Celebrate Roma rights through music

Florence Joelle © Florence Joelle
Florence Joelle © Florence Joelle

by Jameen Kaur, Amnesty International Campaign Co-ordinator

Music has been used to inspire, to reflect the world around us, to celebrate life and to articulate the struggle for human dignity. So when Amnesty International Netherlands decided with Romani musicians to make the Listen to Roma Rights CD, between them they created a new space for Romani artists to have their voices heard, as well as new opportunities for our campaign to end discrimination of Roma in Europe.

Music has strong roots in Romani culture and the Listen to Roma Rights collection illustrates the rich diversity beautifully, with artists from more than 15 countries in Europe and America. The CD includes 23 tracks, and features folk, classical, hip hop, reggae, electrifying club beats, funk, jazz and the blues. There really is something for everyone. All the tracks were either donated or written specifically for this collaboration.

In my role as campaigner for Amnesty International, I had the chance to speak to some of the people involved.

“The song I donated to the CD is called How many chickens are missing today? which has a rumba/flamenco style flavour. I wrote the song after thousands of Roma were forcibly evicted from France in 2010, and it is addressed to Nicolas Sarkozy, François Hollande, Adolf Hitler and Basildon Council – for Dale Farm”, musician Florence Joelle told me.

In contrast, Theme for N.Y., a guitar instrumental by the Paulus Schäfer Trio, conjures up the atmosphere of a stroll in Central Park, New York on a lazy Sunday afternoon. The track was produced by Richard Halmans, Moncq Records. He said: “I am really pleased to be associated with this CD and Amnesty’s work. Music plays such an important role in people’s lives, so it’s great we can connect to people through this CD, while at the same time encouraging people to take action on such an important issue – ending the discrimination that Roma suffer on a daily basis.”

The word “Roma” actually means “Human”. Florence tells me that while she is a musician at heart she is also a human rights activist: “I first met Amnesty supporters outside the French Embassy. I was there to demonstrate against the forced evictions of Roma in France. It’s important that people realise the bullying, the discrimination that Roma face on a daily basis, not for anything they have done, but just because they exist. It is important that people take action on this. I am always reminded of the poem by Martin Niemöller “First they came for the communists… Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

The CD includes a number of upbeat tracks, such as Romani Kultura by Al-Alion featuring Musto. Then there’s the urban sound of KAL from Serbia in the song “My Dog, contrasting with the soothing voice of Mustafa Zekirov who in Soske sings ‘Why are the Gadje afraid of us? Why they point at us? As they walk by they spit on us’.

As Florence Joelle says: “There is great music on Listen to Roma Rights, I knew some of the artists: like Shukar Collective, The Rosenberg Trio, Boban Markovic, Sabrosa, etc. But it was also good to discover new music I didn’t know, I love “Salute to Bach” by Budapest Bár!’’

You can take action on the “Human Rights Here. Roma Rights Now” campaign. Sign our online petition, which calls on the European Commission to use its full powers to end discrimination against Roma in Europe.

You can also download the full CD and individual tracks from iTunes.All proceeds from the downloads will go towards furthering our human rights work.