Esma Redžepova (Macedonian: Есма Реџепова) (8 August 1943 - 11 December 2016) was a Macedonian vocalist, songwriter, and humanitarian of Romani ethnicity. Because of her prolific repertoire, which includes hundreds of songs, and because of her contribution to Roma culture and its promotion, she was nicknamed Queen of the Gypsies.
She started to sing while she was a teenager in the 1950s, and her career spans over five decades. Her musical success was closely linked to her marriage with Stevo Teodosievski, who was a composer, arranger and director of a musical ensemble, the Ansambl Teodosievski. He wrote many of her songs and fully managed her career until his death in 1997. Her musical style was mostly inspired by traditional Roma and Macedonian music. Some other influences are also noticeable, such as pop music. Esma Redžepova started her career at a period when Romani music was very denigrated in Yugoslavia and Roma people considered it shameful for women to sing in public. Redžepova was one of the first singers to sing in Romani language on radio and television.
Redžepova was particularly noted for her powerful and emotional voice. In 2010, she was cited among the 50 great voices in the world by NPR, a prominent American media organization. Redžepova was also noted for her extravagant attires and her turbans, as well as the use she makes of typical stereotypes about Roma women, such as sensuality and happiness. In 2010, she was awarded the Macedonian Order of Merit, and she was entitled National Artist of the Republic of Macedonia in 2013 by the Macedonian President, Gjorgje Ivanov.
With her late husband Stevo Teodosievski she has fostered forty-seven children, and has received numerous accolades for her humanitarian work. She supports Roma and women rights and was also involved in local politics in her hometown, Skopje.
Redžepova, together with Vlatko Lozanoski, represented Macedonia in the Eurovision Song Contest 2013 in Malmö, Sweden.
Esma was born in the predominately Romani Šuto Orizari municipality of Skopje, now capital of the Macedonia. She was the second youngest of six children. Her mother was a Turkish Muslim, while her father was a Serb born in Tirana, Albania. His grandmother and grandfather were an Iraqi Jew and a Catholic Roma respectively. Her family was relatively (but not abjectly) poor growing up, her father working variously as a porter, singer, drummer, circus strongman and shoe shine. Her parents stressed that all six children finish primary school. At age nine Esma was introduced by one of her brothers to a local Romani music organisation, where she was able to quickly learn complicated rhythms. Her mother encouraged her musical gifts and Esma and her brother soon joined their school’s folklore group.
In 1957, age 14, she was personally invited to sing at a school talent contest for Radio Skopje. This concert proved to be a turning point—not only did she place first, beating out 57 other schools and winning 9000 dinars, but national band leader and future husband Stevo Teodosievski also happened to be in attendance. After securing permission from her parents, Esma began touring with his musical ensemble. Legend has it she left home with a single suitcase filled with one dress and one Čoček costume.
In recent years, Esma has remained popular throughout the Balkans. In 2004, she recorded a duet with Eurovision performer Toše Proeski called “Magija”.
Her best known single Čaje Šukarije is the feature song on the 2006 Borat movie soundtrack, which she claims was used without her permission. As of December 16th, 2006 together with Naat Veliov from Kočani Orkestar she is planning an 800,000 euro ( USD 1,000,000) lawsuit against the producers of the film. The movie Gypsy Caravan (2007) features Esma as one of five Romani music acts on their tour through the USA.
Esma died on December 11, 2016.
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