- «Σαχά ισί βαρό νι νάι»: Ρόμικες μουσικές και χορευτικές ταυτότητες στη Μακεδονία (Χρήστος Παπακώστας) [“We have nettles but no flour”: Roma music and dance identities in Macedonia] by Christos Papakostas
Recent ethnomusicology research reflects an increased engagement of the Roma in the construction and documentation of their history, identity, and cultural space. Primary examples include Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia by Richard Blau et al. (2002; reviewed by Holst-Warhaft 2004) and Carol Silverman’s Romani Routes: Cultural Politics and Balkan Music in Diaspora (2012). Both texts incorporate first-person narratives and ethnographic research to frame Roma identity construction as an ongoing social process, with special consideration given to the complex cultural negotiations of musicians operating in diverse contexts of considerable discrimination and prejudice.
«Σαχά ισί βαρό νι νάι»: Ρόμικες μουσικές και χορευτικές ταυτότητες στη Μακεδονία (“We have nettles but no flour”: Roma music and dance identities in Macedonia) by Christos Papakostas is a welcome contribution to this growing bibliography. Viewing collective identity formation through the lens of music and dance, Papakostas offers an engaging ethnographic analysis of the Roma community of Iraklia in Northern Greece. He suggests that Roma musicians cultivate a remarkable ability to traverse sociocultural boundaries and shape their cultural identity by negotiating with the contextual Other—the diverse audience for whom they perform. Framing identity as process, Papakostas [End Page 413] engages Bourdieu’s theory of practice to position music and dance as a process through which Roma musicians construct their cultural identity. Though he does not use this term, the author suggests that music and dance function as a kind of cultural “counter-map” (Peluso 1995), an arena for the Roma to advance alternative notions of identity and place.
The book is organized into nine chapters. These are prefaced by an extended Introduction that contains well-researched theoretical background for the text. The first three chapters that follow provide a detailed historical and ethnographic account of the Iraklia Roma community, focusing on the collective memory of the destruction of Tzumaya, their former town, during World War I. Papakostas suggests that in the ethnically diverse and segregated Tzumayan marketplace, the Roma used music to traverse social boundaries. Transitioning to postwar reconstruction, Papakostas notes the exclusion of the Roma from important decisions about the new town, ranging from its name—now Iraklia—to the character of its physical and imagined space. He again understands music as a crucial instrument for Roma participation in the rapid evolution of the sociocultural landscape marked by an increasingly dominant sense of Greek identity.
Chapters 4 and 5 provide discussion of the musical practices of the Roma. In these chapters, the reader learns of the delicate social relations between Roma musicians and the diverse ethnic communities for which they provide musical entertainment. Power, status, and prestige are at play as the Roma musicians enter various communities as welcomed paid entertainers. Papakostas posits that although their relationship with their customers is filled with contradictions—he provides a long list of paradoxes that shape these relationships—Roma musicians performing in these contexts maintain an exceptional power. Wielding music of significant symbolic capital, they harness the romanticized notion of the talented Roma musician while distancing themselves from the derogatory perspectives of the γύφτος (gypsy; 179) and τσιγγάνοι (Tsinganoi, wandering gypsies; 224). Papakostas notes their effect on audiences, as well, suggesting that Roma musicians also contribute to shaping the music and identity of the various communities they visit. This is certainly an excellent ethnographic demonstration of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural practice.
Dance is the focus of Chapters 6–9 (211–298). In these chapters, Papakostas examines dance both as a local pastime within the mahala (Roma quarter) and as a professional activity in diverse contexts. Like music, dance is understood as an arena in which the Roma experience notions of cultural superiority: the Roma, Papakostas suggests, imagine themselves as better dancers than the neighboring Vlachs or Tsinganoi, which contributes to their engaging [End Page 414] dance as a means of shaping a positive Roma identity. The central context for this discussion is the wedding as festive dance event. Incorporating the notion of the dancescape, Papakostas...