Among the most underprivileged ethnic communities in Serbia, the Roma largely live in segregated settlements on society’s fringes, facing poverty, joblessness and prejudice. A UNICEF study published last year showed that over one-third of girls in Roma settlements in Serbia aged 15-19 are already married. Of them, 16% were married before they were 15. Many experience significant abuse and neglect. Now, over the last 18 months, activists have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has further fueled the social isolation of marginalized groups and increased their poverty. Disruptions of regular schooling due to the virus lockdowns have made it even harder for Roma children to stay in the system. Much of this has gone unnoticed on the world’s stage, but an all-female Roma band in Serbia is seeking to change that by using music to preach women’s empowerment within their community, challenging some deeply rooted traditions and centuries-old male domination.
Their songs are about “women chained” in abuse witnessed by generations, or teenage brides being forced into marriage by their fathers. And they tell women to seek love, fight back and stand up for their right to be equal with men. Formed in 2014, “Pretty Loud” symbolically seeks to give a louder voice to Roma girls, encourage education and steer them away from the widespread custom of early marriage. The band has gained popularity and international attention, performing last year at the Women of the Year Festival in London.
Sinani, 24, said the idea for an all-female band was born at education and artistic workshops run for Roma, or Gypsies, by a private foundation, Gypsy Roma Urban Balkan Beats. The girls initially danced in GRUBB’s boys’ band and then decided they wanted one of their own, she said. “They (GRUBB) named us ‘Pretty Loud’ because they knew that women in Roma tradition are not really loud,” she said.
Learn more about Pretty Loud on their GRUBB page at https://www.wearegrubb.com/pretty-loud.