Romani rapper Gipsy - change comes from the streets, not the government
Rob Cameron's guest on this week's One on One is Gipsy, a young rapper with a lot to say about life in the Czech Republic. A member of the country's large Roma minority, Gipsy is highly critical of both white society and Romanies themselves, and believes change can only come from within the Roma community. He's just released his first album in English - Ya Favourite CD Rom - an album full of irony and humour and above all great music.
"I was ten years old, that means it's ten years already that I've been making rap and hip-hop music. I've been making beats since I was 13. So it's ten years already."
You're 22 now, so this is something you've invested a lot of time and energy into.
"Yeah. It's been a long way, I've put a lot of energy into this music. And I want to say I just put everything from my life into making good lyrics, good beats, to make a perfect sound. A lot of energy."
Tell me about some of the things that you sing about. Some of the themes in your music.
"You mean from the last album, Ya Favourite CD Rom? Well, it's very easy. The very easy concept of the album was to make an ironic album which would have something very cold inside. Many rappers are trying to rap like 'yeah we have a problem, we have racism' or whatever, and they try to be aggressive. This is the way many rappers before me have done it. I didn't want to be the same. I didn't want to be 'a rapper'. I just wanted to be Gipsy. I just wanted everybody to know there's a melody, there's a rhythm, what I know, what I like. You can see it in the music. So the concept of the music was to do something ironic, which would be funny, but also it would be a little cold. Because I'm making fun of my own race, of my own person."
There is a lot of irony in your music. The album starts with two Romanies breaking into a car. Where did that idea come from, what were you trying to say with that?
"Well, the classic image of a gypsy is a thief. Stealing cars, or stealing in a train. You have to be a real thief to be a gypsy. Everyone in the world thinks like that. It's the average, classic view, but it's the real view. And also it's true! Many gypsies are doing this. I don't know why, it's maybe a question of the times, but they do it. This is what I was talking about at the beginning. It's very cold, it's very real, but they do it. Because it's happening. It's criminal, so it's bad. But also I'm able to make it funny."
So you want to paint a real picture of what life is like for Romanies in this country and not pull any punches. Not pretend the situation is different.
"Yeah, because many people, and many gypsies, are trying to say 'yeah we're only good, gypsies are not bad, we're trying' and simply it's not true and everybody knows it. I just wanted to say - this is real, what we are. When I'm talking about my community, I'm talking about a problematic community. And we know it. We know it all."
It's also a community which does face a great deal of discrimination and a great deal of intolerance from majority society, isn't it?
"Well, this is a very complicated question. It's a question of a big time period, from, I don't know, the 12th century to now, what's been happening with gypsies, with our culture. Europe knows gypsies as thieves, dirty, living with horses. That's how they know them. So a lot has to do with time."
So it's a complicated problem. You're most recent album, Ya Favourite CD Rom - it's quite political, isn't it?
"Many people say that. I didn't want to be political, really. I didn't want to be someone who 'represents'. I wanted to be someone who makes music. But when I was listening to the album two weeks after it was released, I thought, 'yeah, it's true, it's really political'. And now I have to say, yeah, it is political."
Why do you sing in English?
"Well because English now is an international language, that every country knows, every nation knows. So that's the first and the main reason. If I want to be heard by everyone around, I need to speak a language everyone understands, and that's English."
Do you think Czechs have any idea what it's like to be young and Romani living in the Czech Republic?
"No. A classic white boy - like this guy here - he will never know what it means to be a real gypsy. Because the life of a Roma - the life of a gypsy - and the life of a white boy is completely different. We're growing up in very different backgrounds, in very different places, in very different situations. I mean white boys, they have white things. When I was a baby, I didn't know many things white boys knew, but I also knew many things white boys didn't know."
"I feel myself like a new generation of tradition. Hiphop's already been done. Black people from the States, from France, white people from Europe, everybody's already said what had to be said. Now I'm here and I'm trying to do something completely new. I still hold with hiphop: I'm talking about the culture, I'm talking about my race, I'm talking about my family. That's what I do, but I try to make it new."
Is it true to say that a lot of young Romanies have lost faith in the older generation? Have they lost faith in the older Romani community leaders to change anything?
"Well, I'll tell you. This is a fairytale. We don't have any leaders. Gypsies, for centuries, they weren't ruled by anyone. This is a problem. We didn't have inspiration, we didn't have rulers. And if people - gypsies - who have, you know, these flashy clothes and try to say 'we represent gypsies', they're lying, because we don't have leaders."
So the problem is under-representation, but can that change and do you think that will change?
"I think there are ways how to change the gypsy community. But to change it you have to go out onto the streets. Hiphop is the way. I know gypsies. If you go up to a gypsy and say choose mathematics, government or music, every gypsy will choose music. I come with a new thing, I'm saying - do you choose the old gypsy music, or hiphop? 90 percent of gypsies will say 'yeah, I like hiphop'. It's 2005, not 1822."
Hiphop's the future then.
"Hiphop is the future for gypsies. It was the same for black people in the States. Hiphop is easy to do, and hiphop is also the simplest and best way how to communicate. So for me this is the future. Not government, not leaders, but hiphop."