The Boos Heard Around the World: Babasha, Racism, and the Coldplay Concert Controversy

In this article written by Florentina Manea, the Coldplay concert at Bucharest's National Arena becomes a backdrop for a deeper exploration of racism and cultural prejudice faced by the Roma community. Florentina reflects on Babasha's pivotal moment on stage, juxtaposing international acclaim with local intolerance towards manele music. She calls for societal introspection, urging both Roma and non-Roma to challenge biases and foster an inclusive environment where all cultural expressions are respected. The piece underscores the importance of collective action in combating discrimination and supporting artists like Babasha in their cultural contributions.

Florentina-Alexandra Manea

6/13/20244 min read

The evening of June 12 at the National Arena in Bucharest was meant to be a celebration of music, a blending of cultures, and an unforgettable experience for tens of thousands of fans. For many, it was just that. However, for those of us who identify as Roma, the night was marred by a painful reminder of the deep-seated racism and double standards that continue to plague our society.

A Moment of Pride Turned Sour

When Chris Martin invited Vlad Babașa, known as Babasha, to join him on stage, it should have been a moment of immense pride. Here was a young Roma artist, recognized not only for his talent but also for his cultural contribution, standing shoulder to shoulder with one of the world's most renowned musicians. Instead, the audience's reaction—the boos, the whistles—quickly turned this moment of pride into a distressing display of intolerance.

As a Roma woman, this incident hurts me deeply. It wasn't just about a crowd's reaction to a music genre; it was a direct reflection of the prejudice that our community faces daily. The boos weren't merely a rejection of Babasha's music but a manifestation of the systemic racism that views anything associated with the Roma people as inferior or unworthy.

The Roots of Stigmatization

Manele music, the genre that Babasha represents, has always been controversial in Romania. To many, it symbolizes a culture they don't understand or respect. But the disdain for manele is not about the music itself—it's about who is making it. The Roma community has long been marginalized, and our cultural expressions have often been dismissed or derided. Babasha eloquently highlighted this in his response: "Manele is only infamous because of racism, not because of the music itself, only for those who don't really understand music.

What is Manele?

Manele is a genre of music that blends Balkan, Turkish, and Middle Eastern influences, characterized by its use of traditional instruments like the accordion, violin, and clarinet, alongside modern electronic beats. Its themes often revolve around love, heartbreak, social issues, and celebration. Despite its popularity, manele has been stigmatized and relegated to the margins of mainstream culture in Romania, largely due to its association with the Roma community.

Growing up Roma, I've seen how our culture is either exoticized or condemned, rarely accepted on its own terms. When I hear manele, I hear the stories of my people, the rhythms of our history, the melodies of our struggles and triumphs. Yet, for many non-Roma Romanians, these same sounds trigger prejudice and scorn.

The Pain of Double Standards

What makes this incident even more disheartening is the double standard at play. Babasha, with millions of views on his YouTube videos, has clearly struck a chord with many listeners. International artists like Chris Martin see his talent and value his contribution to music. Yet, within his own country, he faces rejection and hostility. This contradiction is a painful reminder of how far we still have to go in overcoming ingrained prejudices.

The crowd's reaction at the concert was not just a one-off incident; it reflects a broader societal issue. While the global community can appreciate and celebrate Roma culture, locally, we are still fighting for acceptance and equality. This double standard is not just unfair—it is a barrier to progress and understanding.

Harmful Reactions and Public Figures' Influence

Adding to the distressing reaction of the audience was the response from public figures like Corina Bud. Instead of using her platform to promote understanding and inclusivity, she chose to amplify the negative sentiments. On her social media, she described Babasha's performance as "fake and forced," asserting that "the public is always right" and suggesting that his appearance was inappropriate for such a significant event. She even went as far as to film and ridicule people on the street who expressed a positive opinion about Babasha's performance, showing them a "dislike" sign.

This behavior is harmful on multiple levels. It reinforces the prejudices held by many and validates the idea that certain cultural expressions are less worthy of respect. Public figures have a significant influence on public opinion, and when they perpetuate such negative attitudes, they contribute to the ongoing marginalization and discrimination of the Roma community.

Education and Racism

It's crucial to recognize that education alone cannot eradicate deeply rooted racist attitudes. Despite higher levels of education, prejudices persist, often driven by cultural and societal norms rather than ignorance. Racism is not merely a lack of knowledge but a deeply ingrained belief system that can persist regardless of one's level of education. This reality underscores the need for continuous dialogue, awareness, and proactive efforts to challenge and dismantle these harmful biases.

The reaction to Babasha’s performance is a clear example of this. Many in the audience were likely well-educated and consider themselves cultured and superior because they reject manele. Some argue that their reaction wasn't about racism but simply a dislike for the genre. However, this perspective ignores the broader context: the disdain for manele is deeply intertwined with the prejudices against the Roma community. Their response was driven by ingrained societal prejudices rather than a lack of understanding. This shows that education, while essential, is not sufficient on its own to combat racism. It requires a deeper change in attitudes and beliefs, which can only be achieved through sustained effort and commitment to equality and justice.

A Call for Change

Babasha’s experience at the Coldplay concert should serve as a wake-up call. It’s a stark reminder of the work that needs to be done to combat racism and promote genuine cultural appreciation. As a Roma woman, I call on everyone—Roma and non-Roma alike—to reflect on this incident and consider what it says about our society. We must challenge the biases that lead to such displays of intolerance and work towards creating a more inclusive environment where all cultural expressions are respected and valued.

For those of us in the Roma community, Babasha's courage in facing this hostility is inspiring. He stood his ground, performed with dignity, and spoke out against the racism he encountered. His strength gives me hope that change is possible. But it also reminds us that we must continue to fight against the prejudice that affects us all.

Moving Forward

As we move forward, let's not forget the lesson from that night at the National Arena. It's crucial that those who perpetuate or benefit from systemic racism take responsibility for educating themselves and challenging stereotypes. Only through their active participation and commitment can we hope to create a society where artists like Babasha are celebrated for their talent and cultural contributions, without prejudice or double standards.

In solidarity and hope, let's support Babasha and wish him the best of luck going forward. His efforts in promoting culture and music should be appreciated and encouraged to inspire other artists to take pride in their cultural heritage and share it with the world. Let's remain united on this journey towards equality and mutual respect.