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19th century print of Romani musicians
Romani musicians at a wedding in the Czech Republic in 2005

Romani music (often referred to as Gypsy (or gipsy) music, which the Romani consider a derogatory term and would never use to describe themselves) is the music of the Romani people, who have their origins in Northern India, but live today mostly in Europe.

Typically nomadic, the Romani people have long acted as wandering entertainers and tradesmen. In all the places Romanies live they have become known as musicians. The wide distances travelled have introduced a multitude of influences, starting with Indian roots and adding Greek, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Czech, Slavic, Romanian, German, French, Spanish and Celtic touches.

Romani music characteristically has vocals that tend to be soulful and declamatory, and the music often incorporates prominent glissandi (slides) between notes. Instrumentation varies widely according to the region the music comes from.

There is a strong tradition of Romani music in Central and Eastern Europe, notably in countries such as Hungary, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. The quintessentially Spanish flamenco is to a very large extent the music (and dance, or indeed the culture) of the Romani people of Andalusia.

Apart from Romani music for local use, in Eastern Europe a separate Romani music originated for entertainment in restaurants, parties, etc. This music drew its themes from Hungarian, Rumanian, Russian and other sources of Romani origin, but was more sophisticated and became enormously popular in places like Budapest and Vienna. Later on it gained popularity in Western Europe in cities like Paris, Berlin, Brussels, The Hague, many Romani orchestras could be heard, playing their sophisticated melodies of East European origin.


Original Romani music

Original Romani folksongs - not derived from the countries where the Romani live - are relatively rare. This particular folk music is mainly vocal and consist of slow plaintive songs and fast melodies to be used with dancing.
The fast melodies are accompanied with tongue-clacking, handclapping, mouth-basses, clicking of wooden spoons, etc. [1].

Country-related music

Most Romani music is based on the folksongs of the countries where the Romani went through or settled. These local melodies were adopted and performed – usually instrumental – in a typical gypsy style so that a new genre was born.
Among these the Hungarian version became most known, however, examples of Romani music in other countries exist as well and will be dealt below.



Spanish Romani music is widely known across the world, having been popularized as flamenco. Flamenco was born in Andalucia and was only linked with Romanies some time after the genre evolved. Flamenco is associated with the Romani people of Spain (Gitanos) and quite a number of famous flamenco artists are of this ethnicity. Flamenco has been linked with Indian Classical dance, notably Kathak.


Due to the large Romani population in Bulgaria, this ethnic group's music is very popular. It is also a part of the roots of chalga music, which is widely played at dances and parties in Bulgaria.


The Lăutari were traditional Romani musicians, playing at various events (Weddings, funerals, etc). The lăutarească music is an important part of the Romanian traditional music. The manele genre became very popular in Romania and it's promoted mostly by Romani ethnic musicians.


A pair of folk musicians in Kalkan, Turkey

Romani people are known throughout Turkey for their musicianship. Their urban music brought echoes of classical Turkish music to the public via the meyhane or taverna. This type of fasıl music (a style, not to be confused with the fasıl form of classical Turkish music) with food and alcoholic beverages is often associated with the underclass of Turkish society, though it also can be found in more respectable establishments in modern times.

Romanis have also influenced the fasıl itself. Played in music halls, the dance music (oyun havası) required at the end of each fasıl has been incorporated with Ottoman rakkas or belly dancing motifs. The rhythmic ostinato accompanying the instrumental improvisation (ritimli taksim) for the belly-dance parallels that of the classical gazel, a vocal improvisation in free rhythm with rhythmic accompaniment. Popular musical instruments in this kind of fasıl are the clarinet, violin, kanun, and darbuka. Clarinetist Mustafa Kandıralı is a well known fasıl musician.

Western Europe

The sophisticated music of the Romani orchestras that visited Western Europe became popular in the second half of the 19th century and had its heydays from the 1920’s onwards to about 1960. But even today this music is popular. The tours of Rajkó-orchestras – featuring young Romani-musicians – added much to its popularity. The Rajkó boys were both endearing and virtuoso, a combination that enchanted the public.

The cimbalom, unknown to the Western music, added its characteristic sound to the violins played in a Romani style. Its music was highly regarded in restaurants, nightclubs, parties and on-stage concert-performances and flourished in elegant towns like Paris, Berlin, Brussels, The Hague, etc. Romani virtuoso like Bela Babai, Lajos Veres, the many members of the Lakatos family and others became famous. Nowadays the names of Roby Lakatos, Buffo Sandor and Sandor Jaroka † still are household names for the Western connoisseurs of this type of music.

The Western public regarded this genre as a counterpart of that other Romani-related music: Gypsy jazz. They regarded it as a typical gypsy style: a fine specimen of Romani culture. In their Westeuropean languages they valued it as “Gypsy music”, “Musique tsigane”, “Zigeunermusik”, etc., see the article Gypsy style.

See also


  • Broughton, Simon, "Kings and Queens of the Road". 2000. In Broughton, Simon and Ellingham, Mark with McConnachie, James and Duane, Orla (Ed.), World Music, Vol. 1: Africa, Europe and the Middle East, pp 146–158. Rough Guides Ltd, Penguin Books. ISBN 1-85828-636-0
  • Balint Sarosi, "Zigeunermusik" (Gypsy music), Budapest 1970, in English, German, Hungarian
  1. ^ Zigeunermusik, Balint Sarosi, Budapest 1970, in English, German and Hungarian edition, see chapter 3


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