Early Life and Introduction to Music
Born on August 8, 1943, in the heart of Skopje, North Macedonia, Esma hailed from the vibrant Romani district of Čair. The youngest in a family of six, Esma’s early years were deeply influenced by the rich tapestry of Romani culture. Her initiation into the world of music began at local events and ceremonies where, even as a child, her melodious voice made her a favorite.
In a fortuitous twist of fate, 13-year-old Esma’s talent caught the attention of Stevo Teodosievski, a prominent Macedonian composer and bandleader. Seeing potential in the young songbird, Teodosievski not only mentored her in music but also adopted her, ensuring she received both formal education and intensive musical training.
Embarking on a Musical Journey
Under Teodosievski’s guidance, Esma’s repertoire expanded to include various genres: from Macedonian folk to Romani ballads, Turkish classics, and even modern pop. By 1961, she was ready to record her first song. “Čaje Šukarije”, with its catchy rhythm and Esma’s unique voice, became an instant success, marking the beginning of her ascendancy as the “Queen of Romani Songs”.
Esma’s distinct sound stemmed from her ability to seamlessly blend traditional Romani music with other genres. This adaptability made her music universally appealing, allowing her to transcend national borders. Throughout the 60s and 70s, her fame skyrocketed, leading to performances across Europe, Asia, and even Africa. In 1971 she took part in Jugovizija, the Yugoslav national final for the Eurovision Song Contest. Her song “Malo Malo” earned a 3rd place.
Career Milestones and International Acclaim
Across her illustrious career, Esma recorded over 500 songs and produced multiple albums. She performed in over 40 countries and sang in multiple languages, a testament to both her versatility and the universality of her music. Her tunes resonated with a wide audience, from the Balkans to the far reaches of the Middle East and beyond.
One of her most memorable moments on the international stage came in 2013 when she represented Macedonia at the Eurovision Song Contest. Alongside singer Lozano, Esma showcased her timeless appeal to a European audience, further cementing her legacy.
Beyond Music: A Humanitarian at Heart
While music was her first love, Esma’s heart had room for much more. She was deeply moved by the plight of her Romani community, which, despite its rich cultural heritage, often faced prejudice and social exclusion.
Together with Teodosievski, who she later married, Esma embarked on numerous humanitarian projects. The couple’s most notable endeavor was their decision to foster 47 destitute children. But for Esma and Teodosievski, fostering wasn’t just about providing shelter; it was about holistic development. The children were given formal education, trained in the arts, and most importantly, taught the values of love and unity. This led to the establishment of their ensemble, where many of their foster children performed, thus ensuring the next generation carried forward the Romani musical tradition.
Esma’s relentless efforts towards uplifting the Romani community didn’t go unnoticed. The community lovingly bestowed upon her the title of “Romani Mother Theresa”.
Esma Redžepova’s passing on December 11, 2016, marked the end of an era. Yet, her legacy is far from forgotten. As the voice of the Romani people, she championed their cause, bringing their music and issues to the global forefront. More than just an artist, Esma was an emblem of unity, resilience, and compassion.