Gypsy Fingers Are Unique! Identity Politics and Romani Musical Performance in Vranje, Serbia
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This dissertation explores the nexus of ethnic identity politics, performance and performativity, and music among Romani (“Gypsy”) musicians in Vranje, Serbia. The work intervenes in anthropological debates about the analytical usefulness of ethnicity by interrogating how ethnic identities are produced as social fact through cultural performance. Romani and Serb identities in Vranje are dialogically enacted between popular discourse and the performance practices that mark Romani musical labor. Local pride in musical traditions and stereotypes of inherent Romani musicality situate Roma as cultural mediators in regional identity politics. Roma figure as productive foils in cultural polemics over musical aesthetics and traditions; romanticized “oriental” connections facilitate non-Romani attempts to safely self-exoticize through Romani practices, even as the marginalization of Roma allows nationalist Serbs to scapegoat them as purveyors of “impure” cultural legacies. My dissertation also interrogates Romani musical performance as affective labor, where non-Roma seek pleasure through performative bodily interactions with Romani entertainers. I show how ethnic identity politics are intensified through visceral, corporeal experiences of celebratory practices and interactions in musical contexts. Romani musical performances are performative because they mobilize conventionalized practices that cite and reproduce (or renegotiate) normative scripts of ethnic relations and power. When Romani musicians stoop to pick up their tips from the ground or allow Serb patrons to slap bills onto their foreheads, they are forced to re-enact hegemonic constructions of ethnic inequality through practices often glossed as traditional and/or pleasurable. Yet Romani musicians also seek agency by strategically (re)deploying affective, bodily, and symbolic dimensions of performance in order to capitalize on romantic tropes of ethnic “otherness” and to pursue economic and cultural capital. My thesis illustrates how the interplay between reiterative performativity and the transformative potential of performance spaces continuously reconstitutes the balance of agency and power in ethnic relations between Serbs and Roma.
SubjectEthnicity, Musical Performance, Roma, Serbia