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Gypsy music

Gypsy music is highly varied among the diverse communities of Gypsies. By far the most popular form of Gypsy music among outsiders is flamenco, which developed in the Spanish Gypsy community. In all the places Gypsies live, in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and northwest India, they have become known as musicians. Typically nomadic, Gypsies have long acted as wandering entertainers and tradesmen. The wide distances travelled have introduced a multitude of influences, using Indian roots and adding Arab, Persian, Slavic, German, French, Spanish and Celtic flourishes.

Gypsy music characteristically has high pitch notes and melodies that outsing the harmonies. Vocals tend to be soulful and declamatory, and the music often produces an exaggerated slide between notes. Instrumentation varies widely, but shawm and drum duos are common across the Gypsies' range.

Though no conclusive proof has been found, most historians believe that Gypsies are descended from an Indian people and migrated westward in several waves, probably all before 1000 AD. Gypsies still live in India, however, in Rajasthan and other areas, and work in multiple castes. These include the puppeteer Bhat, snake charmer Sapera and juggler Kamad castes, as well as Bhopa, Langa and Manganiyar musicians. Rajasthani Gypsy instruments include the kamayacha, a sort of fiddle, and khartal, a kind of castanets.

Gypsies moved west from India, spreading throughout what is now Iran, Iraq, Armenia and other Middle Eastern countries. By 1050, Gypsies are believed to have been playing music in Constantinople. By the end of the 15th century, Gypsies lived in Bulgaria, Egypt, Romania, Hungary, Sudan, Greece and Serbia. From there, they have spread to the remainder of Europe, and now exist in small numbers abroad.

Gypsy communities are common in Arab and Middle Eastern countries, but is often found in southern parts of India as well. There is a strong tradition of Gypsy music in Central and Eastern Europe, notably in countries such as Hungary, Romania and the former Yugoslavia. The quintessentially Spanish flamenco is the music (and dance, or indeed the culture) of the Gypsies of Andalusia.

Macedonia and Albania

Macedonian and Albanian Gypsies play Greek koumpaneia most frequently, with the Macedonian style distinctively known as calgia. Macedonian Gypsy music has been popularized by Goran Bregovic's "Ederlezi" from the soundtrack to Emir Kusturica's The Time of the Gypsies, which was shot in a Macedonian Gypsy community.


Gypsies have played a major part of Russian musical development since the reign of Catherine the Great. Their music became a romantic, urban form in the 19th century and thrived until the 1917 revolution. The Bolsheviks persecuted Gypsies as former entertainers of the bourgeoisie, and many chose to leave to country. Several legendary performers emerged from this period, especially Jean Goulesco and Pyotr Leschenko.


Hungary has a long and famous history of Gypsy musicians, with Janos Bihari being the most well-known of the traditional orchestra leaders. The Lakatos family now dominates the music.

Rural Hungarian Gypsies play a sparsely accompanied form of song called loki djili and dance songs called khelimaski djili.


Gypsies in Greece are known for the zurna and davul duos (analogous to the shawm and drum) partnership common in Gypsy music) and Turkish-influenced koumpaneia music. Koumpaneia has long been popular among Greek Gypsies and Jews (the latter being some of the most popular performers before World War 2), especially in the city of Ioannina, and has recently been popularized by artists like Kostas Pavlidis and Yianni Saleas.


French Gypsies are known for rumba gitana, a form of Catalonian-derived genre which was popularized by The Gipsy Kings. Django Reinhardt, a French Gypsy, was one of the most influential of jazz players.


Romanian Gypsy musicians are called lautari, and typically form stringle bands called taraf. Tarafs include fiddles, cimbaloms, accordions and a double bass, and are common throughout the country. The most popular is Taraf de Haidouks, who have gained an international following.


Gypsies perform in nightclubs and restaurants across Turkey, and are known for fasil and belly dance music. Fasil is a sort of light classical music, dominated by the clarinet, violin, kanun (a zither), darbuka (drums) and, more rarely, ud (a lute) and cümbü&scedil (a banjo). Turkish Gypsy performers include the Erköse brothers and Mustafa Kandirali.


Spanish Gypsy music is widely known across the world, having been popularized as flamenco. Flamenco was born in Andalucia and was only linked with Gypsies sometime after the genre evolved.