“Different ways of fighting”: the words are the weapons of the Roma group composed only of women
Many Roma women are under pressure to marry young and assume traditional gender roles. Pretty Loud, a hip-hop group from Serbia, wants the girls to decide for themselves.
Laetitia Vancon and
BELGRADE, Serbia – The members of Pretty Loud, arguably the world’s first all-Roma female hip-hop group, don’t write sweet love songs.
Rather, their words focus on the suffering that Roma women experience: getting married and having children too young, feeling like second-class citizens and not finishing high school.
“Don’t force me, dad, I’m too young to get married,” sing the six members, from Serbia in their mid-teens to late twenties, in one song. “Please understand me, or should I shut up?” They rap in another. “Nobody hears when I use my Roma daughter’s voice.”
Persecuted for centuries, many Roma in Europe – the continent’s largest ethnic minority – live in isolated communities with limited access to facilities and health care. Women and girls also face gender expectations, such as being wives and mothers at a young age, which some say causes stress and isolation.
“They are taught when they grow up that they are going to get married, cook and raise children, but we want to change that,” Silvia Sinani, 24, said of Roma girls, adding that such expectations made it difficult for them. women and girls to finish their education.
One of the group’s goals is to show that there is another way. âWe want each girl to decide for herself,â Ms. Sinani said.
The women of Pretty Loud hope their music, authenticity and visibility as performers – already rewriting social conventions in their community in Belgrade, the Serbian capital – can help women and girls elsewhere find their own. voice. Formed in 2014, Pretty Loud has danced, sang and rapped on stages across Europe.
“It’s a different way of fighting,” said Zivka Ferhatovic, 20, a member of the group, of her activism. âWe fight through music and songs. “
She added that the group wanted their fusion of traditional Roma music and Balkan hip-hop to tackle the everyday realities of many Roma women, be it domestic violence, sexism or racial discrimination. In one song, they warned that marrying someone violent would not bring happiness. In another, they spoke about their experiences of discrimination.
Music was an obvious way for the members of the group to express themselves and to continue to celebrate the characteristic sound of Roma music.
âWe grow up with music when we feel bad and when we feel happy,â said Zlata Ristic, 28. âI sleep with music. I can’t live my life without music.
When performing, Ms. Ristic said, “I feel like the strongest woman in the world.”
Pretty Loud started as a project of GRUBB, an organization which runs educational and artistic programs for young Roma in Serbia. One summer afternoon, they rehearsed for a performance in front of the distorted mirrors of the GRUBB center in Zemun, a district of Belgrade where many of the city’s Roma reside.
Fearing social stigma, the band members were initially reluctant to write songs and perform. But others involved with GRUBB have helped them focus their writing and performance on personal experiences.
Over time, they became more comfortable with the idea of ââmerging the personal with the artistic. One performance used a silk sheet with a red stain to theatrically recreate the ritual of inspecting the sheets after a wedding as a means of âprovingâ the bride’s virginity.
âIt got very poetic,â said Serge Denoncourt, a longtime professional art director and volunteer who said he encouraged them to explore the power of art. “They understand that over there you can talk about anything if you have a way to talk about it.”
Now, Pretty Loud’s songs signal a united hope: to represent Roma women in a modern world free from racism and sexism.
âThe purpose of music is to help them use their voice, not to speak for themselves,â said Caroline Roboh, founder of GRUBB. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Pretty Loud’s own community, where members have become role models, a point of pride for them.
âLittle girls, they come to me and say, ‘Well done, I want to be like you someday,’â Ms. Sinani said.
Even outside their circles, they are building up supporters who say the group is sending a modern message that Serbia needs to support.
âTheir energy breaks down walls and spreads love,â said Joana Knezevic, a Serbian actress who watched a recent performance of Pretty Loud. âThese are women who have something to say.
This is a message that Ms. Ristic, who brings joyful energy to the dynamics of the group, learned early on. At 16, she got married and soon after became pregnant. When the union broke up and she was faced with being a single mother, Ms. Ristic became depressed. Raising her son, who is now 11, was like having a “doll,” she said. “We grew up together.”
Now she wants to set an example for women who are unhappy in their marriage, even if they fear raising children on their own.
âI know when they’re divorced they think their life ends,â Ms. Ristic said of women. “But I want to show that they can follow their dreams.”
This is sometimes a difficult balancing act for the members of Pretty Loud, who try to live the messages they preach. Some work at Grubb while doing other jobs; others, like the youngest members of the group, Elma Dalipi and Selma Dalipi, 15, are still finishing high school.
“We received many marriage offers, but we never accepted any,” Zivka Ferhatovic said of her and her sister, 19-year-old Dijana Ferhatovic. Their determination to finish school is supported by their grandparents and has a personal motivation – they believe their mother, who had her children young, eventually left the family, in part because she got married too. early.
“We know the pain,” said Zivka Ferhatovic.
After one of Pretty Loud’s more recent performances, the cheers made Dijana Ferhatovic’s chest tighten, she said. “We are really doing something,” she added, although she called it a small step.
Her sister disagreed. “How can you tell it’s small?” Zivka Ferhatovic said.
The coronavirus pandemic has slowed the group’s activity and existing inequalities have made the Roma in Europe particularly vulnerable. (Many members of Pretty Loud have contracted Covid-19.)
Over the summer, as borders reopen in Europe, Pretty Loud took to the stage again: to applaud at a UN event celebrating refugees, under blue lights in Slovenia, at a hearing for a Croatian talent show. And the band members have other dreams: doing a real demo for an album, performing in Times Square, writing a book about their lives – maybe even getting into politics.
Although they are not yet known or able to make a living from their music alone, the group is starting to gain wider European attention. Earlier this month, a video of their successful audition for this Croatian talent show drew 120,000 views.
Ms Ristic, now a dance teacher at GRUBB, wants to grow her audience on TikTok and Instagram, where she posts Pretty Loud performances. While this has exposed her to racist and sexist comments, she won’t stop posting, she said.
âI’m not removing them because it’s not my shame,â she said, adding, âThis is how people treat us. I want to show why we are fighting.
In the future, Ms Ristic wants to try just about everything: getting her license and then driving a truck while smoking a cigarette, making music with Serbian artists and raising her son, she said, with strong role models. roma so that he grows up respecting women.
Most Pretty Loud members say there is still room for romantic love, children, and marriage in the future – as long as they can choose when. But after a wedding, Mrs. Ristic has seen enough.
âI make my own way for myself, alone. It’s very difficult, but I will try, âshe said. âI don’t need a husband. I just want fun.
Laetitia Vancon reported from Belgrade, and Isabelle Kwai from London. Iva Savic contributed reporting and translation from Belgrade.