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Gelem, Gelem
Romani Anthem

Gelem, gelem, lungone dromensa 
Maladilem bahktale Romensa 
A Romale katar tumen aven, 
E tsarensa bahktale dromensa?

A Romale, A Chavale

Vi man sas ek bari familiya, 
Murdadas la e kali legiya*
Aven mansa sa lumniake Roma, 
Kai putaile e romane droma
Ake vriama, usti Rom akana, 
Men khutasa misto kai kerasa

A Romale, A Chavale

  I went, I went on long roads 
I met happy Roma 
O Roma where do you come from, 
With tents on happy roads?

O Roma, O fellow Roma 

I once had a great family, 
The Black Legions* murdered them
Come with me Roma from all the world 
For the Romani roads have opened
Now is the time, rise up Roma now, 
We will rise high if we act 

O Roma, O fellow Roma 

(Composed by Jarko Jovanovic to a traditional melody)


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This verse of Gelem, Gelem was inspired by Roma in the Nazi concentration camps of World War II. There are other verses by different authors, so there exists several versions of this song. The song Gelem, Gelem is also known by the names Djelem, Djelem,Opré Roma, and Romale Shavale.

Listen to Gelem, Gelem in RealAudio 3.0 format (gelem.ra, 555 Kb). 
Listen to the introduction of Jelem, Jelem by the Rom group, the Kolpakov Trio, from Moscow (jelem.wav, 605 Kb).

Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov in their study of the song, provide the following history:

    Milan Aivazov from Plodiv [Bulgaria], born in 1922, a self-taught cymbal player and a long-time musician in the popular Aivazov Duet, says that he can remember the popular melody of "Zhelim, Zhelim" from his grandfather but he has forgotten the old words. He thinks that the song is extremely melodious, but it used to be played in a triple time and it was actually an old Rumanian song rewritten by Gypsy musicians in Serbia who changed the tempo. (Continent newspaper, # 222, 9, 22, 95, p.6) There are other explanations according to which this is a Gypsy melody originating in Rumania and popular in variety shows in Paris in the 20's and 30's. In any case, this was a very popular song among Serbian Gypsies in the 60's and there are various texts to the melody. 

    The melody of this song became popular in Europe in the end of the 60's from Alexander Petrovic's film Skupljaci perja(The Buyer of Feathers) known under the name I Have Met Some Happy Gypsies. There was a meeting of Comité International Tsigane in April 8-12, 1971 in London, attended by Gypsies from different countries, which became th First World Roma Congress. The Congress decided to form a new international Gypsy organisation. Later on, at the Second Congress in 1978 in Geneva, this organisation took the name Romani Ekhipe or Romani Union. As Donald Kenrick remembers, Jarko Jovanovic and Dr. Jan Cibula prepared a new text for the popular melody during the Congress. In its new variant the song "Gelem, Gelem" was liked by everyone, it was unanimously accepted as the Congress song and the Congress ended with it. 

    One of the decisions of the Congress was "to have an international competition for the words and music of an international Romani anthem" and it was this song that actually became the anthem. At the international meetings and congresses which followed the "Romani Anthem" was already taken for granted and was gradually accepted by the Gypsy organisations in the European countries and by public opinion. Its universal acceptance was assisted by the fact that the song "Djelem, Djelem" was included in the records of the popular Yugoslavian singer Šaban Bairamovic in the 80's which inspired new folklore variants. The song became popular as an "anthem" among Gypsies from various countries (mainly in Eastern Europe), but it did not replace the numerous folklore variants which were already in existence.**

* "Black Legions" refers to the Nazi SS (Schutzstaffel; German: "Protective Echelon"), so called because of the black uniforms they wore. The SS included the Gestapo secret police and the Death's Head Battalion (Totenkopfverbande) concentration camp units. 

** Excerpted from Studii Romani, Vol. II, p.21-22, published by the Minority Studies Society, Sofia, Bulgaria 
©1995 by Elena Marushiakova and Vesselin Popov, Editors 


Reprinted by the Patrin Web Journal with permission of the authors.
Posted 5 January 1998.


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