Alexandria Virtual Cultural Centre of WA


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culture specific genres as bases for further conceptual frameworks


This chapter consists of two sections. The first part addresses the development of Gypsy related films in Yugoslavia during the final stages of the dissolution of its communist regime. The second part is a specific case study of a feature film, Time of the Gypsies.


The fall of the Iron Curtain marked some significant differences in the artistic representation of Gypsy-related subjects in Balkan and Eastern European countries. Gypsy-related subjects are rarely featured in any art forms (specifically in films) prior to the dissolution of Communism. When Gypsies were present, the exploited themes addressed their cultural rather than socio-political and economic life within the dominant ideology. Generally Gypsies were over-romantically presented, whether positively (as prodigy musicians, fortune-tellers, alluring dancers, etc.) or negatively (as alcoholics, baby-stealers, street beggars, etc). Communism promoted films with themes about the national heroes so Gypsies, together with Jewish people, were mentioned only with regards to the Nazi persecution of these minority groups.

As the most progressive Communist country, ex-Yugoslavia has been the motherland of two very successful films about the Gypsies, prior to Kusturica’s work. These were Aleksandar Petrovic’s Skupljaci perja (I Have Even Met Happy Gypsies, 1967) and Goran Paskaljevic’s Andjeo Cuvar (Guardian Angel, 1987). Kusturica’s Dom za vesanje (Time of the Gypsies, 1989) was the first internationally acknowledged film to highlight the Roma culture.

The fall of the Iron Curtain marked the beginning of significant changes in all artistic disciplines including the film industry. Directors started taking extra steps toward more authentic representations of the Gypsies.

Gabor suggests that there are four reasons for the extra-steps that were taken towards the film representation of the Gypsies after the fall of the Iron Curtain:

significant increase of numbers of Gypsies in the last twenty years (1980s-2000);

dissolution of Communism around 1989 which has resulted in further Gypsy migration to Non-Roma lands, such as to the Western and Northern Europe;

increasing political mobilisation within the Euro-Gypsy communities;

as the media has been freed from the Communist censorship, Western and Eastern distribution networks have intersected their territories, bringing Gypsy topics to the audiences that were not previously familiar with them.

(Gabor, 2003, pp.8-9)


Gadjo (in singular) or Gadje (in plural) is a Romany word that describes a foreigner or stranger, primarily signifying that this person is not a Gypsy. This expression is quite descriptive of the Sarajevan director Kusturica who is not of Gypsy origin himself, but who has portrayed issues of this minority group with a lot of love and compassion. Kusturica’s obsession with the Roma culture in Yugoslavia led to the prominence of this subject matter in his films. Bregovic became his soundtrack composer during this period, which coincided with the release of the last album that “White Button” made together. This soundtrack project marks the beginning of Bregovic’s film-composer career that also furthers his compositional explorations of traditional Balkan music.

The late 80s saw both Bregovic and Kusturica artistically focusing on the Gypsies. The following decade brought about a complete disintegration of Yugoslavia. Did all Yugoslavs become Gypsies? Was Kusturica, gadjo dilo of the Yugoslav film, intuitively preparing the rest of his country for this eventuality by writing and directing works about those who were already constantly living in exile?

With the political circumstances changing daily in the Balkans it is possible to say that the ex-Yugoslavs have become one of the most pronounced minority groups in the world. Bregovic, an exiled Sarajevan musician talks about the psychology of the Gypsy culture.

The Gypsies teach us about a traditional system of values when freedom was different and more precious than it is now.

                                                                                (Bregovic in Byrne, 2000)

Kusturica’s later directorial move from the Gypsies to other ethnic groups both in Yugoslavia and abroad exemplifies certain reappearances of dramatic concepts and subject treatments, developed when the director’s interest was focussed on the Roma. The films that support this theory are Arizona Dream (1992) set in Arizona, the United States of America, and Underground (1995) set in the former Yugoslavia. Bregovic composed both soundtracks.


The difference between Gatlif (as a director of Gypsy descent) and Kusturica (of non-Gypsy descent) is quite pronounced in their directorial approaches to the portrayal of Gypsies. Gatlif represents various aspects of Gypsy life across different parts of the world, and portrays his native minority in wider geographic, social and cultural contexts. He also rarely works with a soundtrack composer. Gatlif’s soundtracks are gathered from authentic traditional band repertoire and feature as scene music (heard by the characters in the moment of the performance) much more frequently than they do in the background.

