Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Stroll through the Roma Quarter of Vranje

Roma Quarter
Our next destination was the Roma quarter, inhabited by the city’s Roma, or gypsy population. Although the homes were much more substantial than the shack dwellings in Belgrade that I typically associated with the Roma, you could definitely tell when you entered into this quarter. Here the homes were painted in bright colors, with laundry strung everywhere. Void of any walls or fences, everything happened out in the open. Sheep were slaughtered right on the sidewalk, laundry washed, and mothers nursing. Older women wearing bold combinations of patterns sat on the steps, smoking. Men sat just inside the doorway, playing cards taking advantage of the natural light. A wagonload of pigs was driven down the main street, pulled by a small hand-maneuvered tractor. Radio music including Roma violin music filled the air.

In the middle of the Trg Slobode (freedom square) was a tall bronze statue of the most famous Roma trumpeter of Vranje. For some reason, folded carpets were placed around the base. A stocky Roma man with alcohol on his breath approached us, concerned that we were reporters. Reassuring him that we were not, the man relaxed after Pat continued conversing with him. He then invited us to come back to Vranje on May 6th to celebrate the slava (religious “birthday” of the Roma patron saint) with his family. The man explained that people were spring cleaning their homes in preparation for the event, hence the extra amount of shoes and other items found outside. Politely declining an offer for coffee, we moved onwards.

Old Hammam
Heading down the hill towards the city center, we went past the Old Hamam. Built at the end of the 17th century, this small brick and stone building with multiple small sloped square terracotta roofs housed only one bathtub, used by both men and women. We heard that it had been turned into a discothèque that was now closed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hvala lepo for your wonderful mini-travelogue about Vranje.

It brought back many happy memories. I traveled with the NY-based Zlatne Uste Balkan Brass Band to Vranje/Vranjska Banja in 2003 and 2005 -- the band was studying with two of the famous Romani brass bands from the area at the time. And I fell in love with the two towns.

I am pleased that the statue of trumpeter Bakija Bakic was finally erected. There was a bit of a debate at the time over whether it should be placed in Trg Sloboda -- in the Rom mahala (neighborhood) -- or in the downtown. I'm more than a little disappointed though, that his monument remains only 'uptown' in the mahala where he lived.

As the first South Serbian Rom trumpeter and bandleader to attain wide acceptance throughout Serbia at the Guca festival, Bakic was a kind of Balkan Louis Armstrong and an early ambassador of Rom music to the rest of Serbia.

Since his time,Romani brass music has been 'discovered' and popularized through Kusturica's films and Bregovic's musical productions, and over the last several years, through the international tours of Romani orchestras such as Boban Markovic's. Romani brass is probably one of Serbia's most important exports.

Bakic's compositions are still loved and played by many throughout the country. And this music continues to influence a new generation of musicians in Serbia and around the world.

His orchestra still lives through distinguished descendants (the Mamutovic/Mladenovic families), and other family members continue to perform in other acclaimed orchestras in the Vranje region. Even young Serbian non-Roma bands are also now playing Roma 'cocek' repertoire.

Bakic should be honored for his cultural contributions, not only in the Rom community of Vranje, but as a regional and national treasure.