Roma Culture in Europe

Romani people are most famous in Europe for their rich musical culture. The words Roma and Romani have different spellings, and there are many ways that Roma people may be called, some are correct while others are racist slang.

Oftentimes people wonder if the word Gypsy is correct or not, here is a short guide: if you are not Gypsy yourself and if you are not talking about the pop flamenco band Gypsy Kings, do not use that word, simply use the word Roma – or when possible, ask the person how they prefer to be referred to.
The word Gypsy is only used to speak about a specific group of Roma folks who mostly live in Spain or the South of France, Gypsy is never written without an upper G as it refers to an ethnic group (same as Asians or Arabs for example), and it should never be used to describe a person living a bohemian lifestyle.

What about Gypsy Jazz you might ask? The genre is usually credited to Django Reinhardt who was Manouche, another community of the Roma diaspora, so a better name for that music is Jazz Manouche. The same as nobody would call a Spaniard a Brit, there is no reason to mix up different groups of the Roma diaspora, especially because the word Gypsy as a blanket term for all Roma folks has mostly been used as a racist slur during the Holocaust or Pogroms of World War II, when an approximate half of the Roma population was murdered – surely this is not a memory we should casually bring up when talking about jazz.

Some will say the Holocaust was a long time ago, we can rehabilitate the term… While Romas are the biggest minority in Europe (1 to 10% depending on the country), they are still widely discriminated against: cultural funding is not distributed in proportion to the number of Roma people in the EU, Roma folks are refused education/jobs/housing/paperwork, the Roma genocide is often forgotten, average Europeans are not even sure what a Roma person and their challenging history are, which leads to micro-agressions, all the way to forced sterilisation and hate crimes such as burning homes or lynching.

If you would like to know more about where Roma people come from and what sort of music and dance they have brought to Europe all the way from India over several centuries, the film Latcho Drom is a great intro, or if you want an example of how Roma music influenced or was influenced by other cultures, here are a podcast & feature and an Andalusia-themed radio show. In Berlin, there is a Roma film fest every year, Flamenco dance or guitar lessons are quite popular as are Jazz Manouche concerts and jams, you can also visit the European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture for more info.