Kusturica does not leave the borders of his native Yugoslavia. As a non-Gypsy, he treats the materials of the known, familiar and experienced from a neighbouring gadjo point of view. He is the Sarajevan version of Gatlif’s Frenchman in Gadjo dilo – not a Gypsy by birth and origins, but a Gypsy by choice and by interest. Kusturica’s passionate love for and fascination with the Roma has enabled him to both celebrate and ridicule them in his work. This director’s ability to also ridicule and celebrate the Gadje without any reservations or white-man’s favouritism keeps his work universally and personally informative through the continuously evolving portrayal of the Gypsies.

Andrew James Horton (2000) wrote for the Central European Review that Kusturica’s Gypsy films draw on his childhood lived in a sprawling near-shanty-town of a suburb at the edge of the multi-ethnic Sarajevo. According to the interview, Kusturica considered himself lucky to have grown up among the Roma who “started drinking earlier than us, they started sleeping with girls earlier than we did. So, every spiritual process that every man has to go through they had instantly and with no problems” (Horton, 2000).

Unlike Gatlif, Kusturica also has a specific soundtrack composer responsible for most of the film score, although live music also frequently features in his films and becomes part of the original soundtrack together with the background scenic compositions. Composer Bregovic’s musical work moves in synchronicity with Kusturica’s idealism. He uses both arrangements of traditional music and original compositions to create appropriate musical analogies of the depicted dramatic conflict.


The most significant Yugoslav films about the Gypsies before Time of the Gypsies are Aleksandar Petrovic’s Skupljaci perja (I Even Met Happy Gypsies, 1967) and Goran Paskaljevic’s Andjeo cuvar (Guardian Angel, 1987.)

The literal translation of Skuplaci perja would be  “Feather Collectors”, with the title alluding to the trade of selling goose-feathers for pillows and doonas. This trade is particularly famous among the Gypsy clans in Vojvodina, the North Serbian region close to the Hungarian border. This production remains one of the most famous films about the Gypsies in Yugoslavia. The soundtrack is a compilation of music by various Yugoslav Roma and Gadje artists.

Paskaljevic made Guardian Angel just a year and a half before Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies. Both films share a specific subject about the illegal child-trade that still exists between Italy and Yugoslavia. Authorities from both countries avoided this topic for a very long time probably because the sold and stolen children are mainly Gypsies or Roma-Gadje half-casts born out of wedlock and raised in poverty in their underprivileged (mainly Gypsy) families. 

Kusturica’s previous films, Sjecas li se Dolly Bell? (Do You Remember Dolly Bell?) and Otac na sluzbenom putu (When Father Was Away On Business) which are not about the Gypsies, feature soundtracks by Yugoslavia’s prominent film and television composer Zoran Simjanovic.

Paskaljevic also hired Simjanovic for the Guardian Angel soundtrack. Less than two years after the production of Guardian Angel, Bregovic developed music for Kusutrica’s Time of the Gypsies. It is possible that Kusturica did not want to have the same composer as Paskaljevic because of the similarity of the film subjects. This is the first of Kusturica’s internationally acclaimed films without Simjanovic’s musical input. Bregovic’s soundtrack for Time of the Gypsies was as successful as the film itself and led to two other film-music projects for Kusturica – Arizona Dream and Underground.


Time of the Gypsies follows the “inward Sarajevan principle”, a concept extrapolated from the socio-historical information about the development of the Herzeg-Bosnian society. The “inward Sarajevan principle” exemplifies the musical use of “Balkan” as a metaphor and is developed within Neyrinck’s analytical framework about the use of ethnic music in soundtracks. Time of the Gypsies exemplifies Kusturica’s directorial frameworks that reappear in future productions and portray the development of Bregovic’s analogical approach to soundtrack writing that continues to the present day.

Kusturica avoids the second level ideology that would clearly present two conflicting groups. There is no established relationship between the Roma and Gadje, so the conceptual “proximity” and “otherness” are established through the conceptual split within an individual character. The second level ideology with its two conflicting groups is replaced by the presentation of hierarchies within one minority group, subsequently breaking down the harmonious ideology projected about a Gypsy clan.

Bregovic is both, a composer and a cultural appropriator bringing the life of a minority group closer to the dominant ideology through a simple homogenic soundtrack.

And then, I am so happy that Djurdjevdan is the most important song in my career. It has international success, the entire soundtrack for Time of the Gypsies is based upon that song.

                                                                                   (Bregovic, November 2001)

Karahasan’s (see Chapter I) concept of an element that becomes a part of a larger structure by acquiring new elements without losing its pre-existing form until it becomes a complex whole derivative of two opposing parts is the basic premise for the development of the implicit musical portrayal of the conceptual “proximity” and “distance”.

