Gipsy.cz – A phenomenal mix of hip hop, rap, r‘n’b and traditional gypsy music

07-09-2010

In this week’s Music Express my guest is the talented singer, rapper and composer Radek Banga, the frontman for one of the Czech Republic’s best-known bands Gipsy.cz. The four-member group first broke onto the scene six years ago and quickly rose to the top with an unusual mix of traditional Romany music crossed with rap, hip hop, pop and r‘n’b. They have only grown in popularity since.

Last week Radek Banga stopped by the Czech Radio building last week to discuss the band’s career.

“Gipsy.cz was much more specific than my previous solo work because you had Vojta Lavička, who is a violinist, and he really influenced me so much, as did the other members, the brothers Petr and Jan Surmaj, who come from traditional families. I need to say here that I am not from a traditional family but something different. My father was into stuff like Pink Floyd, he was quite a rocker. But these guys were real gypsies and it was more about music, more about the real gipsy feeling. They had it but I had the hip hop, ideas, the lyrics. But they had the real gipsy feeling!”

Your first album Romano Hip Hop really launched you guys into the spotlight, it received great attention, lots of radio play and it really put you out there. If we look at the opening song, Tajsa, what does the title mean and what is the song about?

“Yeah, Tajsa translates as ‘tomorrow and’ it’s a song about hope. It’s about two guys who believe they are going to make a final, you know, ‘steal’ and they go the street to steal quite expensive cars. And they believe that if they get a chance and they sell them well, they will get a chance to go to school and to live like a normal person. They believe in a better tomorrow. Džas te čorel o tajsa... that translates as go and ‘steal your tomorrow’. I wanted to say that sometimes you meet people who are on the street and were born into really bad families and into poverty. But they haven’t chosen it, it’s not about choice. It’s simply like that: they were born into it and they need a chance. They need hope and that’s what the song is about.”

Radek Banga, photo: www.gipsy.czRadek Banga, photo: www.gipsy.cz You’ve said in interviews that you also were on the street for a while as a teen. Did you also hold that hope inside that ‘Ok, I’m a gypsy but I’m going to break out one day’, I’m gonna get out of this situation and change things?

“Yeah of course, it was all about my whole life. I didn’t really have a nice childhood: my father, for example, is a good man but his demon was always alcohol and it was a difficult situation. But I believed that one day I could break it up and that not everything was lost, that one day there will be some hope. I believed it. On the other hand, I began with music when I was 13 and I ‘made it’ when I was 24. So it was the work of ten years. But yeah, I believed things could change.”

Now besides singing in Romany, Gipsy.cz incorporates all kinds of traditional musical elements: violin, cymbalo... how do you like that creative aspect of mixing the traditional with the modern?

“You know, I like it very much because hip hop alone is quite boring. If you create music for hip hop obviously it’s a loop, a beat... but that’s it. It’s a loop and after ten years you get really bored. The other thing is that I am still a gypsy, you can not delete it, it’s in you, it’s inside, it’s in your veins, so you have to feel music. Many people don’t know that I am also a guitarist, I am a musician and one day you just wake up and say ‘Ugh, I hate these loops! No more, please, my God!’ So yeah: I love it! Because Gipsy music is beautiful, it’s one of the things from our culture... you know there are a lot of bad things, gypsy kids steal, they don’t go to school... bad things... blah blah blah whatever... but this is really ‘no mistakes’. This is really good. This is the best that we have. Music.”

I want to talk about the song Jednou (Once): it’s basically a ballad to a white girl written from the perspective of a gypsy or Roma man who says that he can’t love her. The crux of the problem or the deeper message is about racism, it’s about the fact that her family won’t allow her to be with a gypsy. I wanted to ask you if you had also suffered that kind of discrimination or other situations similar...

“So of course when you are a gypsy, when you are a Roma in eastern Europe you always find yourself in such situations. But my first inspiration here was Romeo & Juliet.”

The star-crossed lovers...

“Yeah, it’s classic, it’s classic. There is a story of two people who can’t be together. It may be about families, but this is a situation also about families. I was with a blonde girl and I believe she loved me. And she said I was a normal guy and that I had dreams... and that I was working hard on myself. But anyway she was listening to her mother who said ‘You cannot be with a gipsy guy, what kind of kids do you wanna have?!’ To which I replied – and this was a joke, I said it as a joke ‘I am going to work as hard as I can so that they will be as white as possible!’ {laughs}.

“It’s impossible to predict what will happen in the next years. So, she was beautiful, she was smart, but she was still her mother’s girl, you know? So that was my own story and I told myself one day I have to sing about it: how a beautiful thing like love can be completely destroyed by stupidity. By people who look only at the colour of your skin: c’mon, it’s 2010!”

Gipsy.czGipsy.cz Since their inception Gipsy.cz have produced a lot of great music and performed often both at home and abroad, including the famous Glastonbury festival. Radek Banga says they are now also currently preparing a much-awaited third album. There was one more song, though, on the debut that I wanted to discuss: their entry a few years back in the Eurovision song contest: a mysterious but catchy song called Muloland. In minute we’ll play you a bit, but here’s the story that goes with it. Once again, frontman Radek Banga:

“So Mulo in the gypsy language means the soul of a dead man. And land is land, so it means a land of dead people. One time we were playing in Germany at some university at a time when we were not as known, and we were staying overnight on site. And I believe that we met a ghost there... gypsies really believe in ghosts, we are a very spiritual people. That was the first message of the song: to let white people know that we believe in spirits, we believe in God, but much more in the soul and spirits. If your father is dead, for example, and you’re all eating, it’s normal to take a plate of food and leave it on the window sill. So he won’t be hungry. Many people can not understand it, but for gypsy families it’s normal.

Gipsy.cz, photo: www.gipsy.czGipsy.cz, photo: www.gipsy.cz “In Germany on the site of the university there was a tragedy 80 years ago there in which more than a hundred people died. There was an explosion and they died there and that was the story. And I think that we gypsies can feel that and I felt it. I couldn’t sleep because I could hear voices. That is what the song was about. How we were all so scared that we all slept in one bed, you know all the members of the band! Really scared!”

Want to learn more about Gypsy.cz? Visit their website which has sections in both English and Czech: www.gipsy.cz

07-09-2010