“I’m black,” declare the singers from the first bars of this lively song. It’s a bold declaration that carries racial connotations: “Black” is a term used to speak of Roma in both the Slovak and Romani languages… not always positively. But rather than irony or bitterness, the singers take the badge with pride and abandon. This song perfectly captures the complexity of Roma identity.
The Roma face challenges, and some of the songs in this project speak to those challenges. Their history is filled with sorrow, and everyday life in Slovakia brings difficulties. It’s hard to be proud of your identity, when that identity is so heavy with stereotypes. “Everyone throws you into one pile,” says Martin Ferko of the Gypsy Family Band. “When a Roma comes into the city or is walking around somewhere, they look at you and say to themselves, ‘Aha here’s a Gypsy, he’s come to steal, to mess up the city and so on.”
And yet almost every Roma we have asked will defiantly say they are proud to be Roma.
“I love our culture, I love how we do things,” says Leonard Horvath of Devleskero Kher. “We do many things differently from other people. And it’s amazing to me that, how many, many years Roma have been in Slovakia? And even today when we’re more modern, our culture is still strong. And I love that.”
It’s a pride he passes on to his own children. “My younger daughter is only in preschool, but I teach her to be proud of who she is, that she can say it without fear. To be proud that she is Roma, that God loves her just like she is. We don’t have to adapt, to hide ourselves or move out of the way. We can be who we are with pride!”
Kalo som (I’m Black!)
Original author unknown, this recording by Luna Kecerovce, 2020.
Kalo som, kalo man vičinen!
acalari bomba bomba!
Acalari bomba ,
cinav tuke rokľa, rokľa.
I’m black, they call me black!
Acalari bomba bomba!
I will buy you a skirt.
Vocals: Patrik Ferčak, Erik Vidlička
Guitars: Slavo Pecha Sr., Slavo Pecha Jr., Ondrej Pecha
Cajon: Adam Pecha
Special thanks to Julius Pecha for translation assistance.