The questions in the case-study analyses of Time of the Gypsies, Arizona Dream and Queen Margot address:

1) Composer’s stylistic evolution propelled though arrangements and re-cycling of pre-existing musical materials

2) Stylistic aspects of such evolution as compared to the compositional development propelled by newly written materials

3) Musical metaphor of the depicted dramatic conflict expressed through specific ethnic appropriations (“Balkan as a metaphor”) and the conceptual reasons for these stylistic choices

The opening part of the discussion for each case study (Chapters III, IV and V) includes the synopsis of the film and defines different analytical angles and their application in the given research.

The analytical procedures explored in this paper involve:

1) Use of Kusturica’s films Time of the Gypsies (Chapter III, for the analytical table see Appendix) and Arizona Dream (Chapter IV, for the analytical tables see Appendix) as exemplars of Bregovic’s developing musical style within the soundtrack genre and of Chereau’s Queen Margot (Chapter V, for the analytical tables see Appendix) to demonstrate creative applications of the developed style/techniques in a foreign production.

2) Individual analysis of each soundtrack and comparative discussions with regards to their common stylistic and compositional gestures that translates the depicted theatrical conflict into music according to the suggested ethno-conceptual principle. The section also defines Bregovic’s compositional gestures with specific attention to his appropriations of the pre-existing “White Button” repertoire.


The story follows the lives of several characters in Suto Orizari a Macedonian Gypsy ghetto. Perhan is a young drifter, caught between youthful dreams of love for a young girl called Azra and adult responsibilities for himself and his younger sister Danira who desperately needs a leg operation. His elderly grandmother remains the pillar-stone of the family. She takes care of Perhan, Azra (later his wife), Danira and Merdzan, her son and Perhan’s uncle. Merdzan is a gambling, lying and thieving middle aged Gypsy man constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown of his own doing.

Ahmed, a Gypsy gangster returns from Milan to visit the ghetto and offers Perhan a bright future and his little sister a promise to arrange the necessary medical help.

Perhan farewells his young bride, old grandmother and a drunken uncle and, for the first time in his life, leaves the ghetto with Danira.

Brother and sister are separated immediately upon their arrival to Ljubljana – Danira is apparently to be hospitalised in the Slovenian capital. Perhan goes to Italy to work for the gangsters. His jobs include various illegal activities that highly amuse him in the beginning, but begin to take its toll over time. The plot thickens with the death of his young wife during childbirth, Ahmed’s stroke that leaves the old gangster half paralysed and with Perhan’s realisation that Danira is not actually in hospital but is begging for money on the city streets in Rome and stealing for the gangsters.

Perhan manages to find his sister, and pretends to make a truce with Ahmed promising to find him a new Gypsy bride for his second marriage. The wedding is turned into a tragedy when, in the heat of the plate-smashing celebration, song, dance, tears and laughter, Perhan applies his tele-kinetic skills and sends a fork straight into Ahmed’s throat. The chase for the killer is long and ends when Ahmed’s newly widowed bride kills Perhan.  His death symbolises the only true step towards the ultimate freedom he had desired since childhood.


Gabor (2003) discusses Kusturica’s approach to the Gypsy culture from two angles:

1) The internal Roma perspective, documentation and portrayal of their life and customs;

2) The negative Gadje perspective of the Roma, portrayal of their bad qualities as stereotypically perceived by the non-Gypsies

“The Roma Principle” alludes to both the directorial and compositional acknowledgment of the Gypsy life-style and their practised customs and traditions. It also refers to the conceptual proximity of the Gypsy characters, the first ideological level, at which the film is conceived wherein the Roma are still pure and in their natural environment. This principle is musically supported by the traditional Gypsy songs that are heard as source music and are played live by the characters (musicians) on screen and Bregovic’s appropriations of the same music into both vocal and instrumental arrangements that feature only as background compositions.

“The Negative Gadje Principle” does not mean that Gypsies at their worst are portrayed as Gadje (non-Gypsies). Negative transformations of the Gypsy characters are in this instance expressed through the stereotypical bad Gadje view of them. These stereotypical views include negative perceptions of Gypsies as thieves, criminals and people of easy virtue. Although the positive stereotipicalisation is much less obvious it includes the (quasi-magical) portrayal of the Gypsy healers (witch doctors).

