Music Department Colloquium: Adriana Helbig—Romani Musical Resistance During Russia’s War in Ukraine

Wednesday, November 2, 2022 at 4:30pm

FREE! Reservation required.

Romani activism and political participation in Ukraine began when the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Western-funded Romani non-governmental organizations guided early years of political engagement. This first generation of Romani politicians heralded from musical and artistic families, leading to the development of a Romani activism firmly focused on cultural rights, including an emphasis on Romani music, the development of the Romani language, and the growth of a Romani identity rooted in local Romani history. Following Ukraine’s 2014 Euromaidan and Revolution of Dignity, the Romani political narrative shifted from focusing solely on cultural rights to one encompassing Romani citizenship rights. Since 2014, many Romani politicians have been elected to local governments. Their leadership has been especially evident since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022. This presentation provides an overview of Romani political responses to the war and shares how Romani populations in eastern, central, southern, and western parts of Ukraine have mobilized against Russian aggression. Specifically, this presentation draws on Romani performances of Ukrainian-language popular songs performed during the war. Such performances, shared widely on social media, have brought Ukrainian Roms into the center of Ukraine’s resistance narrative. Building on more than twenty years of research among Romani populations in Ukraine, this presentation offers a context for ongoing Romani war efforts, including military action, the housing of Romani and non-Romani refugees, volunteering, and musical performance. It also shares information about new Romani realities amidst a political backdrop that, since Russia invaded Ukraine, has shifted realities of anti-Romani discrimination to current narratives of Romani acceptance.

Adriana Helbig is Associate Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of Hip Hop Ukraine: Music, Race, and African Migration (Indiana University Press, 2014) and the co-editor with Milosz Miszczynski of Hip Hop at Europe’s Edge: Music, Agency, and Social Change (Indiana University Press, 2017). Her book ReSounding Poverty: Romani Music and Development Aid will be published by Oxford University Press in 2023. She is a classically trained pianist and teaches courses on global hip hop, applied ethnomusicology, music and disability studies, and music and conflict.

The colloquium is organized by Assistant Professor of Music John Dankwa and Assistant Professor of Music and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies Saida Daukeyeva as part of the Music Department Colloquium Series.