Her name was Esma: Redzepova, Queen of Gypsy music, dies aged 73

At Eurovision 2013, as her duet partner Vlatko Lozanoski sang the opening bars of “Pred Dan Se Razdeni,” Esma Redzepova lurked in the shadows.

It’s not a place she’d have been familiar with, given her many decades on the stage and the big screen. But later, as the song built and the lights shone, she emerged in grand fashion, caterwauling and announcing her arrival in true diva fashion: “My name is Esma”.

Eurovision fans will no doubt continue to remember her name — despite the sad news that she has passed away, aged 73, following a brief illness.

Esma was born in Skopje in 1943. She started performing publicly at 13. At 15 she recorded her very first album Zoshto Si Me Majko Rodila, and soon scored her first hit song “Chaje Shukarije” (which later appeared on the soundtrack to the 2006 film Borat). At 17 she found herself in Paris, performing at the famous Olympia.

After 20 years in the business, Esma had made a name for herself within the world of Romany music — but also outside of it. Her ability to flirt with the mainstream was one reason that, in 1976, her fellow Romany singers crowned her the Queen of Gypsy Music at the First Gypsy World Festival in India. She carried the title with pride until she died, and it was frequently referenced during her promotional campaign ahead of Eurovision.

Her list of achievements is long but worth repeating: over 500 recorded songs, two platinum records and eight gold records. In 2010 Macedonia awarded her its Order of Merit. In 2011, America’s National Public Radio named her one of the 50 Great Voices in the World, alongside the likes of Placido Domingo and Björk. And in 2013 she was rightfully named National Artist of the Republic of Macedonia.

But amid all that, Esma’s greatest achievements may have come off the stage.

She used her wealth for the betterment of others, sponsoring thousands of charity concerts that helped disaster victims, children in orphanages and the underprivileged in hospitals. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s she fostered a staggering 47 children alongside her late husband Stevo Teodosievski.

She is mourned, not only by the Romanies in Europe, but by everyone who valued her music and vigour for life. Among those who expressed their condolences was her Eurovision 2013 singing partner Lozano.

Writing on Facebook, he said: “Macedonia and the world have lost a great woman and artist. Working together with you was a pleasure. Deep condolences to the family. Rest in peace dear Esma.”

We at Team Wiwi send Esma’s family, friends and fans our heartfelt condolences.

Her memory will live on — as bright and fiery as her extravagant red dress from Malmö.