Whenever the characters diminish their values and beliefs, Kusturica uses the “Negative Gadje Principle” to portray these transformations. In such instances, Bregovic acts as the cultural musical translator. He musically translates the negative Gadje perception of the Gypsies through arrangements that involve traditional musical forms from both Roma and Gadje cultures. The spirituality and strength of the traditional music that constitutes the “Roma Principle” is replaced by the over-orchestrated brass extravaganza of the “Negative Gadje Principle”. Bregovic musically gives the Gadje the opportunity to hear and experience how they actually wish to perceive the Gypsies. The confrontation comes from the realisation that the exploited music is also very popular in the Gadje culture. The expression “Negative Gadje Principle” here gains a dual meaning, thus alluding to the negative perception of the Gypsies and the real negativity of the dominant ideology, the diagnosis that is quickly prescribed to the minority and ignored in the main culture. As the pieces in the “Negative Gadje Principle” category are the works that are popular among both the Roma and the Gadje, they are less frequently text-based. Instead of songs, this category includes more traditional dances and other such musical forms. It is possible that the occurrence of more instrumental forms in this category also highlights the negativity of the Gadje toward the Gypsies and is portrayed in the resentment of their language and acceptance of music that does not include text.


1. Scena pojavljivanja majke (The Scene of Mother Appearing)

Music for this scene is based on the traditional Gypsy song Alo mange liloro (Ederlezi Avela). This is the most important piece in the soundtrack together with various arrangements of Ederlezi (St George’s Day). The version heard in this scene is a sparse instrumental arrangement. The sung version of Alo mange liloro is not included on the soundtrack, but features in the scene prior to “The Scene of Mother Appearing”. Mother is one of the strongest symbols both in this film and in Gypsy culture in general. The soundtrack adequately supports the underlying matriarchal concept of the film. Purity innocence, strength and courage of the Gypsy soul are all presented through Perhan’s grandmother Hatidza, his wife Azra and even his little sister Danira.These three women are all musically supported by the song Alo mange liloro (Ederlezi Avela) both in its original form and in various instrumental derivations.


2. Scena Perhanove pogibije (The Scene of Perhan’s Death)

Music for “The Scene of Perhan’s Death” consists of two sections. In the first section, the magnitude of Ederlezi is brought into an intimate setting though sparse instrumental arrangements and the composer’s favourite musical device – a child-like solo voice. Bregovic returns to the traditional Roma sound and language in this scene and musically finalises the last moment of that innocent state in which the character was initially presented in the film. The solo-voice becomes both the voice of dying Perhan and his little orphan son. This can be read as a metaphor for purity of a child’s heart and the positioning of an innocent Gypsy who has nothing in the material world but possesses enormous inner treasures.

The second section features the Gypsy brass and accompanies the funeral preparations at the house of Perhan’s grandmother. The music supports the tragi-comic end of the film in which Perhan’s little son steals the gold coins that the grandmother traditionally places on her dead grandson’s eyelids to wish him a safe and prosperous journey into the Heavenly Kingdom.

3. Kustino oro (Kusta’s Ring Dance)

Bregovic’s use of terminology is slightly confusing in the titles of the next two tracks. Oro is a synonym for the Serbo-Croatian word kolo – the ring dance.

These ring dances are found in the Gadje tradition more frequently than in the Roma culture. In both “Kusta’s Ring Dance” and “Bora’s Ring Dance” (see the next soundtrack number), Bregovic appropriates traditional Roma music to portray the descent of Gypsy morals through the negative Gadje perception. Following the “Negative Gadje Principle”, he is once again the cultural translator who appropriates the traditional sound into a quasi-Roma arrangement and musically accentuates the characters’ internal conceptual duplicity.

4. Borino Oro [Bora’s Ring Dance]

In Ahmed’s character, Kusturica expresses the bulk of the Gadje’s stereotypical negative associations with the Gypsies: violence, lack of moral values, weak character, sexually threatening behaviour towards both Roma and Gadje women, laziness and tendency to over-indulge in material possessions of questionable origins.

Both “Kusta’s Ring Dance” and “Bora’s Ring Dance” are actually arrangements of the traditional dances from the Gypsy-populated regions in Southern Serbia and Macedonia.

Borino oro and Kustino oro – the evolution of cocek

Bregovic uses the expression oro but both dances are in the form of a cocek – a popular dance form among the Gypsies. “Kusta’s Ring Dance” is heard several times during various celebrations regardless of their purpose: Ahmed’s return to the ghetto, Perhan and Azra’s wedding and Ahmed’s second wedding. The appearance of this piece in the wedding scenes is appropriate, as this is Bregovic’s arrangement of the most popular Gypsy cocekSunen Romalen Sunen Cavalen (Listen Gypsies Listen People).

5. Glavna tema (The Main Theme)

The main theme is another musical derivation of Ederlezi (St George’s Day) – the most substantial soundtrack composition.

