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«These Songs Tell About Our Life, You See»

Music, Identity and Gender in Finnish Romani Music

Kai Åberg

Based on intensive fieldwork among the Finnish Roma, the Kaale, between 1995 and 2015, this book explores their traditional songs. It presents an introduction to the subject of traditional Romani music and offers different interpretations of how the Roma themselves produce meaning for the songs. Performing the music is not a repetition of heritage – instead, the meanings of the songs are aimed at different contexts of everyday life in various musical practices. They not only maintain a community spirit, but also underline gender identity or create a boundary with the majority population.
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4. The Traditional Music of the Finnish Roma


4.  The Traditional Music of the Finnish Roma

There is no uniform Romani music in world (Silverman 2012; Kutenkov 2003; Sárosi 1971) and the international term “Gypsy music” comes from Franz Liszt (Kovalcsik 2003: 86). In many countries “Gypsy music” is first defined as a particular interpretation style, and only secondly by a repertoire (Radilescu 2003: 82). In Finland a traditional music of the Finnish Roma can be easily recognized and distinguished both via repertoire and interpretation style from non-Roma performances (see also Pettan 2002: 224).

In Finland, as elsewhere in the world, the starting point for the study of Romani music is generally its division into the private and public spheres (cf. e.g. Hemetek 1994; Kovalcsik 2003: 85; Radulescu 2003: 79; Blomster 2012: 290; Åberg 2002; Åberg & Blomster 2006: 97). At the same time the variety of “Gypsy music” reflects the diversity of Romani groups in general. In Finland, the public sphere of Romani music has consisted of the religious Roma groups, groups performing international Romani music, such as Hortto Kaalo and Anneli Sari, Kai Palm & Romales, and numerous tango singers and pop artists (Saska Helmikallio, Dimitri Sjöberg, Rainer Friman, Rainer Bollström, Taisto Tammi, Amadeus Lundberg etc.). Music-making in private or within society includes traditional Romani songs. Although the musical interaction between these categories is constant, music performed by the Finnish Roma can be roughly classified divided as follows.

Figure 7: Conceptual diads related to music performed by...

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