Gipsy Blood

BLOOD donations for non-Gipsy musicians (music in-di-gene)

Blood plays an important role in widely differing disciplines, no matter whether it is a question of the history of medical ideas and discoveries about blood in the body ( the ‘theory of humours’, blood circulation, genetics) or of the political effects of the pseudo-biological theories on blood (racial ideologies, eugenics, the change in the meaning of the concept of incest).

Blood can also be a metaphor for money and capital, for instance in the concept “monetary circulation” (Thomas Hobbes) in which blood is the symbol for ‘life’, or as a sign that a contract or agreement is irrevocable. In many rituals and commandments blood is the central element: blood-brotherhood, blood feud, blood guilt, initiation rites, students’ duels, the impurity of menstrual blood…

Description of the Symposium “Myths of Blood”, Berlin, December 1-3, 2005.

Christina von Braun/Christoph Wulf




GIPSIES have MUSIC in their BLOOD…

BLOOD donations/transfusions for non-Gipsy musicians: Music in-di-gene



Description of a cultural integration event:

An Environment // an exhibition of photos // two concerts

When a jazz-club like Porgy & Bess organizes a Gipsy Week, then everyone looks forward to the fiery, groovy, danceable, carefree music because we all know: Gipsies have Music in their Blood! They are indisputably the better musicians, singers, dancers, who – free from academic attitudes – can create authentic zest for life even in a dreary West-European metropolis. What reasons do we have for questioning this positive image which does bring a group of outsiders such acclaim? A provocative and amusing assemblage that is easy to understand – and also perhaps a bit unpleasant – in the form of a scene and a series of posters composed by Friedemann Derschmidt and Branislav Nikolic asks the public this question.


One: How is this done?

An Environment/Assemblage or should we say an Event ?

a)The photo action: Each poster is a photograph of a Rom or a Romni lying on a hospital bed and donating blood to a male or female Austrian musician, the two being joined by the transfusion tube. The accompanying text: Gipsies have music in their blood – Blood donations from Gipsy musicians for non-Gipsies. Photos of each pair are on exhibition and complement the transfusion scene. Poster copies of the photos are for sale.

b)Presentation/Environment in Porgy and Bess by the “Gipsy Social Club”: A standard blood-donation set-up just like at the Red Cross with the transfusion apparatus and bed. Musicians are invited to receive a transfusion of Gipsy blood. The correct Red-Cross procedure is completed with a snack of Gipsy-Wheel snacks and Gipsy Skewers….


Two: What is the point?

A witty, yet ironic and carefully planned presentation of the myth that Gipsies have “music in their blood” confronts the public. Basically the idea that characteristics, talents or tendencies are inherent in and transmitted by blood (or more recently, the genes) is being questioned here. Nowadays it is no longer common ( in an effort to distance oneself from the nazi ideologies such as incest and racial determination) to maintain that a person has a certain racial characteristic in his blood (although many of these ideas are slipping into the newest gene and brain research) .

The same stereotypes are still widespread, but often hidden behind references to “other cultures“ (which are thought to have become second nature for the “other people” but could never be part of one’s “own culture”). The image of the Gipsy with special “musical blood” has become standard in everyday thought and speech. This conjures up the idea that having “music in blood” creates a fiery being continuously dancing with boundless energy. The Gipsies are still to be viewed according to this stereotype because they thus serve as a convenient mode of projection for repressed wishes and desires of Gadjas (non-Gipsies) that no longer need to be repressed when they can be lived out at Roma concerts and balls.


There is no way to escape the call of “one’s” blood. “To have music in one’s blood” illustrates clearly the problem of positive racism. “Positive racism” points out that ascribing positive characteristics to a group can harm them, simply by putting a specific label on them. When an ethnic group is classified as a whole by a positive characteristic, then – instead of considering the individual person and his history – the whole group is reduced to a cliché. As a result, usually only the cliché characteristic or ability is recognized and all the others, especially the intellectual or political abilities and needs, are ignored. The individual Rom cannot then be what he or she is, wants to be or could be, but must assume the role that the dominating society has assigned him or her: musician or dancer in a non-academic, folkloric form. When we take to thinking in clichés, then it becomes difficult to distinguish between “well-meant” and “problematic” images. Perhaps the role of “music in one’s blood” also includes being a rogue or a hereditary thief. When part of this complex is accepted, then the rest is automatically included. There is no escaping the call of one’s blood. Having “music in one’s blood” ultimately means also that (in contrast to the poor, anemic Austrian musicians), the ability to play music does not have to be learned arduously. While some gain the command of their instruments through honest work, others simply respond to the rhythm in their veins…

The Action: “Music in one’s Blood” questions the myth that Roma musicians have received their musicality as a gift of nature and that this musicality has not been learned and cannot be learned. By denying this myth, we suddenly have to face the bitter fact that Gipsies are capable of learning and thus they stop being that stereotype which we have projected on them. This may be hard to swallow for some people.


Laughter and embarrassment

Every time this event idea has been described, laughter followed. And this laughter shows that the theme is part of every-day cultural awareness of this attribution as well as that it is actually nonsense. And that people feel somehow caught between the stereotype and reality. We see a starting point for change in their embarrassment at realizing their own everyday racism.


Karin Schneider ritesinstitute

thanx for translation to Penny and Charly Lichtenecker




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