Loki gjili, loki ďili – slow song

The lyric "slow song" (Romani: loki gjili [d’ili, ģili]) is one of the two main genres in the traditional music of the Lovara and other formerly nomadic Vlach Roma (Rom) who lived in the Hungarian language area for a long period [The music of the Vlach Roma; khelimaski gjili]. The loki gjili is also referred to as mesaljake gjili ("table song") and sometimes as mulatošo gjili ("celebratory song", cp. Hungar.: "mulat" – "to amuse oneself").

Each of its stanzas consists of four lines of six or eight syllables, often complemented by characteristic syllabic fillers like jaj, joj, aj, de. The textual lines correspond to four melodic phrases of which the 2nd and 3rd – and often all of them – are separated by a caesura. The melodies are based on diatonic major or minor scales (often with the minor seventh in the upper, and the major seventh in the lower register). They display a descending gesture or arched contour and frequently a wide ambitus of more than one octave. The melody is marked by steps and tone repetitions, but also by larger intervallic leaps and chordal sequences. Unlike the dance songs (khelimaski gjili), slow songs are performed in free parlando rubato. Another characteristic feature is the style of delivery resulting in the variation of the melody: The sequences of notes are not always repeated exactly; rather, the "ideal melody" (Kovalcsik 1985) embedded in the singers’ minds may, when interpreted anew, be realised in a different way.

Rhythmic and tonal variations between the fixed notes of the melodic skeleton can even occur in each verse. The typical end of the verse starts with a long sustained note, in decrescendo, on the supertonic. After a short rest the endnote (keynote) – often reached via the leading note on the 7th degree – is usually sung very quietly and sometimes even omitted. The second melodic line mostly ends on the dominant, usually also with a long sustained note. Typical features of the vocal interpretation are ornaments like grace and auxiliary notes or portamenti – all relatively sparingly applied – as well as vibrati on long tones (at the end of lines). [audio illustrationen: Soro ratji mulatino]

The slow "table songs" are performed solo, with the audience often singing along (at the end of lines) and accompanying the "leading" voice, as it were. This does not result in strict unison, but in heterophony characteristic of this vocal style and related to the improvisational interpretation in parlando rubato. [audio illustration: Sumnakuni phurt keradem] Since about the 1960s musical instruments, mainly the guitar, have occasionally been used to accompany the slow songs.

The lyrics of the loke gjila reflect the migrant gypsies’ (former) way of life, the importance of the family and Rom community as well as the role of the individual within in. Themes often recurring are itinerant life, travelling to the market, meeting others and celebrating with "good Rom guys" (kerel voja le laše šavenca), for whom wine is ordered in their honour. The relationship between the sexes and (female) behaviour which respects or violates the code of ethics and honour are also often dealt with. Separation from one’s family, solitude, illness, persecution by the police and imprisonment are common topics as well.

Like their musical performance also the texts of the loke gjila are characterized by improvisation, and the contents often vary from one interpretation to the next. Although every melody has its own lyrics, the text is flexible: depending on the situation and atmosphere, verses can be added, omitted or rearranged. There are also "wandering" motifs which can be built into various songs, including wishing formulae like t' al o Del bachtalo taj v' e laše šave ... ("may God be happy and also the good guys ...") or de ma, Devla, tji bachtori ("give me, God, your little bit of luck"), affirmative formulae, e.g. te merav aratji ("let me die yesterday"), idiomatic expressions like marel o Del, kas kamel te marel ("God punishes whoever He wishes to punish"), and poetic metaphors like hulin patrorale, šaraven ma tele (šaraven i vurma) ... ("fall, leaves, and cover me [cover all trace] ...") or loli muri čugni, parni muri gaži ("my whip is red, my wife is white").

The male/female singer usually addresses a certain person, for example a member of the family, who is also directly named in the lyrics, e.g. De žavtar, mamo, a lumasa ... ("I go into the world, mother ..."), or Jaj, pi tu, Guran, mulatino ... ("Drink, Guran, celebrate ..."). In addition, the audience is drawn into the performance by spoken inserts between the lines of the songs, which also attract attention to the contents, e.g. apal phendas, šavale ("then he said, friends"), or haj mir ("and why?"). When sung together with family and friends, the songs often contain allusions to one’s own feelings and personal situation (or those of a member of the audience), which the singer couches in traditional verses or formulae. Although these abstract references to personal experiences or sentiments are not easily understood by people from outside the group, they are perfectly clear to family members and friends. Those present do not only participate in singing, but also react to the individual performance by calls like phen la! ("sing it!"), wishing formulae or comments. [audio illustrationen: Perel tele, čore, tji loli papuča]

In terms of both form and style, function and contents, the slow song of the Vlach Roma is comparable to the hallgató song type of the Ungrika Roma (Hungary and Slovakia) and the Servika Roma (Slovakia and the Czech Republic). Slow, lyric songs in parlando rubato are also sung amongst Vlach Roma groups in Romania and the border areas of Yugoslavia, e.g. Romanian Kalderaš and Džambas in Transylvania and Banat as well as Serbian Banatoske Roma. Those songs may also consist of four-line verses, but not necessarily with a fixed number of syllables. Their melodies, however, are based on "modal" scales typical of the regional folk music.


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 Soro ratji mulatino – I will celebrate the whole night
Image Sumnakuni phurt keradem – I had a golden bridge built
Image Perel tele, čore, tji loli papuča – Your red shoe, girl, shall fall