The theme reinforces the conceptual positioning of the pure Gypsy characters who don’t experience the destructive transformation of diminishing their values and strength; together with Alo mange liloro it accompanies the courageous female characters. This music follows the development of Perhan’s wife, Azra’s character: from her youthful days, through her turbulent short marriage with Perhan and to her death at childbirth. Unlike in “The Scene of St George’s Day Celebration on the River” and in “The Scene of Perhan’s Death”, this arrangement of the song accentuates the vocal deliveries of the mixed large ensemble. This theme is heard in the scene of Azra’s death during childbirth and in the closing credits of the film and is performed by Bregovic’s old collaborators from his “White Button” period – Prvo beogradsko pevacko drustvo (The First Belgrade Singing Society).

6. Tango

Bregovic musically introduces the audience to the streets of Rome during Perhan’s desperate search for his sister Danira. This is a bittersweet introduction to Rome, the city of art and culture that also swallows thousands of Gypsy children-beggars.

7. Pjesma talijanska  (Italian Song)

Bregovic creates a musical analogy for Kusturica’s portrayal of conceptual duplicity within one character. He arranges the melody for solo accordion, solo piano and for a small ensemble. Perhan plays it in the film; the accordion version represents his favourite song. We see him as a young Gypsy boy clumsily playing the tune while he is completely besotted by Azra, the girl he wants to marry. He also plays it for his grandmother and his ill little sister.

The piano version is heard when Perhan, now a young gangster breaks into a big, rich house in Italy and finds a grand piano in the living room. His instant reaction is to sit down and play the Italian tune. That motive becomes both, a momentary return to his old conceptual proximity of the original Gypsy-self, and the reminder of the distance between that personality and the new transformation. Even the symbolism constructed in the scene accentuates the vanity and fake glamour developed at the expense of character and morality. Perhan wears nice Italian clothes and plays on a grand piano, but his fingers are out of practice, the tone is harsher and his hand stumbles across the keys even more clumsily than it does on the accordion.

The small ensemble version becomes the leit-motive for the life on the streets of Milan.

8. Ederlezi (St George’s Day)

I frequently wonder if Bregovic could have ever known that Ederlezi (St George’s Day) would remain one of the rare pieces of music that still today has the power to glue together the broken former Yugoslav ethnicities at least for a few minutes of its duration. It really is as though, Yugoslavia's favourite other, the Gypsies, have become the connecting point for the raging Gadje. Bregovic, himself talks about the unique appeal of Ederlezi, a song so essential it does not even need to be recognised by the composer who wrote it.

I am happy that over time it is forgotten who composed it, instead it is sung in the taverns as traditional. And that happens once in a life-time of some composer – to write something and for the work to have a nature not of something deliberately composed, but rather of something that was self-created.

                     (Bregovic, November 2001)

Ederlezi remains Bregovic’s masterpiece that initially placed him on the world map of soundtrack composition. It is also interesting to mention that St George is probably the only Saint whose day was celebrated by all the nationalities and religions in the former Yugoslavia as it signifies spring and rebirth. It is not surprising then that the essence of this Gypsy song still remains as the last connecting point of the broken Yugoslav nation.

Nostalgia is the essence of Gypsy song, and seems always to have been. But nostalgia for what? Nostos is Greek for a “return home”; the Gypsies have no home, and, perhaps uniquely among peoples, they have no dream of a homeland. Utopia-ou topos-means “no place.” Nostalgia for utopia: a return home to no place. O lungo drom. The long road.

(Fonesca, I., 1996 p.8.)

Ederlezi, as heard in “The Scene of St George’s Day Celebration” is the most compositionally substantial work in the entire film. It is also the most complex piece portraying Gypsies from the “Roma Principle”.

Kusturica exposes the Roma lifestyle and their customs in their most natural form, without any directorial alterations of the documented celebrations and traditions. Everything is important in Kusturica’s films: the foreground, middle ground and background, all these aspects are naturally amplified through the sheer magnitude of the St George’s Day ritual. This scene captures the art of Gypsy life – as one with nature, respectful of the Earth, the four seasons and of oneself and the others.

The ritual alone is so artistic that it transforms realistic filming into magic realism. A similar concept occurs in Bregovic’s composition – this work needs no hybridity or cross-traditional gestures. The magnitude of the composition comes from the greatness of its purpose and intention – this is a ritualistic musical analogy of the scene.

Other functions of traditional music in the Time of the Gypsies

The analysis of the Time of the Gypsies soundtrack is in reverse order to Neyrinck’s usual outline according to which the musical portrayal of the characters’ conceptual basis is usually the final analytical point (preceded by the analyses of traditional music as a source of inspiration and a tool of establishing the setting).

The aim of this analysis is to uncover Bregovic’s initial analogical use of traditional music in a local production that marked the beginning of his musical use of Balkan as a metaphor for the depicted dramatic conflict.

