...A welcome and overdue return.
Jon Lusk 2007
Crowned ‘Queen of the Gypsies’ by Indira Gandhi and twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, Esma Redžepova has been a star in her native Macedonia since the late 1950s. She’s probably best known to international audiences for albums on the Dutch label World Connection as well as Germany’s Network,
whose wonderful 1999 compilation, Gypsy Queens, has her most celebrated work of recent years. This new album for the same company is cut from a similar cloth, and even if Redžepova’s passionate, wailing melismas aren’t quite as powerful as they were then, she’s aging with grace.
Redžepova brings new meaning to the expression ‘family band’; with her late husband, long-term musical partner and ‘discoverer’ Stevo Teodosievski, this big-hearted woman adopted 47 Roma orphans. It’s from this pool of musical talent that her band has long been drawn. First and foremost is chief songwriter Simeon Atanasov, who often shadows Esma’s vocals with a harmony line on his accordion. Zahir Ramadabov weaves snaking clarinet solos into pieces like “Duripe”, and trumpeter Bilhan Macev is equally impressive here and elsewhere. Their skills are best heard on the two punchy, upbeat instrumentals, “Romano Chocheko” – full of playful tempo changes and an uncredited brass band – and “Roma Dance”, a popular wedding tune. “Ljubovna” chugs along in tricky but jolly 5/8 time, exemplifying the Macedonian love
of addictively lurching asymmetrical rhythms that tend to wrong-foot the tourists.
Though much of Gypsy Carpet consists of mid-tempo dance pieces, driven along by the thump and clatter of Tekirovski Sevim’s tapan drum, Esma’s wonderfully heartfelt singing is most effectively showcased on the slower pieces like “Devel Upral Dikhela” and the halting “Javera Cumingan”. Unfortunately it’s followed by the dirgey ballad “So Maki Sum Se Rodila”, featuring choral-style male backing vocals which overdo the cheese factor. Some might feel the same way about Sevim Sasanovski’s electric keyboards (used to imitate kanun, etc) but compared with synthetic Balkan alternatives like ‘turbofolk’, this music is positively rootsy. Overall, a welcome and overdue return.