As the famous keyboard notes from Tupac’s “California Love” bounced their way through the speakers, one rapper started an aggressive freestyle while another pulled on a vape as he judged his opponent’s verses. Like most rap battles, the audience would decide the winner by cheering for their favorite. But this time, the rappers were Roma performers at Prague’s fifth annual Roma Big Top music festival last Thursday.
The Government Council for National Minorities and the Ministry of Culture support the music festival as a way to aid the integration of Roma culture into everyday Czech life. This year, the two-day event was held on a boat venue in the popular Náplavka area along the Vltava. Performances throughout the afternoon showcased a wide range of Roma music, from poppy serenades by UGC and traditional accordion music from the famous Mário Bihári.
The festival kicked off with the rap battle, which included four contestants competing for recording time in a professional studio, a big opportunity for Roma rappers who tend to come from poorer communities. After the battle, the audience was taken over by pre-teens waiting to see UGC (United Gipsy Crew), a rap group, boy-band blend who gained fame for a song that defends Roma children’s rights to a mainstream education alongside Czech children.
Bringing alternative and minority culture, particularly in the form of art and music, into the public eye is the main goal of the volunteer group Pražská společnost bloumající veřejnosti, which organized the festival. The group focuses on Roma culture, which has been historically outcasted in Czech society. The sunny weather and riverfront location attracted a bigger Czech crowd than usual, noticed a friend of rapper MC Ryba who asked not to be named. Both stages on the boat were crowded with Roma and Czechs of all ages, some who came for the festival and others who wandered onto the boat for a drink and stayed for the music.
Another friend of MC Ryba, who also declined to give his name, enjoyed the different styles of music and the sense of appreciation he felt from the audience.
“We are too Czech, but if you look at our faces, we are gypsy,” he said with a proud smile. Today, it was a difference to be celebrated.
Rap battle winner MC Ryba (third from left) and friends relaxing after the competition
Roma teens in the audience, waiting for UGC to take the stage
Younger Roma girls enjoying the music