Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora by Carol Silverman (review)
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Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora. By Carol Silverman. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. ix + 398, figures and charts, acknowledgments, notes on transliteration, about the companion website, notes, references, index.)

Romani Routes examines Balkan Romani music making in diaspora as complex practices that negotiate Romani identity and social relations in contexts of racial prejudice, global capitalism, and transnational migrations. The book discusses how the discrimination the Roma experience in Europe, and face as immigrants in the United States, has impacted their music. Always combining her “thick description” and analysis of Romani music performances, styles, and genres with a discussion of the marginalization and oppression that Romani people have endured historically, Carol Silverman makes a long overdue and important contribution to a wide range of fields, including folklore studies, Romani studies, performance studies, ethnology, anthropology, and music.

This rich ethnographic study focuses on the Balkan Romani diaspora in the Bronx, New York, as well as its Macedonian and Bulgarian connections. It is informed by four decades of fieldwork that Silverman conducted with Romani [End Page 116] communities in the United States, Bulgaria, and Macedonia. Her research involved participant observation of Romani musicians’ everyday lives both in diaspora and at home in the Balkans, music festivals and performances, and Romani rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), as well as interviews conducted with her Romani participants. Silverman learned to speak several Romani dialects, sang Balkan and Romani music, and performed and recorded CDs with a Bronx Romani band. She also analyzed media representations of Romani musicians and, most recently, videos, television programs, and YouTube postings of community and family events and commentaries.

Theoretically sophisticated, Romani Routes adopts an eclectic approach and engages with concepts of hybridity, authenticity, identity, performance and performativity, and diaspora. Silverman examines the ways in which the Balkan Romani musicians simultaneously embrace hybridity by drawing on a variety of commercial world music market genres and styles and also “perform” authenticity through practices that essentialize their identity, culture, and music. In particular, the book examines such negotiations of hybridity and authenticity as complex processes that appropriate, mitigate, subvert, and reinforce stereotypical representations of Romani people—both positive (e.g., musical, passionate, innately talented) and negative (e.g., untrustworthy, thieves, criminals)— in history, popular culture, and everyday life.

Drawing on the theories of performance of Richard Bauman (1975), Dell Hymes (1975), Erving Goffman (1974), and Roger Abraham (1977), Silverman sees Balkan Romani music making as larger performances of cultural meanings inextricably linked to power, race, gender, and class. In line with Judith Butler’s (1990, 1993) theories of gender performativity, she proposes that these performative acts of Roma self-representation need to be understood in relation to questions of Romani agency as constrained by history’s protracted record of Roma persecution. Finally, Silverman considers how the case of the Balkan Roma in New York, with their history of nomadism and purported origins in India, challenges reductionist notions of diaspora as originating in a specific and identifiable homeland and as a cohesive cultural entity.

The book is comprised of 13 chapters. Chapter 1 is an overview of the study’s main theoretical framework, the history of the Balkan Roma and their migration to the United States, and the politics and ethics of conducting ethnographic fieldwork with Romani people. Chapter 2 charts the history of, and dominant attitudes toward, Romani music; analyzes genres and styles of Balkan Romani music; and introduces a number of prominent Romani artists. In chapter 3, Silverman considers how the case of Romani musicians in New York challenges our notions of diaspora, transnationalism, hybridity, and cosmopolitanism, and she discusses Romani rights activists’ efforts at negotiating Romani nationalist identity. The ways in which Balkan Roma in New York maintain their connections to their homeland (i.e., through language and ritual) is the topic of chapter 4. An analysis of Romani celebrations as performances of Romani identity and distinctiveness, and as processes uniting Romani communities, is the focus of chapter 5. Chapter 6 examines Romani dance in relation to gender, status, and the oppression of Roma as people. Chapter 7 looks at the complex relationships of Romani musicians—defined by both resistance and compliance...


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