Neyrinck’s first function – the use of traditional music and folk elements is self evident in Time of the Gypsies because of Bregovic’s musical history since the “White Button” period and the importance of the theme song Ederlezi in the overall soundtrack. The concepts of traditional music and folk elements are almost unseparable in this case as Time of the Gypsies remains Bregovic’s most thematically homogenic soundtrack – all folk elements in original pieces derive from the arranged traditional music.

Traditional music as a tool of establishing setting is at its most essential in this example as the film documents the life-style of a particular subculture. It is virtually impossible to separate the explored film themes from the accompanying music. Bregovic’s work is based on a solid stream of pre-existing folk materials that are all genre and purpose specific. In “The Scene of St George’s Day Celebration”, he is able to work with the traditional Roma song Ederlezi. The wedding scenes are accompanied by the Serbian and Macedonian Gypsy wedding dances such as the famous cocek Sunen Romalen sunen cavalen.

Music as a tool of establishing setting

1.Geographic Setting

The geographical setting is musically supported through the entire score. Even the Gypsies’ travelling connections to Italy are musically referenced in Bregovic’s soundtrack. He creates a piece that resembles some old traditional Italian melody (Pjesma talijanska) which is quite similar to many Yugoslav and Roma traditional melodies.

This type of music would be particularly appealing to the Gypsies and the neighbouring Yugoslav population (together with their largest minority-the Roma) who would have had opportunities to hear such music even in their home country.

2. Historic/period Setting – Traditional Timelessness of the Roma minority

Kusturica sets The Time of the Gypsies in the present time though, at the same time, it is very hard for the audience to judge the period of the film from the presented documentation of the Gypsy life-style.

Kusturica grew up in the Herzeg-Bosnian capital Sarajevo; his neighbourhood was almost entirely populated by Gypsies. As they did not follow many of the dominant Gadje ideology’s rules and regulations, the Gypsies preserved their customs, rituals and traditions.

The Roma can appear as more educationally backward and with their living standards frequently lower than the Gadje’s. They exemplify the traditional life-styles with obvious ethnic and cultural customs, largely because developments of the urban tradition have not entirely (or in some remote communities have not at all) entered or transformed their traditional living order. This aspect of the Roma life-style sometimes makes it difficult for the audiences to recognise the period of the filmsetting (this is sometimes the case even for the native audiences in the filmmaker’s home country).

Time of the Gypsies is a particularly specific case as there is no presence of the second outside group and references to the dominant ideology are rare. A similar characterisation is appropriate for the soundtrack as Bregovic is heavily reliant on the timelessness of traditional music, or at least on the width of its possible periodic range. This directorial and compositional approach is directly aligned with “the inward Sarajevan principle” where both the director and composer work from the Roma inside using the outward dominant ideology only as a reference point rather than to portray the expected conflicting side.

3. Dramatic Setting – Occasion Specific Traditional Music

The dramatic setting is a fruitful discussion point in this musical section because of the appearance of occasion-specific music within the traditional repertoire.

The main purpose of any traditional music is to portray the life traditions of a certain culture. This function leads to the development of occasion-specific works that are suitable for specific situations (wedding dances, funeral procession music, etc.)

Bregovic exploits these aspects of traditional music through multiple use of traditional Yugoslav Roma dances specific to different social occasions. “Kusta’s Ring Dance” is based on a well-known Gypsy cocek. A piece with a similar title (although this is an arrangement of a different song and with a subtitle Caje Sukarije Cocek) features on the soundtrack album for Kusturica’s Underground that was made about half a decade after Time of the Gypsies. This recurrence of Bregovic’s dedication expressed in the title suggests that cocek might be one of the director’s favourite traditional musical forms.

Bregovic’s most commonly used rhythmic pattern in any cocek arrangement is to write the two beats in the 2/4 bar in a form of a crotchet triplet. This rhythmic element is normally heard in the low brass parts (tuba) while the percussion instruments play in two (listen to both examples from the film.)

Even his more recent collaborations show many such examples. The recycled coceks retain the rhythmic and harmonic languages from the soundtrack productions. Bregovic himself discusses the limitations of his musical choices referring to both his film and band composition.

Objectively, I have a very small, not very cooperative brain and when I also work on diminishing it, the end product is minimal knowledge and ability. However this gives me openness to many things. I can probably work with synthesis more freely than a specialist in the field would. For those who don’t know miracles happened in the process of synthesis. Knowledge gravitates towards the known. The difference between a spontaneous and an educated musician is that the spontaneous musician always completes the given task more perfectly.

