SKOPJE Esma Redzepova, the "Queen of Gypsy Music" who made Roma culture popular with a world audience, singing for Josip Broz Tito, Indira Gandhi and Muammar Gaddafi and representing Macedonia in the Eurovision Song Contest, was buried on Monday in her native Skopje.
Redzepova, known for her bright headscarves and extravagant jewelry as well as her powerful and emotional voice, died on Sunday after a career spanning more than half a century. She was 73.
In 2010, U.S. National Public Radio put Redzepova on its list of the world's 50 greatest voices, alongside Ella Fitzgerald, Placido Domingo, Janis Joplin and Freddie Mercury.
"Redzepova has a voice that sounds like a beat-up Mustang barreling along a street full of potholes: it's gamey and battered and tough and it's been places," Washington Post classical music blogger Anne Midgette wrote after hearing Redzepova for the first time on NPR.
Born into a poor family during World War Two, Redzepova started to sing at the age of 10 and started her career at a time when Roma women did not sing in public.
Later in life, she became an advocate of Roma women's rights and fostered 47 children with her husband and manager Stevo Teodosievski, winning many prizes for her humanitarian work.
"The Roma and the whole world have lost so much that I don’t think anyone understands at this moment. The part of our people's culture that she represented is lost for all time," Serbian Roma activist Dragoljub Ackovic said at the funeral.
Redzepova was one of the first singers to perform in the Romani language on radio and television.
At a music festival in India in 1976, Redzepova and Teodosievski were proclaimed the queen and king of Romani music.
"She was the queen everyone loved," Croatian musician Vlado Kalember said.
Her funeral was not attended by many fans and colleagues as her family did not have time to send out a wider notice. Her death came suddenly and she needed to be buried within 24 hours according to Muslim custom.
(Reporting by Ivana Sekularac; editing by Ralph Boulton)