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And speaking of the “Gypsy Nightingale” Sofi Marinova To Represent Bulgaria in Eurovision 2012, I recently stumbled upon a very interesting documentary series from the UK, Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.

The series follow several gypsy families as they plan their daughters’ weddings and offers commentaries about this ethnic group’s traditions regarding interaction between the genders, family values, educating the youth, choosing a house, and so on. The 5-episode series aired for the first time in 2011 on Channel  4  ( on TLC in North America under the name My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding). The second episode got 8.7 million viewers, giving Channel 4 the highest ratings since Big Brother. Check out the series on YouTube:

 

The show distinguishes between Irish Traveler and British Romani Gypsies. What is fascinating to me is that these two communities seem completely different from the Easter European gypsies. So I made a little investigation:

There are three types or lines of Gypsies that emigrated from their land of origin in today’s Pakistan during three exoduses in the period 1000-1400s AD: Domari, the Egyptian and Middle Eastern Gypsies; Lomavren, the central gypsies of Armenia and Turkey, and Romani, who made their way to the Byzantine Empire, through the southern Balkans (Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Moldova, Hungary etc) and now populate all of Europe. The Gypsies have always been a semi-nomadic cultural group with their own language (and sixty dialects) and religion.

The Irish Travelers, which the TV series also focuses on, on the other hand, are not from the same Indian ethnic origin as Gypsies, but they share a similar nomadic background and do not mind being called Gypsies. Travellers are of Irish origin, populate Ireland, the UK, and USA, and have their own language and traditions, but are often put under common denominator with Gypsies because of their similar lifestyle.

I personally had never seen Gypsies in the light in which Big Fat Gypsy Weddings present them!  There seem to be striking differences between the living conditions and lifestyles of Western European and Easter European gypsies. On one hand, this is normal because there are such differences between Western and Eastern European countries in general. On the other hand, it really disturbed me to see that even the most ostracized and marginal community in Europe seems to be so much better off in  the West than in the East.   

The TV shows portrays Gypsies (Romani and Travellers) as a group with ostentatious sense of fashion, yet a very conservative worldview that is driven by a very strict moral code. UK gypsies may be over-the-top and hardly compatible with the “settled community”, but their culture seems fascinatingly rich. Thus,  UK Gypsies seem worlds apart from Eastern Europeans gypsies.  

The majority of Bulgarian and Romanian gypsies  live in poor conditions in the outskirts of the cities or in very poor villages (there are exceptions of course). In the countryside, their main occupation is shepherds or day-laborers. In the cities, they often collect metal for scrap, clean cars at traffic lights, beg, or pickpocket.  None of the Gypsy slums I have seen in Eastern Europe look like the nice houses portrayed in the British series. Like in the UK, Bulgarian gypsy families are large but mainly because girls give birth at a very young age and have many, many children.

Regarding their sense of style, I have never seen Bulgarian gypsies dressed as flashy and colorful as the Travellers in the UK in their daily life (except for a wedding, as the video below demonstrates).  Our gypsies usually wear clothes that they find or that are given to them, or very cheap clothes sold in bulk – so they look more like shabby street urchins than like provocative fashion divas. They would rarely be able to afford buying new dresses for each wedding they attend like their UK counterparts. Our gypsies do, however, put on make-up sometimes and often bleach their hair – and this applies both to boys and girls. Therefore, in Bulgaria we have a saying “dressed as a gypsy”, which might mean very scruffy and ragged, but might also mean  flamboyant to the point of looking ridiculous.

Bulgarian gypsy weddings are, similarly, a great celebration for the community, but in a very different, much less glamorous way. They usually include an orchestra (often times with a dancing bear), the entire village/neighborhood as guests, and a lot of bargaining and arranging the marriages of the next daughters in line. Compare this video from a Bulgarian gypsy wedding (notice the surrounding – this is the gypsy quarter in Stara Zagora) to the UK series and tell me what other striking differences do you notice?

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You Might Also Find Interesting: 

On The Gypsy Riots in Bulgaria from October 2011

Goran Bregovic Plays for Balkan Unity in Sofia

Gypsies in Sofia: FUNNY PICTURE

The Bulgarian English Wedding

The Polish Bulgarian Wedding,  Or Who Can Drink More: Polish or Bulgarian? 

When Marriage Stops Seeming So Far Away


The Gypsy Pearl of Bulgarian Pop-folk, Sofi Marinova, will represent us at Eurovision 2012

My favorite time of the year is coming closer! It’s time for Eurovision 2012, the pan-European music contest! It has been such a roller coaster for Bulgaria in the past six years!

We were on the way to greatness in 2007 with Elitsa and Stoyan Yankoulov (with were fifth woohoo!); then in 2008 I was sort of positive about Deep Zone coming up with their very catchy “DJ Take Me Away”; I had to close my eyes in 2009; in 2010 I put all my fate with my all-time-favorite Miro, and then in 2011 I was hoping that the European voters with find Poli Genova at least cute, but now…   now, I’m simply desperate by our choice of representative.

Bulgaria’s 2012 Eurovision contestant is Sofi Marinova with “Love Unlimited”. Don’t get me wrong, Sofi Marinova has an amazing voice and her songs become instant hits, but I think that this one is simply not one of them. Plus, her singing and image are… how can I put it… too Bulgarian for the average European taste (remember, the whole of Europe will vote for their favorite singers in the contest). But Sofi Marinova was elected during Eurovision’s national level finals on Feb 29th. She competed against 12 other Bulgarian singers and earned her title via a combination of jury and viewers’ text message votes. As you can tell, we Bulgarians love our gypsy chalga rhythms.

