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Cheat Sheet

Cheat Sheet: Gypsy Punk, Pop and Hip-Hop

by Rachel Devitt

Cheat Sheet: Gypsy Punk, Pop and Hip-Hop


What do belching brass lines and thrashing guitar licks have in common? How about jovial Balkan wedding bands and drunken, debauched N.Y.C. punks? Well, actually, quite a lot (and not all of it has to do with Eugene Hutz, Elijah Wood or Borat).

The Gypsy punk movement not only marries all these seemingly disparate, cross-cultural elements, but it also underscores how much they really had in common all along. At its simplest, Gypsy punk is just what it says: punked-up takes on and rock 'n' roll covers of traditional Roma (the culturally appropriate name for Gypsy people and culture) music, ranging from the brass-and-sass of Balkan bands to the sweet, sad fiddles of Klezmer. The reason the hybrid works so well, however, is that Roma music has been pretty punk since long before that term even existed. Traveling migratory paths that most likely began in South Asia, Roma peoples and cultures have dispersed throughout Europe and the world and yet rarely found a home. Whether they've followed a traditionally nomadic lifestyle or have planted roots, Roma people have been subject to, at best, terrible racism and, at worst, cultural and political persecution.

Like punk, Roma music is the music of a people dispossessed, misunderstood and, thus, often fierce and insular. Like punk, then, it is scrappy, at times angry and bitter, and at other times plaintive and passionate. While much of Roma music is more virtuosic and musically complex than punk was originally supposed to be, both genres share a penchant for wild, raucous and, well, rock 'n' roll aesthetics and attitudes. Gypsy punk today is itself both a musical and cultural-geographical diaspora: it extends throughout Europe and the United States. And the term, while referring to a good deal of actual punk-influenced music, also encompasses hybridized styles that are more philosophically punk, including Roma and Roma-influenced dance pop, hip-hop and rock.

April 8 is International Roma Day, a worldwide celebration of Roma culture, history and people. In honor of this auspicious occasion, we've compiled this little guide to just one small aspect of the incredibly rich Roma culture. Get to know the wide, wild spectrum of Gypsy punk.