact that music has been a basic Roma cultural attribute, only in the 1990's did the number
of recordings grow significantly. We can follow certain tendencies in them: on stage performances, the
massive arrival of "Rom-pop", performances of Romani
songs by non-Roma or
by groups made up of Roma and non-Roma.
Music of Moravian Roma
Moravian Roma are among those groups of Roma whose profession was musical performance. However, they were
nearly completely exterminated during World War II. Earlier, their music could not be documented and
studied. Černík's "Gypsy Songs" show to a great extent the systematic taking over of
material from songs of the non-Roma surroundings. A basic feature of the recorded songs is that the texts
were always in Romani, even though Moravian Roma had been settled for centuries; they spoke Czech fluently,
and often Czech was their mother tongue. (Holý)
Later recordings show the closeness of textual themes and music of Moravian and Slovak Roma's songs.
Music of Slovak Roma
Musical performance of this sub-ethnic group was basically separated according to sex: Men were the
professional musicians whose performances were one of the welcome sources of income; women were the singers,
but they sang only for their own community. Male bands, composed of violin, bass (contrabass) and
dulcimer were hired by non-Roma in the neighbouring areas for weddings, etc., before World War II.
After the war, the change of the social situation caused most of these groups to disappear.
The repertoire of such Roma bands contained both Romani and non-Romani songs and, therefore, their mutual
blending and converging is not surprising. (Many songs have parallel Romani and Slovak texts.)
While male musical activity was instrumental and intended to be performed professionally outside of their
own communities, women were predominantly singers (female musicians-instrumentalists, e.g. Cinka Panna were considered something exceptional) and, as stated above, they sang within their own
communities. Entertainment accompanied by singing, music, dancing and drinking –
bašaviben – was one of the standard social activities.
The oldest songs in the Slovak repertoire represent phurikane gil'a (ancient songs)
that, from the musical point of view, have two forms: slow songs
without a fixed rhythm and quick
. The texts of the phurikane gil'a cover several fields: poverty
and orphanhood (čorikane giľa); prison (hareštantska, bertenošika
giľa); drinking songs (mulatošna giľa). Most of the texts using the
aforementioned themes are sung to the tune of a hallgató or, in exceptional cases, to a
quick dance melody.
The songs are usually performed by one voice, (monodically), although polyphonic singing with
classical-romantic harmonies has also been recorded.
There are both textual and melodic variations in performances of traditional songs, so that one song may be
altered by different singers or even by the same singer from performance to performance.
Alongside the stylistically relatively homogenous repertoire of phurikane gil'a,
there is also a group of older borrowed songs, (categorised as a transitory group), and an unhomogeneous
group of new songs (neve giľa). Some of these borrow textual or melodic motifs from
phurikane giľa; others are original compositions influenced by popular music. These are
usually called Rom-pop.
Music of the Vlach Roma
The music of this Roma group reflects both their long years' stay in today's Romania and also, later, their
itinerant way of life. Ballads - epic songs with mythological and historic themes taken from Balkan tradition,
and various ballads about the murder of Vlach king Báno - have been
preserved in the repertoire of the Vlach Roma (relatively sporadically in Bohemia and
Slovakia). The itinerant way of life in Czechoslovakia, abolished by force in 1959, is linked to songs of the
psalmodic type, whose texts also capture the basic value of Vlach
culture: travel, horses and horse trading
, wine drinking. The last recordings of these songs with narrow
range, not exceeding a fifth, and melismatic melody come from the first half of the 1960's.
Two other genres are similar to those in the Slovak Romani repertoire: slow songs for listening (loke ďila)
and quick dance songs (khelimaske ďila). Traditional Vlach music is typically marked
by the absence of musical instruments. This is usual among itinerant ethnic groups. In the case of
Vlach dance songs, instrumental sounds are imitated by various nonverbal vocal
techniques: clapping, stamping, finger-snapping etc. – bumbázi.
The very nature of the music of the Roma is constantly influenced by their surroundings. Since the 1960's,
some of these influences have come from popular music, especially the use of pop music instruments, the use of
polyphony and the composition of new melodies and contemporary Romani texts. This direction is termed
. The most notable groups in the younger
generation of traditional musicians are, e.g., the "
Rokycany; Věra Bílá with her group "Kale"; the family group "Čilágos", and
"Točkolotoč of Svitavy".
Music is one of the basic identifying elements of the Roma. Of the three main Roma sub-ethnic groups in
Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia, in two – Moravian and Slovak – playing instruments for the neighbouring
"majority" was one of the traditional, inherited professions of the male members of the
community. Women, on the other hand, were the singers on special occasions inside their community.
The music of Vlach Roma has been influenced to a much lesser degree by their
surroundings (as a result of their unsedentary way of life). In their music there is evidently a connection to
the music of the Balkans. In the basic music genres among both the sedentary Slovak and Moravian Roma and the
originally travelling Vlach Roma there are slow songs for listening and
fast dance music.
Basic features of Roma music are the constant absorption and transformation of surrounding influences so
that it is possible to follow the continuous transition from the oldest known music to