Carol Silverman
Intersectionality and Balkan Romani Activism: Musicians Respond to Xenophobia

In the last decade there has been an alarming rise of xenophobic,racist, corrupt, and authoritarian leaders and parties in the Balkans. Neo-fascist politicians specifically target Roma, labelling them criminal, foreign, and dangerous. Demographic panic causes alarm about Romani women’s birth rates; Muslim Roma are presumedto be terrorists; and neo-Nazis call for the defense of “European white Christian normalcy” on marches in state capitols. How are Romani musicians responding to violence, evictions, and discrimination? Investigating recent media in Bulgaria, Serbia, Kosovo,and North Macedonia I ask: what forms have Romani projects taken, who produces them, why and how, and what affectdo they have? In short, what are the challenges in merging activism and Romani music? Meriting a deeper analysis than merely “protest songs,” activism emerges in texts and images as well as declaring identity in non-stereotypical ways, managingyour own career, or changing unequal structures of music production.

One trend is NGOs sponsorship.For example, a music video with the same lyrics in Serbia, North Macedonia and Bulgaria was part of the Proud Roma project, designed to encourage Roma to declare their ethnicity in the census. A second trend is the emergence of new genres such as rap combinedwith gender activism. Sponsored by the Serbian/British NGO Gypsy Roma Urban Balkan Beats (GRUBB) the all-female hip hop group Pretty Loud won public attention in 2020. With their striking clips depicting oppression of Romani women by both Romani men and non-Romanisociety, Pretty Loud strives for female empowerment through education and independence. I compare these NGO projects to those of folkpop celebrities, using Bulgarian examples from Azis and Roksana. Finally, I contrast celebrities tol grassroots activist musicians. My larger framework encompasses issues of race, ethnicity, class, and gender that artists negotiate in dealing with Romani performative identities during this dangerous period of increasing ethnonationalism.


Carol Silverman has been involved with Balkan music and culture for over forty years as a researcher, teacher, performer, and activist. An award-winningProfessor Emerita of cultural anthropology and folklore at the University of Oregon, she focuses on Balkan music, festivals, cultural policy, and human rights issues among Roma. Based on fieldwork in Bulgaria, North Macedonia, Serbia, New York, and WesternEurope, her research analyzes the relationship among music, politics, ritual and gender. Her 2012 book  Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora (Oxford), won the book prize from the Society for Ethnomusicology, and her 2021 book Balkanology(Bloomsbury) traces the politics and artistry of Bulgarian wedding music. Her numerous articles analyze the globalization of “Gypsy” music, specifically its performance, consumption and production in relation to issues ofrepresentation and appropriation. She works with the US NGO Voice of Roma, is curator for Balkan music for international digital RomArchive, and is a professional vocalistand teacher of Balkan music.