Sofi Marinova, also called “the gypsy pearl” or “the gypsy nightingale”, is a Bulgarian pop-folk singer of gypsy (Roma) background. She has a phenomenal 5-octave vocal range and is one of our top chalga singers. In her personal life, she is notorious for giving a son to her husband, then divorcing him, and getting with this ex-husband’s other son… but she’s cool otherwise 🙂

Instead of showing you her Eurovision song, I’ll show you my favorite duet of Sofi and Ustata . Of course, it’s a typical chalga video with very intelligent lyrics:

I don’t think she will reach the finals, but I’ll be crossing fingers anyways! Eurovision 2012 will take place on May 22, 24, and 26 in Baku, Azerbaijan.

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More on Eurovision and Chalga:

Eurovision 2011: Poli Genova Urges Young Bulgarians to Stay

Bulgaria’s Heart Breaker Miro Will Compete in Eurovision 2010

Sex and Watermelons in Bulgarian Pop Culture

BBC Close-Up: Bulgarian Pop Folk


An article in The Economist from October 8th spoke of “a week of racially charged rioting” in Bulgaria. I want to use this post as an opportunity to refute this article.

The problem as I see it is that last week, a crime occurred in Bulgaria, which raised a debate about a social issue. The Economist inaccurately interpreted it as a racial issue.

The palace of the gypsy mobster Tsar Kiro

These are the facts: for the last three years, there had been a feud between two families in the Bulgarian village of Katunitza, near the city of Plovidv. The feud culminated on September 23rd with the murder of a 19-year-old member of one of the rival families. So far, the issue seems completely criminal.

The matter became more complicated when the entire village, enraged by the brutality of the murder, rose to a violent protest against the family of the killer: the villagers threw stones and bricks at the mansions of the assassin’s kin, set one of the houses on fire, and completely destroyed a few of their luxury cars. The two families, the villagers, and the police got involved in the turbulence, and several people were severely hurt.

Angry village sets Tsar Kiro's house on fire

Let me explain why an entire village would rise against a single family. This particular family clan is that of Kiril Rashkov, or as he calls himself, Tsar Kiro. Tsar Kiro is a well-known criminal who built an empire producing and selling fake alcohol. He is filthy rich (thus his mansion and luxury cars in a village near Plovidv), and is obviously involved with corruption since he has not been put in jail yet. He has been arrested for owning fake alcohol distilleries several times and has numerous charges for illegally acquiring property. Tsar Kiro is, therefore, one of those filthy rich gangsters who think that they stand above the law and can do anything without worrying about the consequences. Unfortunately, this is a very typical phenomenon for Bulgaria and the Balkans in general.

The riots in Katunitza occurred because Tsar Kiro and his mobster clan had been terrorizing the village unpunished for many years – it so happened that the recent brutal, insolent murder broke the camel’s back.  Therefore, the reasons behind the riot were social: it was a reaction to an impudent reign of crime.

Peaceful protests against the police's tendency to close eyes before crime

And now, let’s get to the racial aspect of the issue. Tsar Kiro and his family are gypsies – or Roma, call it as you wish. He calls himself a “king” but in fact he has never helped “his people”. He is as far from the poor, deprived gypsies as any rich Bulgarian criminal would be – he lives in palaces while they live in the slums, and he does not give a dime about them. The 19-year-old victim of the feud was indeed a Bulgarian boy, but he wasn’t killed because of his race but because he threatened to bring a case against Tsar Kiro to court. Thus, the tension in Katunitza was of social, not racial nature.

It is ironic that during the unrest, the police was protecting Tsar Kiro’s property instead of defending the taxpayers, but this is a different matter.

The news about the events in Katunitza of course evoked various reactions. Many people from different cities around the country went out peacefully demonstrating in the streets as a sign of support for the villagers. In several places, these demonstrations were headed by an extremist Neo-Nazi group called Ataka: they raised anti-Roma slogans and tried to create calamities in Roma neighborhoods, but were quickly stopped by the police. The latter short-lived anti-Roma demonstrations expressed the views of one single group of people and by no means the views of the general population or of the entire Bulgaria.

Therefore, dear Economist, we are talking about a crime and a social issue, but not about ethnic tension in Bulgaria. 


Goran Bregovic‘s performance at the Balkan Music Awards 2011 took place in Alexander Batemberg Square in Sofia and  finished an hour ago!

The Balkan Music Awards featured performances by top singers from Greece, Serbia, Romania, Turkey, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria . There was also a stage appearance by the queen of roma music and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Esma Redzhepova.

The concert culminated with the sounds of the enigmatic Balkan musician Goran Bregovic and his Weddings and Funerals Orchestra! His first song was called “Presidente, halo!” and the second, a collaboration between him and Gypsy Kings, “Balkanjeros”.  The entire crowd went wild! Everyone was dancing! It was a true celebration of the Balkan spirit!

However, the event didn’t go entirely perfect. Only minutes before Goran Bregovic came up on stage and announced that he was dedicating his pieces to his beloved roma people, a fight between roma and Bulgarian boys had erupted near where I stood. I don’t know which gang provoked the conflict, and luckily the police intervened (although with quite a delay), but it was still very unpleasant to see signs of ethnic tension during a show that was meant to unite the peoples from the Balkans.

Keep making your music Goran because it transcends differences and connects people!

This video is not from tonight, but this is the Balkanjeros song, so enjoy!


Notice the EU flag in the distance

Having been in Boston for the past six months, I had almost forgotten this idyllic sight: a gypsy family in a horse cart driving along with cars and public transport on major streets in our beautiful capital. In Bulgarian, a horse cart is called каруца [car-oo-tza].

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