Khelimaski gjili, khelimaski ďili – dance song

Apart from the slow lyric song (Romani: loki gjili), the dance song (Romani: khelimaski gjili [d’ili, ģili]) is a major genre in the traditional music of the Lovara and other Vlach Roma (Rom) (formerly) living in the Hungarian language area (Music of the Vlach-Roma). In Hungary and Slovakia it may also be referred to as chutjadi djili (Romani for "jumping song") or patogošo ("snapping"; cp. Hungarian "pattog" – "to crackle").

Dance songs are composed in verses, with a stanza usually comprising four lines of seven, eight, or – rarely – six syllables; as many as eleven syllables may be used in the middle and at the end of the stanza, and the number of lines may also be increased. The khelimaske gjila are mostly characterised by duple time (2/4) and a descending melodic structure. Like the loke gjila they use major or minor scales (frequently with the minor seventh in the upper register, and the major seventh in the lower), and in some cases the pentatonic scale (Sárosi 1978). The tune, though often sung solo, may be performed by a group of singers.

The lyrics of the dance songs feature motifs drawn from the experiences of the nomadic Rom, often from a male perspective and performed tongue-in-cheek: a successful deal with horses or rugs and the following celebration, the (unrequited) love for a woman and her honourable or – more often – shameless behaviour. In contrast to the loke gjila the lyrics of the dance songs are however of minor importance. Indeed, already after a few lines the text is often substituted by fast onomatopoetic syllables, which are better suited to an accentuated dance accompaniment ever increasing in speed. Dance songs which consist entirely of textless syllables also occur.

The diminuting and syncopated variation of the verse melody in syllabic singing ("rolling"; Hungar. "pergetés"), and thus the increase of impulse density and tempo, are typical of the performance of the khelimaske gjila. Through "rolling" and other sound-producing techniques, the singers imitate instrumental playing, while they accompany themselves rhythmically by finger snapping, hand clapping and feet stamping, by drumming on table tops or using household appliances (e.g. a milk churn or wooden spoons). In addition, there is the so-called oral bass, where another singer pronounces accentuated syllables in the estam rhythm (on the even quavers), taking over the function of a bass instrument, as it were. [audio illustrations: Na šinger, na šinger, Boja, muro gadoro / Trin gone kočaja] Apart from these traditional techniques, also musical instruments, mainly the guitar, have been used for accompaniment since about the 1960s.

Khelimaske gjila are sung to solo dances, performed by men or women, as well as to pair dances (without hold) (Balázs 1995). Slovakian and Czech Vlach Roma call their characteristic dance čapaš (originally reserved only for men; cp. Hungar. "csapás" – "beat"). In the comitate of Szatmár (North Hungary) Roma perform also stick dances (Hungar. "botoló"), some of which – in contrast to the other dance melodies – are in triple time (3/8; 6/8).

Dance songs also form part of the traditional music repertory of the Ungrika Roma (Hungary and Slovakia) as well as the Servika Roma (Slovakia and the Czech Republic). Although these groups use non-instrumental, rhythmic techniques mentioned above, it is more frequently Roma musicians who, playing the string instruments typical of "gypsy music" (often together with accordion and/or guitar), accompany singing and dancing [The music of the Roma in Hungary; Music of the Roma in Bohemia and Moravia; Csardas].

Vlach Roma in Romania – such as the Colarja ("rug dealers") in Transylvania or the Kalderaš – perform their dance songs in a similar style as the Lovara (rhythmically varied syllabic singing; accompaniment in the form of finger snapping and drumming on table tops etc.). Typical khelimaske gjila are sometimes sung also in the border areas of Yugoslavia (e.g. by the Banatoske Roma), where, however, dance tunes of Vlach Roma usually are more strongly influenced by the regional folk music. Accordingly, in the Vojvodina one finds Romani songs with scales and asymmetric rhythms (aksak) typical of this region, accompanied by characteristic instruments – tamburicas (plucked long-necked lutes) of different sizes; the appropriate dance is the kolo (round dance).


Balázs, Gusztáv (1995) A nagyecsedi oláh cigányok tánchagyománya – The Dance Tradition of Vlach Gypsies in Nagyecsed (= Cigány Néprajzi Társaság – Studies in Roma [gypsy] ethnography 3). Budapest.
Kovalcsik, Katalin (1985) Vlach Gypsy Folk Songs in Slovakia (= Gypsy Folk Music of Europe 1). Budapest.
Sárosi, Bálint (1977) Zigeunermusik. Zürich / Freiburg i. Br.
Image Printable version
Image Na šinger, na šinger, Boja, muro gadoro – Don’t cut up my shirt, Boja
Image Trin gone kočaja – Three sacks of corn cobs