Šaban Bajramović (1936-2008)

June 26, 2008 at 12:07 am

Šaban Bajramović, one of the greatest musicians of our time, has died in poverty in the Serbian city of Niš. International and British newspapers (The Independent, The Times), have picked up on the news with about two weeks delay, and there are now obituaries in various languages that talk of his importance, like the one in Global Voices, which is also translated in Spanish. Some, as one can be expected, highlight more the extremely picturesque (and exotic) aspects of his life, thus somewhat failing to make the point of the importance of his music. So let me reiterate here: this man is one of the most important natural musical talents I have ever come across, I can never tire of listening to songs such as Djelem, djelem or Maki, maki.

In addition, Šaban Bajramović is the prototype of such memorable film characters like the whte-suited ‘godfather’ Ahmed from Emir Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies (played there by cult figure Bora Todorović), and some of the most extremely exoticized Gypsy characters in Black Cat White Cat. It is widely believed that Šaban remains the uncredited lifeline supplying the stories, the images and the sounds on which the phenomenal success of Kusturica and Bregović’s Gypsy-themed work has been built.

In cinema he appeared in the role of the Roma boy’s father in Goran Paskaljevc’s Guardian Angel (1987), a film which is believed to have had triggered the making of Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies, and a smaller role in Macedonian Stole Popov’s Gypsy Magic (1997). These roles are listed on the imdb. But the fact that Šaban Bajramović is not credited as a musician here is a serious omission.

There are now numerous In Memoriam clips for Šaban to be found on YouTube. I thought that this one was really impressive.

Here is Maki, maki. Like it is often the case, there appears to be no live recording of Šaban performing it, and the image we see is from the CD on which the song is being distributed. The only name visible is the one of Goran Bregović, who made Šaban’s music internationally known (but who was also often accused of appropriating it without giving proper credit to the musician).

And here is Šaban himself singing one of his well-known songs, Maruska, which he has been performing in different variations on some of Bregovic’s CD’s. The person who posted the clip has only provided a line of text: Farewell to the King!

Amazon.com carries three CD’s with authentic Šaban Bajramović songs, all with titles relying on exotic allusions, such as Gypsy King & Drunkard, Gypsy Legend, and Gypsy King of Serbia.

© Dina Iordanova
26 June 2008

‘Gitano’ plagiarism?

June 25, 2008 at 12:33 am

Spain, a few years ago. Well-known Spanish writer Juan Madrid made a plagiarism complaint against Spain’s highest-paid novelist, Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

According to Madrid, Pérez-Reverte’s screenplay for Gitano (Gypsy, Spain, 2000, dir. Manuel Palacios), starring French model Laetitia Casta, had been lifted from a script for a project he had planned with an Argentinean partner but never materialized, a film that was to be called Gitana: Corazones de púrpura (Gypsy Woman: Hearts of Purple). The resemblance between the two scripts, the claimant insisted, was simply too close, suggesting that one was based, at least in part, on the other. Both films were tales of crime and passion set in the murky Gitano underworld; in each story the protagonist would be involved in vendettas after his release from jail, he would then clash with resentful police, and would have his troubles finally resolved through the idiosyncratic yet just Roma patriarch-ruled kriss tribunal. In addition, the protagonist would recover from the betrayal of a treacherous lover by falling in love with a fervent flamenco dancer, suitably called Lola in either case.

The plagiarism complaint was soon dismissed. ‘The only common feature which makes the two scripts comparable’ a statement read, ‘is their interest in the Gypsy world,’ the court concluded. The excessive similarities were explained away as having been of ‘genre’ nature.

The plagiarism showdown is yet another episode illustrating the tenacity of those basic elements that have survived obstinately over the years as key tropes of the ‘Gypsy’ film. Both writers had, once again, applied the stereotypes of the ‘Gypsy genre’ – passionate love, hot blood, trouble with the law, and so on. Both scripts were telling stories of poor, passionate and freedom-loving Gypsies who end up in self-destruction. In the context of this overarching narrative, most of the traditional romanticised ‘Gypsy’ representations reproduce one another anyhow.

Whatever the plot details, the typical ‘Gypsy’ narrative revolves around presumptions about what ‘true’ Gypsies are like. They live an exciting lifestyle, infatuated by all-consuming passions and inhabiting a microcosm populated by freewheeling sensual women and men who make love in open-air, thus turning even the most miserable environment into a setting full of high-spirited splendor.

The ‘Gitano’ plagiarism story suggests that nothing much has changed in recent representational patterns related to the Roma; they still move within the age-old stereotypes from the pre-romantic era and remain as exploitative as all those older literary and cinematic texts analyzed so well in the work of Katie Trumpener (‘The Time of the Gypsies: A ‘People without History’ in the Narratives of the West.’ In: Identities, ed. Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (eds.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1995, pp 338-380).

© Dina Iordanova
25 June 2008