                                                                                            (Bregovic, October 2001)

Ederlezi (St George’s Day)

The various Balkan spellings (Herdeljez, Erdelezi) are merely variants on the Turkish Hidrellez (I is not dotted), a holiday signalling the beginning of spring, occurring approximately 40 days after the spring equinox. The Balkan Slavs added the Christian layer of St George’s Day (Gjuorguovdan, Dzurdzovden, Gergjuovden.) Hidrellez is a very significant day in Anatolia. The word itself is very significant; it is the combination of names of two prophets: Hizir & Ilyas. Hidrellez signifies rebirth of nature and is also considered to be the beginning of summer. According to Anatolian people’s beliefs Hizir and Ilyas are two prophets who drank the water of never dying: they are brothers and friends. They have given each other promise to meet on this night of May 5th every year to give rebirth to nature. Hizir is the protector of plants; he gives life to plants. He helps poor people. Wherever he goes, he brings abundance. Ilyas is the protector of waters and according to some, the protector of animals. Wherever he goes, animals become healthier. People believe that wishes made on this night will become true. They also believe that sick people will become healthier and it will be the end of bad luck and misfortunes. There are also a lot of rituals that people perform. Some people put a coin inside a red cloth and then hang it on a rose branch. In the morning this money is put into the valet so that it will bring abundance. It is also believed that if you go out, have a picnic and be in nature on this day, your days in winter will have less hardships.                                

(Unattributed, (undated) Ederlezi, Available from:

The St George’s Day river ritual and its song are two world famous excerpts from the Yugoslav film and soundtrack history. Bregovic creates a magical atmosphere through appropriate arrangements of the traditional Roma song threaded through his own original musical concepts and ideas. Already in Time of the Gypsies, we hear the sounds that ten years later become the musical signatures of the brass players from his “Weddings and Funerals Band”.

Although simple in compositional structures, the piece is grand in its intensity and musical message. This scene is one of the most magical moments in the world cinema. Kusturica treats all three elements; foreground, middle ground and background with similar importance. Under his direction “The Scene of St George’s Day Celebration” becomes one of the most vivid and intricate paintings in the contemporary European cinema. Bregovic musically follows Kusturica’s directorial idea of three equal, yet independent levels. His foreground is a solo voice of a young Macedonian Gypsy singer Vaska Jankovska, while the middle ground is the mixed choir and the background is minimal electronic accompaniment.

Ethnic music and traditional elements as a composer’s sources of inspiration

Time of the Gypsies is Bregovic’s most thematically homogenic soundtrack. All folk elements in original pieces derive from the arranged traditional music and the St George’s Day song - Ederlezi. There are three pieces of background music that exploit the musical themes from Ederlezi. These are pieces for “The Scene of St George’s Day Celebration on the River”; “The Scene of Perhan’s Death” and “The Main Theme”.

“The Scene of Perhan’s Death” initially brings the magnitude of Ederlezi into an intimate setting through thinner instrumental arrangements and solo voice. Although the orchestration is thinner the composer returns to the original use of language in the vocal part, but in a much smaller form without the sung chorus. The second part of it introduces the Gypsy brass as a suggestion of Perhan’s upcoming funeral as we see him in an open coffin in his grandmother’s house.

“The Main Theme” captures the beauty of Ederlezi in a more vocally conceived version for a large mixed voice ensemble, while “The Scene of St George’s Day Celebration on the River” incorporates all elements except for the brass.

Alo mange liloro (Ederlezi Avela) the second important theme

The famous Gypsy song Alo mange liloro (Ederlezi Avela) plays an important role in the soundtrack. It is heard in various arrangements throughout four different scenes. It is possible to symbolically translate this piece into the leit-motive for all female characters. Although the song has already been mentioned and described in the previous sections, it is important to state its significance and connect all its derivates that appear in the overall soundtrack pattern, as the composer himself does not talk about the importance of this arrangement.

The song is first heard in the scene of Perhan and Danira’s departure from the ghetto. Four Gypsies play the song as Perhan and Danira part from their grandmother and begin the trip into the unknown.

The second time it appears, the song is reduced to a sparse instrumental arrangement in “The Scene of Mother Appearing”. The music is an analogy for Danira’s mixture of courage and fears as she imagines that the ghost of her dead mother has appeared on the bus window during the travel to the hospital.

In the third instance, Alo mange liloro is again heard as source music during Perhan’s drunken night at the ghetto tavern. He is disappointed to find Azra heavily pregnant upon his return home and does not believe that the child is his and decides to drown his pains in alcohol and music.  His grandmother and Azra find him at the tavern and try to talk him out of further drinking.

The final version is again a sparse instrumental arrangement of the song. It is heard as background music as Perhan finally finds Danira on the street of Rome.

