Monday, 21 August 2017

Macedonia: Esma Redžepova's Passion for Humanity

Text by Southeastern European Times*   
"A Gypsy from the city of Skopje", as she calls herself, Esma Redžepova has more than 40 years of singing and humanitarian efforts under her belt.

Born in 1943, Esma Redžepova has performed more than 8,000 concerts in 30 countries to raise money for her causes. She has released108 singles, 20 albums, and six movies.

Esma raised five adopted children under her roof, and fostered another 47 children, who call her their mother and father.

Esma spoke with Southeast European Times about her views on humanitarian efforts, her singing and life in general.

What are the top humanitarian causes you support and why?

Helping children with special needs is my top humanitarian cause. I see them as the highest priority group. I believe that everyone should help them, within their means and abilities, of course.

Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov recently presented you with the country's Medal for Merit. What does this award mean to you?

This award means a lot. After all, one feels the most joy when appreciated at home, when one's work and contribution is respected. I received many, many awards and recognitions, but this last award and the one given to me by President Tito are my favorite ones.

Last month you joined the Macedonian women business leaders at the UN's Commission on the Status of Women session. What is the climate for the development of women's businesses in Macedonia?

Redzepova: The business climate in Macedonia has slowly started to change; there are more women in leadership positions. The number of women legislators is increasing too. In the last presidential elections [in March], we had a female candidate [Miruse Hoxha] run. I believe that this event carried even more weight because she was an ethnic Albanian. So the stereotype that Albanian women are housewives whose only job is to care for their children has no ground anymore. I was very proud of Hoxha, and I hope that a woman will take the helm of Macedonia some day.

On your website it says that you hope that something will be changed in the country. What changes would you like to see? What would a changed Macedonia look like in your view?

I would like the world to change, not only Macedonia. Someday, I would like to see the world function based on equality and tolerance, eliminating borders, so that all could move freely and live wherever they like or wherever they consider good for them.

I think that these rights have been taken from mankind, and this is why I have said many times that animals are ahead of humans because they can move wherever they want, and no one asks them for a passport. They don't depend on anyone’s goodwill. Even the most venomous snake goes anywhere he wants.

You are a member of the Skopje City Council. How does your civic work help the Roma in Macedonia?

I'm a member of VMRO-DPMNE, the country's ruling party, and as a member, I'm an adviser at the Skopje City Council. With my political engagement, I first wanted to [show] that one Roma woman can be socially active -- and that this is not just a privilege for Macedonian women. I think that I have partly succeeded, as I'm seeing an increasing number of girls attending schools. If I have, with my example, helped the emancipation of Roma women at least a bit, I am very happy.

Do you think that your children will continue your activities and your humanitarian legacy, and help more people make a tangible difference?

Of course I would like my children to continue my legacy. I think that with the upbringing I gave them, I instilled in them the love of people. My children know how to give, to help, or to organise a humanitarian concert. I hope that they will continue where I stopped.

Do you think culture can serve as a unifying force for Southeast Europe?

Culture always was, and always will be, the bridge that connects people of different creed and nationalities, as it disregards national borders. No matter who one is, everybody sings or dances in their own way. I don't think that song is a uniting force for just the people in Southeast Europe, but the world.

Were you influenced at all by other female singers, such as Billie Holliday or Bessie Smith?

When it comes to music, I never followed any specific example, nor have I been influenced by male or female singers. My mentor and husband, Stevo Teodosievski, wanted to transform me into a masterpiece. I never followed any one example. I worked hard to become what I am now, but he always insisted that I be "myself" and no one else. I think, together, we achieved it.

Do any of your songs address prejudice against the Roma? Do you ever get criticized for using the word "gypsy" in your title?

No, my songs are about Roma tradition and culture, not about the way others see us. When it comes to criticism, I refuse to receive it. No matter what others say, I overcame it a long time ago. When I first started attending school, I noticed I was not the same as others. That's when children dubbed me "gypsy", and they did not want to sit with me. I came home crying, and one of my aunts explained that we are different because we come from the country called India, where the sun always shines, and that's why we are dark-skinned.

In the documentary "Romani Soul", you recounted the Roma people's history back to their ancient origins. Do you feel a close kinship with India and its culture? Has it exerted a direct influence on your music and creative work?

I certainly feel closeness with India and its people, especially with a province in India where some 28 million people speak my language, and I can understand them perfectly. This enforced my realization that the Roma originate from India.

Has music become too commercialized? Can traditional music be presented to mass audiences without losing something essential?

If created on the foundations of traditional music, a good effect can certainly be achieved. However, what is being sold today more and more is nudity on stage, while quality and a good voice are selling less.

You have performed thousands of concerts in a career spanning decades. Do you still feel the same energy and enthusiasm when you go on stage? What keeps you going?

Yes, I still perform with the same passion. I still experience some positive stage fright before a concert, when I'm aware that there are more than 10,000 people in the audience or, as in Sydney, 200,000 people in Hyde Park. What motivates me is my love for song and music.

*This text is courtesy of the Southeast European Times (SET), a web site sponsored by the US Department of Defense in support of UN Resolution 1244, designed to provide an international audience with a portal to a broad range of information about Southeastern Europe. It highlights movement toward greater regional stability and steps governments take toward integration into European institutions. SET also focuses on developments that hinder both terrorist activity and support for terrorism in the region.

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