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Music Wednesday: Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers

Assistant Editor Ryan Bradley’s weekly exploration of great global music, in collaboration with Nat Geo Music.

Gypsy music is ancient and, like many very old things, has its roots in India. Its people, the Romas, emigrated northwest from the subcontinent in the 10th century. By the 1500s, Romani music could be heard across the Balkans and in Egypt. It eventually spread into the Middle East and Western Europe with the rise of Islam. In Spain it became Flamanco—the guitars, castanets, and dancing were refined, but the basic idea and instrumentation made it all the way from Rajasthan to Granada. And though gypsy music predates the traditional diatonic (seven-note) musical scale by a good five centuries, it is currently enjoying something of a renaissance.

Groups like Gogol Bordello, Balkan Beat Box, and Beirut (alliteration unintentional: words beginning in "b" are extremely common in gypsy music: buzuki, Bucovina, balaseanca*) create music not too dissimilar from what was being heard in Istanbul (then Constantinople) about 10,000 years ago—only now it’s in a club on Ibiza, or a bar in Chicago, or on NPR.