The piece is always heard in connection to the brave female characters whose courage and srength also exposes the conceptual split within Perhan’s character. In the scene of the departure from the ghetto, the trip to Italy and reunion with Danira, we see Perhan as his honest, innocent Gypsy self. The scene of the reunion is also powerful because of Perhan’s return to this character; the boy brought up by his brave grandmother. The drunken scene in the ghetto tavern amplifies the descent of Perhan’s morality and values in spite of the honesty and boldness of his grandmother and Azra’s fears.

Source and Background Music

All of the Ederlezi derivations (music for “The Scene of St George’s day Celebration on the River”, “The Scene of Perhan’s Death” and “The Main Theme”) are always used as background music; their importance is to portray the characters according to the suggested analytical principles within the given conceptual structure. This is a musical analogy for the documentation of the Gypsy life style.

Tango is a background composition primarily used to portray the Roma from the negative Gadje perspective as we hear the stereotypical idealisation of Italy (as seen through the eyes of the Yugoslav Gypsies) with the almost silent film like soundtrack during the introduction to the streets of Rome.

The ring dances (Kustino oro and Borino oro) are largely heard as source music and in all the wedding and celebration scenes we mainly see the Gypsy band that plays them. One of the rare moments where a cocek is heard in the background is in a gambling scene in Ahmed’s caravan.

All of the source music mainly rests on the traditional repertoire that is acknowledged in the closing credits.

Various arrangements of “Italian Song” are representative of both source and background music. In the background version we hear small ensemble arrangements, while Perhan plays the source music version.

Internal-external cultural perspective

Although Time of the Gypsies, a simple and homogenic soundtrack, is almost entirely based on the St George’s Day theme-song Ederlezi, its analogical connection with the portrayed dramatic conflict creates a valuable framework for further analyses of Bregovic’s film opus. The “internal-external perspective” as portrayed through “the Roma and the Gadje principles” is the basis for the future analogical scores and the exploration of the “Oriental” and “Occidental” conceptual bases in internal productions where there is no real outside group.

 Although under the Socialist regime, Yugoslavia was not in the Eastern Block, it belonged to the movement known as the “Countries of Non-Aligned”. The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) started as a group of countries refused to side with either USSR or USA during the Cold War. For more information access:,003100040001.htm

 Synopsis: The director offers a poetic look into the multi-cultural Northern Serbia and the life of its Gypsy minority. The plot follows the lives, struggles and love affairs of several characters involved in intricate tragi-comic relationships full of love, hatred, affection, betrayal and forgiveness. For further information access:

 Synopsis: A young social worker follows the life of a Gypsy child. This case becomes a window into an entire underground sub-culture of child trade that still exists between Yugoslavia and Italy. For further information access: 

 Gadjo Dilo- a crazy foreigner in Gypsy language, this expression is world famous from Tony Gatlif’s film of the same title. Synopsis: a young French ethnomusicologist travels to Romania in search of a Gypsy singer. His journey exposes a whole new subculture, love, passion and a chosen family.

 Synopsis: A sentimental story about a young man’s growing-up divided between his own interests and wishes and his father’s authoritarian views. For further information access:

 Synopsis: A story of a political prisoner in the 1950s Communist Yugoslavia as told by his five-year old son who is told that father is away on business. For further information access:

 the Serbo-Croatian title Dom za vesanje literally translates to House for Hanging

 Macedonia is the only European country where the Gypsies have their own municipality - Suto Orizari.  More information about the municipality can be found in: Bajic, Z. (2000) Life Is No Film, Available from:

 Alo mange liloro is known as Crni voz (Black Train) in the Serbo-Croatian speaking parts of the former Yugoslavia. For text and further information access:

 The title suggests that the piece is dedicated to Kusturica, as Kusto is a nickname that derives from the abbreviation of his surname.

 This is a dedication to the actor Borivoje Todorovic-Bora who plays the character of Ahmed . Bora is a nickname abbreviation for Borivoje.

 Both dances also appeared later on Bregovic’s compilation titled Songbook (see the reference list) as new collaborative versions with international artists. Kayah from Poland sings Borino oro in the appropriation Sto lat modej parze (A Hundred Years Old Couple) and Greek singer Alkistis Protopsalti sings the appropriation of Kustino oro titled Venzinadiko - Gass Station.

 As acknowledged in the closing credits of the film together with the other traditional Roma songs used in the soundtrack (see the reference list). In its original form this cocek can also be found on: Devic, D. (2000) Basalen Romalen (Play Gypsies) a compilation of Gypsy music from Serbia and Macedonia, PGP-RTS Radio Television of Serbia, Belgrade Yugoslavia

 Kusturica and Bregovic both pack the whole moment with stereotypes. We see the café strips, the street players the Italian architecture and Bregovic’s music resembles the tunes from silent films or documentaries about Italy and emphasises the stereotypical perception Romantic Latin spirit.

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