vera bila 1Vera Bila is a Roma singer from the Czech Republic. She was born on 22 May 1954 in Rokycany in western Bohemia, near Prague. She is the Czech Republic’s most famous contemporary Roma singer.
Vera Bila is from the Roma dynasty of musicians, the Gina family, who moved from eastern Slovakia to Rokycany in 1945. Vera was one of six children and grew up in poverty. As a child, Vera learned to sing from her mother, who was an outstanding singer. Her father Karol Gina was a well-known violinist and head of a cimbalom group that played primarily at Roma weddings and celebrations in the area around Rokycany.
At the age of 7, Vera first began performing, mostly in her village or the surrounding communities, and in the years following, became increasingly known within the Czech Roma community. When she was 15, she married her husband Frantisek with whom she lived until his death in 2013. Together they had adopted a son, who also died in 2013. In 1994, Vera Bila gave her first concert with her group “Kale” (black), in which several members of Vera’s extended family play. The group have remained her backing band ever since.
Vera Bila’s singing is full of character and richly coloured. Her full-bodied voice and immense range contribute to her distinctive charisma as a singer. The polyphonic singing style she developed and that is so typical of her, has strongly influenced the music of the Czech Roma and is still employed today by many musicians. In addition to her vocal talent, Vera Bila can play five instruments: guitar, piano, cimbalom, drums and accordion. She does not play these, however, in front of audiences.
In concert, Vera Bila sings the traditional songs of the Czech and Slovakian Roma (hallgato and csardas) as well as Rom pop, which is extremely popular in Eastern Europe. She composes most of the songs she sings and writes the lyrics as well. The topics reflect both Vera Bila’s traditional Roma background and the spirit of the time.
In 1995, she released her first album “Rom Pop” which brought her more fame, even beyond Eastern Europe – it won the title of Best World Music Album of the Year in 1996 in France. This was followed by her second album “Kale Kalore” in 1998, with which she finally gained worldwide attention. Vera Bila & Kale have played at many international music festivals, including in France, Sweden and Finland. An extensive and very successful concert tour followed in 1999 taking them across Europe, the USA, Canada and Japan – they even performed in the Vatican. Her last album up to now came out in 2001 and was called “Rovana”. The album features ex-Gipsy Kings’ member Chico Bouchikhi and Polish singer Kayah.
Vera Bila starred in two movies by Slovakian film director Dusan Hanak. “Ruzove sny” (Pink Dreams) in 1976, and “Ja milujem, tu milujes” (I Love, You Love) from 1980. A documentary about the life of Vera Bila entitled “Cernobila v barve” (Black and White in Colour) and directed by Mira Erdevicki-Charap came out in 1999.
Today, Vera Bila lives in modest circumstances in her hometown of Rokycany. After a long illness, she now only rarely gives concerts.


Text: Robert Lippuner / Gypsy Music Network
Translation: Jamie Davies


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